Partner View

Find and Exploit Your Differentiator

Want a competitive edge in the marketplace? Tap into that which makes you unique.

Most of the "survivors" in the solution provider space are standing on firm ground. But how can Microsoft partners increase their chances of continued success? The smartest solution providers are positioning themselves for rapid growth—right now—by leveraging the unique offerings that make their firms special. It sounds simple, but few solution providers make this a centerpiece of their business strategy.

In the heyday of IT service providers, when new competitors were opening on practically every corner, companies invested big bucks to attract the best qualified IT employees. Today, with a softer market and more demanding clients, people alone are not enough to make an IT services firm the provider of choice.

Instead, partners that want to attract—and win—new business must stand out with specific, value-added offerings. Many partners already have those special offerings developed, but they aren't telling their clients about them. Leveraging those offerings to grow an IT services firm requires special effort.

The best value-added solutions will accomplish several goals:

  • Solve critical business problems for clients
  • Have the flexibility to extend beyond IT
  • Create savings for clients, demonstrating that your company is a true partner

To find these solutions, you must determine what makes your company unique. Perhaps you can leverage your intellectual property, methodologies or business processes to allow your customer to gain operational efficiencies. Whatever the case may be, once you identify the tools, it's time to market. Brand what makes you unique. Make it into a product. Build it into proposals. Convince clients that these advanced offerings put your firm head and shoulders above your competitors.

At Buchanan Associates, we've accomplished this with an offering called Clickright and its Call Tracking System (CTS) component. Drawing on our relationship with Microsoft, we developed an incident management system that integrates with Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) and Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS). When MOM or SMS generates an alert, CTS automatically generates a trouble ticket and notifies the group or user responsible. Flat-panel television monitors display CTS billboards that show aging tickets by group and severity. User preferences tell CTS how the user wants to be notified of alerts, via pager, cell phone or e-mail.

CTS creates significant benefits for Buchanan and its clients:

  • The solution categorizes and analyzes data, in addition to providing reports that show the top 10 items with the most trouble tickets, the time to respond and resolve alerts, the number of tickets closed by an engineer, ticket aging analysis and more.
  • Managers get enhanced visibility into their IT organization because tickets are automatically created by alerts and notifications in MOM and SMS. These tickets make it easy to find, analyze and eliminate repetitive problems.
  • CTS logs even those problems that are corrected automatically, demonstrating the value of the auto-fixes Buchanan has put in place.
  • Automating the incident creation process frees IT personnel to solve problems instead of taking help desk calls or deciphering MOM and SMS logs.

What's more, CTS can be expanded to solve other business problems for our customers. CTS integrates with customer business applications that pertain to issues surrounding Sarbanes-Oxley audit and compliance, such as tracking new hire and termination processes. CTS also allows customers to integrate data from various locations, acting as an information center for pertinent customer, vendor and employee requests. A national company uses the product to manage maintenance requests, from repairing equipment to tracking environmental controls. A manufacturing firm relies on CTS to manage and respond to customer complaints about its products.

As a result, CTS has become an important part of Buchanan's business model. We use it to market to customers, demonstrate our prowess and competitive edge, drive monthly revenue and save money for customers.

Other leading edge service providers are growing their businesses with the same approach. If you're providing technical talent to solve customers' technology needs, define and communicate what makes you unique. It'll give you a competitive edge.

About the Author

Jim Buchanan is founder and president of Buchanan Associates (, an international IT services provider based in Irving, Texas.