Ingram Site Links Government Buyers, Resellers

Ingram Site Links Government Buyers, Resellers

Pamela Smith

By Lisa Terry Contributing Writer


Ingram Micro Inc.'s Government and Education Division is seeking to boost its share of the IT dollars spent by government procurement cardholders with a new e-commerce site that unites government purchasers with resellers.

The site, Partnership America (www.part-
nershipamerica.com), enables resellers, value-added resellers and system integrators to compete for government business with an e-commerce offering comparable to those of large direct sales organizations.

The program is an extension of the $22 billion wholesale distributor's existing reseller business development and support offering.

"Federal [procurement] cardholders are spending $13 billion in 1999. That's a lot of money, especially if you add in local, state and education," said Pamela Smith, senior director of government and education for Ingram Micro of Santa Ana, Calif. "We believe there is an opportunity for Ingram Micro to help enter the supply chain and pull together a solution to aggregate that demand."

The new initiative "helps drive demand through resellers" and allows them to compete with direct sales organizations in the e-commerce arena, particularly for commodity goods, without costly infrastructure investment, she said.

With sophisticated e-commerce services, including online price quotes and ordering, such programs enable resellers to take on the sometimes daunting arena of government procurement.

"A lot of smaller resellers don't want to deal with it because of the paper and the pricing nightmare," said Brett Miller, analyst for computer technology distribution and resellers for A.G. Edwards & Sons, St. Louis. "Ingram and Merisel are trying to open that up. They need VARs to stay independent."

Programs such as Partnership America also make procurement easy for government purchasers, while enabling Ingram to "leverage e-commerce to cut down costs," Miller said, "anything they can do to keep the head count down."

The initiative marks the transition to an increasingly Web-based supply chain for computer products, especially commodity goods, Ingram's Smith said. The distributor has launched a similar program for the small business market, although the intricacies of government procurement, including vendor discounts, make it a more complex undertaking, she said.

"Distributors must become more service-based than product-based. E-commerce has to be top of mind. It's where we're going as a company," she said.

The Partnership America site will be marketed to government purchasers as a one-stop resource for procurement information and qualified resellers. In its first phase, launched Oct. 14, the site includes links to Web resources, vendor information, public-sector news and a dealer locator, searchable by resellers' qualifications, locations and product authority, such as whether they hold a General Services Administration schedule.

Phase Two, scheduled for the first quarter of 2000, adds individual electronic storefronts for each participating reseller, accessible either through Partnership America or separate URLs, for use by existing customers. Features will include the ability to list individual catalogs with specific pricing for each government contract. Details of the operation of resellers' e-storefronts are still being worked out.

Ingram Micro is providing complete support for the program, including content, hardware and maintenance, e-commerce applications and fulfillment, but the site will be marketed as a partnership among resellers and 300 vendors, including Cisco Systems Inc., IBM Corp., Iomega and 3Com.

A site user may search for a solution, select a reseller and place an order on Partnership America, then receive the assembled goods, all through services marketed using Partnership America and the reseller's name but provided by Ingram Micro.

Ingram Micro is creating Partnership America with assistance from IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., and KPMG of New York, as well as four advisory boards made up of resellers serving the K-12, higher education, state and local and federal markets.

"We've also started working with government committees to understand their requirements," Ingram's Smith said.

The company is offering e-storefronts to up to 500 government resellers, called e-procurement providers, based on criteria including sales volume, percentage of business derived though government, past performance and service offerings. Resellers choose how often they want notification of site activity and have the opportunity to authorize or decline a customer's purchases.

Partnership America will be promoted to government purchasers though a mixture of traditional marketing, such as direct mail and events, electronic marketing and print advertising. Both education and government pages on the site will include a monthly contest.

According to Smith, a number of states use the cards, with about 10 mandating their use for small purchases up to an average spending limit of $2,000. Federal maximums are as much as $25,000, with up to $2,000 per purchase.

Ingram Micro's Government and Education Division is seeking a vice president, following Shelly Talbot's recent promotion to senior vice president and general manager of the division.

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