Robert Courteau’s ambition is clear.

“Our customers say they want one throat to choke,” he said, “and I want to be that throat.”

The president and CEO of the recently-created Bell Business Solutions division isn’t suicidal. He just wants his company, the amalgamation of Nexxlink

Technologies, Charon Systems, and, most recently, CSB Systems, to be the one-stop shop for the IT and communications needs of small and medium businesses.

This could pose a threat for VARs in that marketplace. “Telcos have a huge national advantage,” said Michael O’Neil, managing director of IDC Canada. “They know who the SMB accounts are and touch them regularly.”

But there are also drawbacks to being associated with a behemoth like Bell. “SMBs like to deal with similar-sized suppliers,” O’Neil said. “The perception is that they will get more attention from companies their own size.”

Courteau – who headed Nexxlink when it was bought by Bell before being chosen to lead the new unit – is unworried. “It’s excellent the way Bell decided to keep us as a separate entity,” he said. “We can keep our nimble focus but have the Bell brand, financial stability, communications expertise and customer set. It’s a great opportunity to leverage the Bell account teams.”

“We don’t see ourselves as a reseller any more,” he added. “We see ourself as a services company. We are a reseller to accommodate the needs of our customers, based on the value-add they want us to provide.”

The firepower he brings is formidable. Montreal-based Nexxlink ranked 11th on CDN’s Top 100 solution providers in 2004, with annual revenue of about $100 million. Charon Systems’ offerings include application hosting, remote managed services, security assessment and design of local and wide-area networks, whileCSB, headquartered in Winnipeg, specializes in services and management of ERP products such as Syspro and Microsoft Navision. Its client base is mostly manufacturing and distribution firms, but the company has some reach in the retail sector and municipal governments.

However, Harry Zarek, president and CEO of Compugen, pointed out that, regardless, procurement requires expertise. “If you miss a shipment, or misconfigure a system, it hurts your credibility,” he noted.

While he wishes Courteau well, he also acknowledges that Bell Business Solutions will be a serious competitor. “We never underestimate the size and power of Bell,” he said. “But success in this business is not predicated on size. It’s on customer value, and how you deliver. It’s hard to say if they will have an impact on the market.”

“It’s interesting times in the mid-market, generally,” observed O’Neil. “I think there will be a lot of activity around services into the midmarket. The direction will be for large vendors to put together coalitions around specific midmarket requirements, not for one behemoth to dominate the market.”

Courteau, however, thinks BBS can be that behemoth. He did admit that, until he builds out his resources, he will partner with resellers in geographies where Bell Business Solutions does not yet have a presence (and hinted that acquisitions will fill in the gaps). But he does believe his company is unique in the industry. “ We see competition in different sectors, but we don’t see anyone with the same profile,” he said. “The toughest thing about the midmarket is coverage: what is the sales cost versus the return.” Here he believes his advantage comes from leveraging Bell’s sales force, at no extra cost, and having them qualify opportunities for him.

Bell’s acquisition strategy could actually help some companies, noted Zarek. “There are a lot of companies struggling. Maybe he (Courteau) can come in as a white knight.” Or, O’Neil suggested, “(Bell) may realize that a collaborative approach works better than a competitive approach in this space.”

Regardless, Zarek’s strategy is straightforward. “We will focus on our customers and our value proposition,” he said, “and not get preoccupied by potential competition.”

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