The Big Easy explained: save money as you build your business IT infrastructure

You have any problem with saving money?

Easy answer, eh? No problem!

That's why small business owners and operators in Canada are so excited – they've got the chance to save money by getting a 'rebate' of up to 22 per cent when they buy computer software, IT hardware or related services.

The Big Easy Offer 2.0 is exclusive in Canada; it lets you pick the Microsoft product or solution that fit your needs, and then it gives you some money back based on your purchase decision.

For every qualifying product you purchase (and there are hundreds of them), Microsoft sends you some subsidy funds to purchase more products and services from the Microsoft Partner of your choice.

The subsidy can be used to purchase additional products or services from that Microsoft partner.

Sure, that's good for the partner – but it's also good for you in any number of ways, as Andrea Van Leeuwen, Microsoft Canada's Big Easy program manager describes:

"Yes, we're hearing back from our Partners that this plan does help them grow their business," she says. "But by leveraging the rebate, there is greater incentive to have a serious talk between partners and customers. It encourages and rewards them to have a more complete discussion of overall and specific IT needs and business supports.

"Under the program, you can get even greater rebates and realize more value through comprehensive implementation," Van Leeuwen adds, "so the partner and the customer can see their way to a complete look at how IT fits in and supports small business, what workflows can be improved, and what operating areas can be enhanced.

"It's not a piece-meal approach, but it won't break the bank, either!"

Big Easy Customer Sings a Happy Tune

Pardon the pun, but that's a tune very satisfying to the ears at SOCAN, the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.

According to Samuel Wong, SOCAN's Manager, IT Infrastructure, the association has already received its rebate cheque – and the anticipated payoff that improved IT operations can bring.

SOCAN's IT operations are fairly large and geographically broadly dispersed, Wong describes.

There are about 350 desktop and laptop PCs located in five SOCAN offices across the Canada: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton and Dartmouth.

"The PCs predominantly run Microsoft Windows XP and a variety of Windows applications, most of which is deployed Citrix in a server farm," Wong details. "All our offices are connected over a private wide-area network to our data centre and IT Department in Toronto, which operates our back-end servers on both HP-UX 11i servers and Microsoft Windows 2003/Citrix servers. These servers run a variety of email, financial, HR, Web, [and other] applications, as well as specialized in-house developed business applications, which are backed up to local tape libraries and devices. Internet access and remote VPN access are provided in our network."

Musicians and composers across the country are more than happy the operation runs as well as it does – SOCAN administers the communication and performing rights of virtually the world's entire repertoire of copyright-protected music, when it is used in Canada. Individuals, businesses and organizations that play music in public, or broadcast it, or communicate it by telecommunications, pay the fees that SOCAN collects.

So, on behalf of its members, it collects and then distributes money as royalties to its members and affiliated performing rights organizations (PROs) worldwide.

Obviously, any steps that can improve, enhance or upgrade those very important work processes would be well-received by the company itself, as well as the many people it serves.

Some might have felt the improvements were overdue.

SOCAN had been using Microsoft Office 2000 for a number of years and it finally decided that it was about time to upgrade to Microsoft Office 2007. The only remaining question was how much it would cost the not-for-profit organization.

As Wong explains, "We follow a thorough, internal process of justifying and prioritizing capital expenditures. As a non-profit company, we must always consider maximizing our value from such expenditures, so the timing of the Big Easy program made our decision to proceed easier. The immediate payoff is the cost savings from subsidies on Microsoft products, as we are very conscious of the need to maximize the value from our capital purchases."

SOCAN was referred to the program through one of its local resellers, IT Vertigo. IT Vertigo has been a partner for SOCAN for the better part of two years, as well as an on-going source of product knowledge.

"We have purchased Microsoft Office 2007, Microsoft Visio 2007 and Microsoft Project 2007 products from this program, Wong listed. "Based on our usage, we purchased mainly standard products – [h]owever, we also purchased some Office 2007 Professional, Office 2007 Small Business and Visio 2007 Professional products that were eligible."

Percentage Points Add Up to Big Savings

Through the Big Easy 2.0 program, small businesses purchasing certain Microsoft products through authorized specialist partners get between 10 and 22 per cent of money back, that they can use to buy other services from those partners.

Andrea Van Leeuwen says that the lucrative offer is one of the largest Microsoft has ever made, and it's one of the largest she's handled in ten years with the company – the total rebate pot could be as high as $2 million dollars!

"People's eyes sure get bigger when they hear all about this program," she notes. "Our reason for the offer now is simple – it's a response to the economic conditions we are all facing. We know that is top of mind for small business owners, yet, at the same time as watching their costs, they do need to be more productive on a day to day basis, using the appropriate tech solution."

The special promotion is on now, till the end of March, 2009. There will be evaluation and a consideration of the program going forward at that time.

Until then, the promotion continues to pay a partner subsidy to customers across the country. Once a customer has made a purchase, there's a calculation made to determine the rebate, a cheque is cut and mailed by Microsoft to the customer. The cheque has the partner name on it, Van Leeuwen describes.

Customers can then use check to purchase additional Microsoft software, or additional hardware, or even additional services, training or implementation programs and more.

"Whatever they need", Van Leeuwen summarizes. "What we want is a rich conversation between our partners and our customers. We sometimes find that small business is in the IT market only on an 'as-needed' basis. We'd like to see fuller solutions being discussed, not just one-offs, and we want the SMB community to consider more comprehensive solutions."

Business owners and operators can consider up to 150 eligible Microsoft products (and more may be added). As the rebate is based on purchase totals, each new purchase add to the final rebate, building on the previous purchases and giving up a percent age for each.

If you buy one production fine, you will get a rebate. If you buy a second product, you will get a rebate on that, as well as an additional rebate added to the first purchase, If you buy a third, all three products will again be eligible for the rebate calculation. Volume licenses and even OEM products are eligible.

What's more the list of eligible products – and the means by which rebate are calculated – are no big mystery. There's a long list of products online, and a handy calculator so you can see for yourself what savings are in store when you consider your IT needs.

Partners, too, have a dedicated site for helping define and describe the program's many benefits.

The Big Easy is in version 2.0, so Microsoft has been able to tweak its program for the Canadian market – and one of the most noteworthy changes that Van Leeuwen mentions is the increase of available subsidy dollars, and the widening family of eligible products.

"The online component makes it easy to figure out what products and services are eligible, and what your Big Easy rebate will be," she says. "I encourage any small or medium business owner to check it out now."

As one of the program's happy customers, Wong offers advice and a recommendation, too:

"I would recommend that other business definitely check into the Big Easy program when they purchase Microsoft products, he stated. "They should also consider which specific Microsoft products are eligible that they want to purchase, then calculate the subsidies on the website and determine the ROI before deciding on their purchases."

In that context, there's no problem saving money – or improving business operations.

In fact, it's easy!

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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