BT has launched a software reseller in a what one of its own resellers describes as a "desperate attempt" to break into the small and medium sized enterprise (SME) market.
The reseller, called Open Orchard, will sell general business software packages. It has already signed UK distribution deals with general business software vendors Netledger and Orchestria.
But critics in the channel have warned that it will struggle to respond as well to customer needs as existing resellers.
The news follows last week's announcement that BT will go up against voice and data convergence resellers through its Business Information Systems arm.
Open Orchard will offer general business software packages to SMEs including customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, web trading and general accounting applications. A £6m digital marketing campaign has already been launched.
Yvonne Thomas, the reseller's chief executive, claimed that BT has a good pedigree in this market. "BT has a major place in the SME market with 1.4 million customers and 2,000 staff focusing on the SME space," she said.
Open Orchard will negotiate terms with vendors using BT's purchasing clout. "We are able to leverage the BT Group's buying power and buy direct from suppliers using BT's strategic purchasing division and can offer more robust contracts than smaller resellers," explained Thomas.
She added that the combination of products, integration and support will differentiate the company from smaller resellers.
Outsourcing firm PinkRoccade will act as Open Orchard's IT department, providing first- and second-level support in an £18m three-year deal.
But Gordon Davies, commercial director at BT reseller Compusys, suggested that the move is a reaction to BT's unsuccessful attempt to build a good channel.
"BT has failed in trying to attract and retain high quality resellers for its products and this is a desperate attempt to enter into the SME market again," he claimed.
Davies pointed out that small businesses need close relationships with suppliers. "BT has missed its growth and revenue targets because of a lack of focus and understanding of SMEs," he said.
"SME relationships are owned by people businesses trust and many don't trust BT."
Dave Reynolds, business development manager at reseller Star Computers, added that Open Orchard will struggle to make ground in the SME space because of a lack of understanding of the business needs.
And Mike Lawrence, managing director at business software reseller Bentpenny, warned that the arrival of any new player in the market will "muddy the water".
"Whether it succeeds remains to be seen because it will struggle to have a reaction time as good as that of value-added resellers," he said.
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