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A look at one small law firm's vendor selection process

Sebaly, Shillito & Dyer chose service over price when standardizing hardware for the 100-employee firm.

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles detailing with the campaign amongst large IT vendors to gain share of the SMB market.

The IT infrastructure at the law offices of Sebaly, Shillito & Dyer, of Dayton, Ohio, was in need of a major overhaul.

The hodgepodge of hardware in the small law firm's data center included systems from IBM, Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., the former Compaq and CDW Corp., and it had grown too complex to support the organization's growing need for flexibility and ease of use.

"I've been here for about three years and when I first got here there were mutt systems," said Brian Clayton, manager of information systems at the law firm. "We eventually decided that we wanted to go with one vendor as much as we could."

After a four-month vendor selection process, SSD chose HP -- not the lowest cost option -- because of its support and services offerings, Clayton said. Today, the law firm's 27 lawyers and 70 employees are supported by HP desktops, flat panel monitors, printers, scanners and servers in a leasing deal costing $140,000 per year.

Why HP?

Large technology vendors have realized that serving smaller organizations can lead to big profits. In the U.S. alone, there are about 5.6 million small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which make up about 97% of the entire business market, according to Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. Forrester defines SMBs as those with less than 1,000 employees.

Though market share statistics among providers of Intel-based hardware and peripherals in the SMB market are hard to come by, a recent Yankee Group study of SMB executives found that Dell is the most widely recognized brand, and is seen as the price and quality leader.

Some 80% of the xx SMB survey respondents viewed Dell as either the price leader or as being competitively priced. HP placed second for price. For quality, 82% of respondents viewed Dell as the leader, with IBM placing second in that category.

At HP, SMBs constitute one-third of the company's sales, to the tune of $23 billion worldwide, said Chris Ogburn, HP's director of sales and development. "We're the No. 1 share leader with SMBs and our market share is 26.7%, to be exact," Ogburn said.

HP may have a gained an early foothold in the SMB market due to its long history selling printers and scanners. It also began building products designed to fit the needs of SMBs once it realized the untapped potential of that segment.

More recently, it launched an effort to provide SMBs with technology that was once the sole domain of large enterprise shops, such as customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning software. For example, HP recently introduced software packages for SMBs with products from Intuit Inc. and SAP AG.

Going forward, Ogburn said HP plans to add more flexibility and ease of use to its product line, and to make it easier for SMBs to acquire its technology through resellers or by dealing with the OEM directly.

An analyst confirmed that HP has been analyzing its reseller channel to see how well resellers are dealing with local SMBs, said Steve Hilton, a senior analyst with Yankee Group's SMB strategies unit.

"They have a huge interest in the SMB space," Hilton said. "They're trying to find out what those channels are doing well, what they're not doing well and how they improve the experience between the end user, the channel and HP."

Vendor selection process = Decisions, decisions

SSD took a team approach to choosing its new infrastructure provider. Clayton led the product evaluation and handled the vendor interviews but frequently reported to a management team for feedback. That team consisted of his IT department's administrator, a financial controller and two of the firm's managing partners.

SSD began by meeting with all the companies that had provided the firm with hardware in the past, and eliminating them one by one.

"The big thing we were looking at was the product line," Clayton said. "That included how long the vendors' products were out, and how often there were upgrades and changes. We didn't want to have a huge amount of change."

Clayton said the firm also looked at the vendors' service organizations and in particular how they handled customer support. Clayton looked at the companies' sales reps with an eye for how easy they were to deal with and how often they changed. The idea was to find the vendor with the most stability and consistency in the area of pricing.

In the end, Clayton said, it came down to Dell and HP. Despite higher prices, HP edged out over Dell for two reasons: its support organization and the fact it offered the law firm a chance to have input on future SMB product development.

Dell couldn't be reached for comment.

Today, SSD leases many HP products, including HP D530 flat panel monitors, 8250 Scanjet scanners, DL360 and ML370 servers, and 4300 and 4600 printers, at a cost of about $140,000 per year, Clayton said.

The benefits of the project have been profound. Since the standardization effort, Clayton said about 70%-75% of his help desk tickets have gone away, and the one IT tech who deals with hardware issues has been freed up to focus on centrally distributing equipment.

"We are able to focus more on the applications and the services provided by the law firm," he said.

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