From the big end of town

Scott Porter was employed in the senior ranks of Microsoft during some of its most turbulent years. He saw the introduction and gradual market domination of the Windows platform; his career taking him through Asia to Seattle in the US. Here he held the demanding responsibility of OEM manager for the Americas, which included Australia and lower Asia. But after eight years eventually the work got the better of him.

Porter decided to refamiliarise himself with his family and take a break from high-flying corporate life. Not long afterwards, phone calls and e-mails started coming through from old friends, old work mates and old competitors. One of these was Jack Zhong from TodayTech, Sydney-based IT services provider, distributor and systems integrator. Over time, the ideas coming out of TodayTech caught his interest.

"Eventually my work [at Microsoft] got to a point where I had to reintroduce myself to my wife and kids," he said. "I was working so hard that I had to take a break. During this break, Jack - an old friend of mine - found out I wasn't working and started sending me e-mails asking me what my plans were.

"I told him I was getting a suntan with my wife and kids. He kept e-mailing me, telling me about his ideas, and after a while I became interested. Eighty per cent of his ideas seemed to fit in exactly with what I wanted. So then I told him to give me a call."

After a short period discussing the future direction of TodayTech, Porter decided to return to the IT industry. He joined TodayTech full-time about two months ago, as chief operating officer. Since then, he and Jack have spent time trying to work out how to transform the business from a product-orientated company into a services-orientated company.

"We painted a vision of where we wanted to get to," he said. And the next few weeks and months will be spent in making everything come together. "We are characteristically a product-orientated company, and for the past 10 years our core business was as a distributor. The second part of our business is systems integration - relatively new to TodayTech and operating for about four or five years."

TodayTech has eight offices in Australia and six in China and Hong Kong, with around 13,000 customers in Australia alone.

"My role is to push TodayTech towards more of a services organisation," he said. "Jack more or less had the idea, and my value-add is that I'm strong in services, software and have international experience. I wasn't as interested in distribution."

One of the first pushes into the services space is TodayTech's recent partnership with Intel for Web-hosting services. Under this agreement, Intel maintains a Web-hosting datacentre, and takes care of security and backup infrastructure. TodayTech adds hosting services, buying the bulk space and bandwidth from Intel and reselling it with additional services like e-mail, domain registration and the like. Porter is particularly interested in moving TodayTech into more advanced services such as streaming media because he believes that there aren't enough offerings in the market with dedicated servers for this purpose.

Porter has also been responsible for nurturing TodayTech's in-house Web development team, which has just commenced operations under the "Juice" brand. It already provides what Porter terms "generation-one" services, rudimentary company Web sites often referred to as "brochureware"; and "generation-two" services, where TodayTech adds database development so that the company is able to manage the site itself.

The next step for Porter is to offer back-end integration so that online transactions can link back into the company's legacy ordering systems. This service, named TodayTech online, has just come out of beta testing, and TodayTech has installed it on its own Web site to show other resellers how it works.

"We eat our own dog food, as they say," Porter said. "We have customised the product so that we can sell it to other distributors and resellers. It allows us to give them our ordering database and the ability to add in the additional products they sell to pass on to their buyers."

The other division Porter is trying to boost is TodayTech's systems integration business. This business revolves around a branded PC solution called Moebius, which has been popular with local government, councils and education customers. It was designed from the ground up by TodayTech staff, using common components such as Intel motherboards, Fujitsu hard disks and LG monitors. The division also focuses on network integration, notebook and server solutions, and various other services.

Porter is enjoying his time working in the reseller market, particularly the challenge of making faster decisions that make a pronounced impact on the business.

"You have to be more of a generalist in a smaller business and take far more things into account," he said. "You have to think of financial, legal and marketing concerns. It's a challenge I find motivating and interesting. In a large corporation, you can get stale becoming a specialist."

It takes less time to make an idea become a reality, he said. "In this space, you get things done faster and get to see the impact straight away. In a large corporation, the process is much more laborious."

According to Porter, the biggest challenge the reseller market faces today is the same challenge its customers are facing: keeping up-to-date with back-end infrastructure.

"The biggest challenge for resellers is taking the time to make infrastructure investments themselves," he said. "Often their own back-end systems are old and outdated. It should be a priority for all businesses."

"We often think it's too hard, so it falls back down the priority list. Meanwhile, new entrants to the marketplace come in with the competitive advantage of brand new systems," he said.

"Unless you update or outsource, you are constantly holding yourself back."