VARs come in all sizes, from giants like Ross Perot's old company that did $12.4 billion worth of business in 1995 down to self-employed consultants who resell computers as a convenience for their clients. Smaller VARs usually specialize, and may focus either on certain technologies (like networking or graphics) or particular fields of business (like accounting or inventory control). Vendors of specialized vertical- market applications (like Medical Accounting System for physicians, or Oil Purchasing Accounting System for Oil Purchasers) often double as VARs so they can offer their clients one-stop shopping.
Your ideal VAR will be familiar with the special needs of your particular type of business. (It's like finding someone to repair your car--you want not just a good mechanic, but one who's experienced with your make and model.) He will also be able to create custom programs from scratch. (Much like an auto repair shop who is also a machinist so that he can make any difficult to find parts.) Get recommendations from others in your area who have used the services of the consultant for a period of time greater than one year.
The services of such a VAR will, of course, be expensive. However, the major benefits of a computer system occur in time savings and greater business efficiency over a period of years and these benefits will dwarf initial start up expenses if the system is done right. Conversely, the cost of operating an inefficiently designed system in terms of lost time, lost data, unfixed bugs, and frustration in struggling with the system will be much greater than any savings you might achieve on the initial installation. A major consideration too is the availability of local service when problems do occur or upgrades or other changes are needed.
Once you agree to deal with him, your VAR will custom-build systems to the agreed specifications. That will include installing all the applications you need, and adapting them for your individual business as necessary by designing templates and macros, converting and importing data from legacy systems, or writing custom applications. It will also include training your employees and as much hand-holding and trouble-shooting as is necessary.
Once the PCs are set up and tested, the VAR installs them in your office, hooks up printers and other peripherals, and networks them as necessary. After installation, the VAR will train you and/or your staff in using the new equipment and programs. Obviously, this kind of extensive hand-holding can be expensive--but so can having your business grind to a halt while you and your employees struggle to master your new computers and software.
Last revised March 29, 1997.
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