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Intel's Eastern focus prompts concern in English channel

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ISS Intel's renewed focus on emerging markets has prompted concern that the chip maker doesn't have a coherent plan for western Europe.

At the beginning of the year, Intel reorganised itself into five customer facing groups. Bill Siu, formerly in charge of all things PC and desktop related, takes the helm in the channel platform division.

The company has also announced that following the success of the Centrino, it will be focussing on developing platforms, rather than just components. Some of the platforms will be very specifically targeted at particular developing markets, and Intel is establishing four platform development centres around the world to come up with these very local solutions.

Cairo will be host to the Europe, Middle East and Africa development centre, and according to Siu, its main focus will be on the emerging African and Middle Eastern markets. Meanwhile, Siu is planning to relocate to China this summer.

"This is where the manufacturing is," he told us at the Intel Solutions Summit in Dublin this week. "To be successful, we need to locate our headquarters in the developing market."

But this level of commitment to the newer markets has left channel partners in more mature geographies worried about where they stand.

Gordon Davies, commercial director at systems integrator Compusys, one of Intel's top 50 channel partners in the UK, said he wants to know where products and ideas for western Europe will come from, if Europe's development centre is focussed on the emerging market.

"There is a danger of fragmentation [in the channel], and a lack of attention to mature markets. That fear is real in the channel, so we have to make a big noise and say to Intel 'Don't forget to hold on to what you've got'," he told us.

Intel, insists it appreciates such concerns. "Yes, the fear is there," said John Bainbridge, head of the UK's channel sales programme. "And we are getting public acknowledgement of it from senior executives within Intel."

"We certainly realise and recognise that channel players are under pressure from multinationals, particularly as markets mature," Siu added. "We will do our part to make our channel partners as competitive as possible."

He argued that the success of the channel lies in its ability to add value to a solution - either by providing support, or other services - and in their ability to get stuff to market faster than the bigger companies. "We need to re-energise the channel to focus more on time-to-market," he said. "The earlier you get there the more value you have."

Siu also said that while the new platforms that will come out of the development centres will be very locally targeted, many of them will cross over into other geographies. He gives the example of the iCafe, a very simple server that allows a single person to control the settings, anti-virus, firewall and so on, on a number of PCs.

It was designed in China to help internet cafe managers deal with a high rotation of users per PC, but Siu argues that it would also work well in the small business market, or could be something that a channel partner might use to service a number of clients.

"You can't service 50 clients individually - it would take to long to 'touch' everything," Siu said. "But the IT is embedded in the platform, the channel partner creates a service behind it, and suddenly the client's IT support is elevated to the level you would expect in a Fortune 500 company. This is the kind of thing that the channel can do, and it isn't a problem that can be solved by making a CPU run faster."

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