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AT&T deal to boost HP resellers

Hewlett-Packard's alliance with the telco will give HP's resellers a crack at e-commerce dollars.

In a move that will boost HP's resellers, Hewlett-Packard (HWP) and AT&T (T) announced today they will cooperate to create and market Internet commerce products and services.

The deal means that 14,000-plus HP resellers can help customers host Web storefronts on HP hardware, then outsource credit card processing to AT&T's SecureBuy service. The agreement covers stores running the HP-UX Unix operating system or Windows NT. HP resellers will integrate, install, and configure elements of the e-commerce solution.

"This is a channel play," said Glenn Osaka, HP's top e-commerce strategist, acknowledging that today's announcement unveils no new technology. "The new context is reach--how do you get solutions into the hands of companies that need them in a way that's easy for everyone from the small business on the corner to big businesses on the Fortune 100?"

HP's effort to bring e-commerce abilities to its channels will play well with resellers, Osaka predicted. "Our partners are looking for how to get into the game. This is a great way for them to be able to build a new business that augments what they can do with hardware and software."

But analyst Deb Mielke, senior broadband consultant with TeleChoice telecommunications consulting firm, called the alliance disappointing.

"There's a lot of potential there, but I don't think they've realized very much of it in this announcement," Mielke said. A lot of technologies necessary for e-commerce--directory systems, multivendor billing, supply chain management--are not included in the announcement, she noted. Mielke also predicted channel conflict between AT&T's sales force and HP resellers.

But HP is clearly trying to move in on the e-commerce game.

"We were slow to [move] in the first wave of the Internet," said Osaka. "We think e-commerce is the next wave, and it's bigger. The way we're going to do this is actually to advance incrementally. Especially from a competitive point of view, we need to get all our pieces into the market and playing well so we don't get preempted."

The e-commerce offering includes software from iCat for creating and managing online catalogs. AT&T will continue to use back-end software from Open Market (OMKT).

But Osaka expects other e-commerce vendors, including Microsoft, to latch onto the nonexclusive HP reseller program.