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Rocking to a different beat

01 Oct 2006

Wellington-based Observatory Crest is a company with many strings to its bow - not surprising given the creative nature of its staff. The distributor and reseller – named after a Captain Beefheart song – was founded in 2002 by joint owners Chris O’Shea and Paul Grover.Four years on Observatory Crest has three main areas of business managed by Grover (F5 product director), O’Shea (online content delivery) and GFi sales principal John Mills.The GFi division distributes software solutions from the GFi product range, which focuses on content security, messaging and network security.While GFi was initially set up to sell its software directly to end users online, the vendor quickly realised users were happy to download and test drive its solutions on the internet, but wanted people contact when it comes to sales and support.Observatory Crest grabbed the chance to become one of just two GFi distributors in New Zealand, with the task of bringing channel partners on board to sell the products and providing sales and maintenance - mainly in the form of telephone support - to resellers and end users.Although some direct sales are still handled by Observatory Crest (in the absence of a suitable local reseller) the company is gradually moving to a purely channel-based model in line with GFi’s overall strategy.Mills says he would like to see GFi established as a set of standard products used by businesses across the country, and to do so he needs to ensure different market sectors are served and that GFi has good regional sales coverage. So far his strategy is working, with the likes of Datacom and Gen-i serving the corporate market and smaller players focusing on SME customers.“It’s not necessarily about the number of resellers you have on board, but about reseller dedication”, says Mills. “It comes down to having one product champion at each reseller. For example, Technology Solutions in Masterton have established themselves with the GFi suite of products very well and it shows in how much they are selling.”While Mills takes care of GFi sales Paul Grover handles F5 Networks sales. F5’s application traffic management products enable enterprises and service providers to optimise mission-critical applications or web services giving secure and predictable delivery of application traffic. Other F5 products include secure remote access, WAN optimization and web accelerators.Sales are made entirely through the channel and relationships with major resellers for the F5 suite of products have been an important factor on building ties with resellers for other parts of Observatory Crest’s business.Earlier this year the company launched Brain Fuel, a web site offering NZQA compliant courses using ISO technologies, allowing students from anywhere to access learning material presented in video form with seamless links to graphics, diagrams and other digital resources. (check it out at Fuel is run as a joint venture involving subsidiary company Observatory Crest Digital, McGirr Associates (NZ), Fullard Learning (an educational content developer based in the UK), and Wellington web developers Fresco Limited.Brain Fuel is a departure from Observatory Crest’s past as a straight distributor/reseller and its content delivery model was inspired by a desire to deliver digital content including music and educational material and the company’s experience with F5 Networks, says Mills.Brain Fuel demonstrates the company’s willingness to try something different and grab opportunities. “We’re very pleased with the uptake rate by students. ICT learning is critical to New Zealand’s future,” says Mills.The company has struck up a partnership with the Southern Institute of Technology, which provides free courses to those lacking in the computer skills they need to find employment.One course, the National Certificate in Computing Level 2, is already available via Brain Fuel with over 350 students signed up and more new courses in the pipeline.Taking on board lessons about the importance of having both an online and physical presence in order to deliver optimum customer service, Observatory Crest is now developing a support system for Brain Fuel students. As well as the physical work book they will receive, students with additional questions will be able to call Brain Fuel, use the chat room and be referred to their local tutor for one-on-one assistance.Making a success of a business with diverse interests is no mean feat in a changing and unpredictable IT market. It requires expertise in a number of different areas, and the ability to stay focused on delivering value and meeting customer needs in each of those areas. By pinpointing new opportunities and recruiting the right staff, Observatory Crest has become a key partner for major vendors and resellers and built a healthy stream of sales in just three years since it was formed, making it a company to observe in the future.