Asystel SA claims to be one of the successful IBM Personal Computer dealers in France, and thinks it has found a way to expand its business outside its home territory in the value added network services market. Asystel has set up a broking database, called Ibis, which provides an up-to-date information service on pricing, availability and appropriate configurations for people who wish to buy or sell second hand IBM equipment from Personal Computers to mainframes. The main point of the service is that it is aimed at users rather than brokers, cutting out the middleman or chain of middlemen between the user and the buyer. In reality of course, Asystel itself becomes the middleman but the company does promise cost savings. The market for new IBM equipment within the European Community was worth roughly UKP7,300m in 1986, according to IBM Europe, while the second hand IBM equipment market was worth around UKP1,500m. The reason the new equipment market figure is high is that some 20% of all new kit bought each year changes hands. Asystel is going for a 2% slice of the European market. But the company recognises that it will find the UK market less than easy to conquer, given the number of brokers already here, ranging from one-man operations to the likes of the large leasing companies such as Atlantic Computers Plc, which also run broking operations. The company also has to take on board the fact that a similar German venture operated by another company went bankrupt some nine months ago and was bought up by IBL. Chairman of United Leasing Plc Parry Mitchell does not envisage the service being a success. Buying and selling houses or cars or computers by computerised screen is too passive.
Kick, smell and touch
The second-hand IBM equipment world is an imperfect one, people want to kick, smell and touch what they’re buying and the only way to sell stuff is to get on the phone and hassle somebody. Asystel is charging a UKP750 per year subscription fee for access to the whole range of IBM kit and the connection charge per hour is UKP75. Access to the System 34/36/38 range only, for example, would only cost around UKP400 per year. Professional dealers, however, would be asked to pay somewhere close to UKP3,000. We don’t want to exclude dealers completely, says UK managing director of Asystel, Foulques de Montaigu. Ibis was established as a service for France and Belgium in September 1986, although the company has been in the IBM dealer market since 1981. The database, located in Brussels, is run on an IBM Token Ring local area network. It can be accessed from an IBM-compatible Personal Computer over X25 lines such as British Telecom’s Packet SwitchStream service or the French equivalent, Transpac. Asystel, headquartered in Paris, has now set up a UK subsidiary, which will also deliver and install equipment and manage exchange of contracts and payments between parties using its service. Ibis represents a way for the French company to enter a competitive UK market for IBM Personal Computer distribution as well as the UK market for online services. Countries covered by Ibis at the moment are France, Belgium and the UK. Asystel says the network will extend to the Netherlands, West Germany, Spain and Italy in the first quarter of 1987 and to Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland by the end of 1987.