Microsoft 'C3' Project Aims To Ease License Tracking

The Customer Connection Center, or "C3", is slated to go into beta this month in the United States. C3 already is in beta in the United Kingdom, and later betas are planned for Germany and France.

By clicking on the Web-based tool, customers can "see where they are in their overall license position--[it's like] a licensing bank statement," said John Lauer, vice president for worldwide midmarket in Microsoft's Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partner Group (SMS&P).

Though C3 is a customer tool, Microsoft also can use it to help match "underdeployed" customers with a solution provider that could help them make better use of the software they already may have purchased.

"The benefit for partners would be a faster sales cycle because problems are already pinpointed," Lauer told CRN.

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Several Microsoft solution providers have said they can, with a little effort, use already-purchased licenses of SharePoint Portal Server to show off the full value of Office 2003, for example.

Microsoft is waging a battle to get customers of all sizes to deploy software that they have already bought but is sitting on the shelf. The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant knows that this "shelfware" is a time bomb when it comes to re-signing customers to volume deals.

A Microsoft spokeswoman stressed that C3 isn't a license-enforcement tactic. Microsoft doesn't plan to enforce compliance with C3, but it wants to provide a Web-based tool to attract business customers to the company's online resources.

"This site is a good landing point for midmarket customers. It gives them relevant information," Lauer said. "Anytime you develop a Web site, you need a sticky app, something that keeps people coming back. Whether it's flight status or bank information, it has to be relevant to you. Our feedback is that customers want to know what their software assets are."

Microsoft is also working on another tool, code-named DaVinci, to help customers figure out their standing vs. their peers in "overall IT readiness," Lauer said.

"If I'm midmarket CEO and want to see how I stand in comparison to rest of the industry, this tool lets me input a lot of financial metrics and compare them against the rest of the industry," Lauer said. "For a manufacturer, it might show a problem with cost of goods sold [COGS], and then they can dive down to look at maybe why their inventory turns are slow and analyze their business."

The results can then be passed off to a solution provider with expertise in that market, Lauer added.

The tool would use metrics from Finlistics, an Atlanta-based company, the Microsoft spokeswoman said.

A prototype is slated to be ready in January for focus-group perusal, with a broad rollout expected in March.

The tool eventually would help customers find the right partner to solve their problem, according to Microsoft. Ultimately, that would customers more informed and help generate demand for Microsoft solutions and partner services, the spokeswoman said.

At some point, DaVinci would tie in to C3, but Microsoft has yet to set a timetable for that.