Dell Broadens SMB Services Footprint

CEO Michael Dell has been talking for months about offering an array of "semi-custom" services at price points attractive to those on a limited IT budget. His company made good on that last week when it launched a network design service featuring a network-needs audit starting at $199; an installation service to help customers implement both Dell and non-Dell products; and an online software training service,all created with the needs of small businesses in mind.



Dell's first three services include:

>> NETWORK DESIGN: Evaluates customer's hardware and software needs; includes on-site assessment. Price: Starts at $199
>> INSTALLATION: Covers installation of all Dell desktop, notebook and workstation computers, as well as switches and servers. Price: None provided
>> BUSINESS PROFESSIONAL TRAINING: Offers a range of online training courses and on-site visits from experts

Price: $99 per year

"These are the customers with no IT experience or staff, or those with a small staff or [small amount of experience," said Chris Hilderbrand, manager of Dell's small and medium-size business services. "Our customers tell us they want us to be the single point of contact."

Typical small-business services engagements would probably last a day to three weeks, Hilderbrand added.

For the time being, the services will be delivered to clients not only by Dell professional services staff but also by a few select partners, including Techsolve, an Austin, Texas-based managed services provider, and Unisys and Wang.

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"We control [any new offering through a limited number of partners, so we can guarantee the customer experience is strong," Hilderbrand said. "We're not going to reveal the number of partners we work with, but [the number is flexible and evolving."

Solution providers were measured in their response to Dell's latest services foray.

"Dell has branded itself as a good hardware [manufacturer, but the real meat-and-potatoes is how they are going to deliver these services," said John Burke, president and CEO of JB Technologies, a New York solution provider. "The SMB marketplace is tough; [small businesses want everything for free. They are demanding, and rightly so, because they are expecting you to take care of all their IT problems."


Michael Dell has pledged to offer an array of services to cost-conscious clients.

One e-business integrator said Dell's current business model is not suited to meet small businesses' needs.

"Dell is trying to go this way because they have not been able to break into the SMB stronghold that the VARs hold," said Tim Radtke, president of TSR Solutions, based in Germantown, Wis.

Servicing small businesses well "is more about relationships and good customer service in a variable environment than it is [about

dropping a PC onto a desk," Radtke said.

Dell's delivery plans were also questioned by Bob Copeland, a principal in the Atlanta office of Kurt Salmon Associates, a global IT consulting firm. Without partners, the new small-business services "would be a very difficult thing to pull off," he said.

Aside from harnessing the capacity of Techsolve, Unisys and Wang to bring the new services to market, Dell in recent months has moved to bolster its in-house professional services arm and is planning more acquisitions.

Dell bought New York-based integrator Plural last summer, and Dell CFO Jim Schneider last week said at the Raymond James IT Supply Chain conference, co-hosted by CRN, that "if we could buy a handful of companies like Plural, of that size or bigger, we'd be happy to do it."

Copeland said that in all likelihood, Dell's new services will appeal most to companies "that don't know where else to go" for assistance with IT projects.

"It's like [buying Sears home-related stuff," he said. "You are buying the peace of mind that comes with the brand name."

More services, including a help-desk offering, are expected to be rolled out next year, according to Hilderbrand.

EDWARD F. MOLTZEN and STEVEN BURKE contributed to this story.