Customers win as IT vendors mature

Do more with less. Aside from being Microsoft’s slogan for its Windows Server 2003, it appears to be the rallying cry of the entire technology sector.

Everywhere you turn, the focus is far less on features and technology than it is around this theme of doing more with less. The industry seems to have accepted that it cannot and will not be able to “turn back the clock” to the explosive sending of the late 1990s – and that it had better focus instead on helping companies get more from their existing investments in technology.

In the case of Window Server 2003, the message about doing more with less refers to more than just money. One of Microsoft’s clear messages at the Toronto launch of the product a few months back was about “server consolidation,” whereby the richer set of capabilities in Windows Server 2003 would allow corporations to carry out the same networked computer operations using only a fraction of the servers.

And, as is common at such events, the company had customers from across the country putting hand on heart and giving testimony to the power of this idea. Vancouver-based Intrawest Corporation, which runs the popular Whistler/Blackcomb ski resort, explained how server consolidation had allowed it to reduce the number of servers from 150 down to around 30. The cost savings lay in the reduction of the amount of time needed to maintain and service all that hardware. But there were “softer” benefits as well, such as the ability to redeploy the surplus servers to other tasks within the organization and the ability to more quickly integrate the IT infrastructure of new resorts as Intrawest gets contracts to manage them.

So doing more with less can also mean doing more with less people, less computer hardware and taking less time to do so. The “doing more” part of the equation was amusingly illustrated by a recent TV ad from Novell which featured a CEO convening a meeting with senior executives and grilling them on why the meeting was called and which part of their IT infrastructure had failed this time.

As the boss quizzed them about IT issues that appeared to have been challenging at some point in the company’s life, each of the execs assured there was no IT crisis. The reason for the meeting: shoes.

“Shoes?” asked the perplexed CEO. “Yes, shoes,” uttered one of his execs, who then reminded his boss that they were a shoe company and perhaps it would be nice if they all sat down and talked about the business challenges of making and selling shoes. It was an effective piece of advertising, and it underscored Novell’s assertion that corporations should be able to spend their time focused on their business issues, rather than on running computers and networks.

A similar message was on offer at California-based Nuance’s annual V-World user conference in San Francisco in late April. The company is a leader in voice recognition and speech applications, producing interactive voice recognition (IVR) systems, which allow users to state what they want when they call into a company and then have the voice recognition route the call to where it needs to go. The system allows customers to get their issues dealt with more quickly, and helps corporations process higher volumes of calls with lower levels of staff.

The theme of the conference wasn’t exactly a direct steal of the “do more with less.” It was “Accelerting the Value of Voice,” which hits on the themes of getting value and quick return on investment.

Technology companies seem to be getting a strong message from their customers and are responding to it in a way that lets them know their concerns will be addressed by technological solutions. Like teenagers who suddenly enter their 20s and realize the world does not revolve around them, the leading companies in the techology sector are also realizing it isn’t all about them.

At the end of the day, it’s about businesses being able to work efficiently and cost-effectively. Anything else is just window-dressing.

Wheelwright is a freelance journalist, author and broadcaster. He most recently served as editorial director of StockHouse Media Corp.