Facing the facts of a services world

Services, services, services. It’s just about all a network manager hears from vendors these days. It’s not hard to spot their growth, either. In releasing its Q2 2001 results last month, IBM revealed that for the first time in its history, services accounted for the largest portion of revenue, outpacing hardware sales $8.742-billion to $8.652-billion.

And look at what old directory services giant Novell has been up to this year: laying the boot to ultra techno-geek CEO Eric Schmidt and replacing him with Jack Messman, head of IT services giant Cambridge Technology Partners. Oh, and it also so happens that Novell bought Cambridge this year in a desperate effort to boost its services business.

With many customers putting the brakes on equipment spending, and with all indications pointing to the collective gas pedal not being touched for at least another year, it makes sense for these firms and others like them to shift towards services.

But what will this trend mean for the average network manager or CIO? The impact could be substantial.

First, equipment purchasers can expect to hear a double whammy of sales pitches. It used to be that vendors would be content to sell you their wares and let you and your IS team do most of the work yourselves. Not anymore. Whether it’s done subtly (by the big firms that will be successful in this area) or overtly (a course surely to be followed by more amateurish outfits), expect to have the benefits of services extolled ad nauseam as well.

Second, the shift to services could also affect help desk support offered by the vendors. In the services world, a confused customer is like a bar of gold to services firms. Don’t know how to configure that router? Let us do it for you. Not getting the most out of that complex new network management software offering? We’ll be right over. Hey, why don’t we set up a services contract so this problem never has to bother you again?

As it stands now, vendors are doling out help-desk information as part of the product purchase price. If you were a vendor trying to beef up your services arm, would you keep increasing the resources send toward customer help desks? Of course not.

Vendors might argue that many of the tools needed to carry out the task of operating today’s networks are by necessity extremely complex and that the growth of services is merely an offshoot of this complexity. This may be true, but don’t expect them to try to make their offerings any less dense.

Make no mistake about it, and don’t let the warm and fuzzy tomes of six-figure-salary sales people confuse you: vendors want you to buy their services, and they’ll do what they think it takes to make sure you do.