Hardware vendors eye Web services

A host of IT vendors are jumping on the Web-based services bandwagon as hardware vendors realize the additional margins available from helping companies manage hardware from PCs to printers.

Compaq Computer Corp, Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), IBM Corp., and Altiris Software Inc. have all detailed plans for the market at a time when Xerox Corp. recently announced CentreWare Web Printer Administration software, designed to allow IT departments to manage network printing devices via Web browsers.

The collected offerings include everything from consulting to online system upgrades and crisis alerts, and are available to companies as large as Ford Motor Co. and as small as individual entrepreneurs.

The services reflect vendor belief that customers respond to products offering easy-to-access services, said Mike Maples, co-founder of Motive Communications in Austin, Tex., which works with vendors to embed services in their products. “The trend we are seeing is that such products are becoming commoditized and that companies are wrapping ‘x services’ around their products, and those services create a value proposition that allows companies to increase their profits,” he said.

Moving to better personalize Web services, Compaq is preparing to launch what a Compaq representative called Compaq Customer Advantage Gateways. The Gateways offer Web-based, personalized programs to deliver enterprise business, e-procurement, and other services to customers. Compaq offers interactive chat rooms for business employees to exchange ideas, questions, and concerns in real-time via the Internet.

Dell, which closed its Dell Marketplace Web service project less than a year ago with the belief that Internet users were not ready for such an online service offering, is restructuring it Premier Enterprise Support Service to address PC and laptop clients. “Customers wanted to have that same kind of higher-level support not just for their servers and storage but for their PC clients as well, so we implemented Gold technical support for clients, which has been in place for about nine weeks,” a Dell representative said.

Meanwhile, HP is offering Web-based printer management service through its Web JetAdmin service. Web JetAdmin affords HP customers such as Ford Motor the option of managing, diagnosing, and configuring thousands of printers working within Ford’s computer network from remote offices via a secure Internet browser, according to HP representatives.

HP offers a Web-based service for PC users thorough HP’s Top Tools products. At Comdex Las Vegas last week, HP introduced an upgrade to its Top Tools suite, called One-To-Many Image software, which allows administrators to manage, upgrade, or alter the image of PCs within large deployments via the Web, even if the PCs are configured differently.

IBM also offers a wide range of Web-based services that can be found on Big Blue’s Web site, including its Access ThinkPad Button on IBM ThinkPad laptops computers, a system that contacts IBM to address a range of user questions.

In addition, Altiris last week announced its Client Mgmt Suite, built on a Web-based platform to extend management of desktops, laptops, and PDAs (personal digital assistant) from a single console.

As for Xerox, company officials explained its CentreWare Web Printer Administration software features a printer administration capability, built on Microsoft’s .Net platform and Visual Studio.Net tools. The software will send alerts to IT administrators or field service personnel via pagers, e-mail, or mobile phones if a networked device goes down.

As Microsoft’s prime .Net partner for printer Web Services, Xerox will launch in the first quarter next year the first version of its CentreWare Web Printer Administration software to be developed on the VisualStudio.Net program.

Initial services will center around device discovery and asset management of all printer products on a corporate network. Deploying the system at Microsoft, Xerox said it reduced their own printer-related help desk calls by 40 per cent.

Further expanding its Web-services, Xerox last week launched a consulting division to help users with enterprise content, knowledge, and document management system deployments.

A goal of Xerox Global Services is to determine quantifiable metrics to demonstrate ROI for knowledge and content management projects, which have been hard to measure in terms of cost savings and productivity gains, said Jim Joyce, president of Xerox Connect in Stamford, Conn.

(with files from Cathleen Moore and and Dan Neel)