Dell improves IT services with Google Maps

Dell extends big-company perks to midrange businesses

Dell launched an IT services plan Wednesday that extends big-company perks to midrange businesses and allows system administrators to track server problems by plotting them on Google Maps.

The move could help Dell to staunch its market share losses to rival Hewlett-Packard and to tap further into the $5 billion market for enterprise IT services.

Dell will offer this new service, called Platinum Plus, to businesses with 100 or more servers. Previously, Dell's Platinum-level program was available only to companies with 200 or more servers.

Dell, of Round Rock, Texas, draws 85 percent of its revenue from customers in business, education, and government, so the company sees the new service as a way to retain those core customers.

"We believe that companies pay too much for too little," said Steve Meyer, vice president of Dell Services, during a conference call with reporters. "Service is the single biggest component of an IT budget. So Dell will improve the price performance of our offering."

A business subscribing to Platinum Plus will receive 24x7 hardware and software troubleshooting, emergency dispatch service and four-hour on-site support calls.

Platinum Plus also includes a Real-time Tracking Window, which allows IT administrators to track ongoing support activities by creating a map of their company's server locations with Google's Google Earth Pro. Computers in need of repair are marked with red icons, while healthy computers are green.

Administrators can also use Platinum Plus' benchmarking feature to compare their IT performance metrics to historical results or to other companies in similar business sectors or geographic areas.

Dell offers scaled-back versions of the service for smaller companies, but businesses see the best results by using the full package. The previous high-end service, called platinum, reduced the number of subscribers' IT problems by 20 percent, and reduced the time needed to fix them by 30 percent.

Those improvements came mostly by reducing human error in equipment setup, through improved information exchange and better diagnosis of the problems, Meyer said.

The new product will allow Dell to focus on the fast-growing midmarket business segment, analysts said.

Technology providers from Microsoft to IBM also plan to compete for those customers, since they view that market segment as being underserved, said John Madden, practice director for enterprise services strategies at Summit Strategies Inc.

Dell will use Platinum Plus' glitzy features like benchmarking and real-time tracking to renew its focus on servers.

"The idea of providing services beyond straight support is very different from just shipping a box out the door and providing some services around it," Madden said.

"Now they will also include infrastructure, maintenance and implementation. They're never going to be an EDS or an Accenture, and they don't want to be. But it's a $5 billion business, so they see this as a good investment."