In 2003, New York City consolidated 32 autonomous community school districts under a unified Department of Education, creating a vast organization of 130,000 employees serving 1.1 million students. The reorg also brought under one IT roof approximately half a million pieces of computing equipment, including about 300,000 desktops and notebooks. According to the Department’s CIO, Irwin Kroot, no one at the time really knew how many assets the system had. So Kroot’s predecessor outsourced an inventory survey to a division of Dell. “They went door to door,” Kroot says, to all of the district’s 1,200 buildings, to inventory the equipment for an asset-management database.
Today, under a contract for approximately $20 million a year (about $65 per CPU), Dell Services provides a mix of services to keep elements of the district’s IT infrastructure running. For example, it covers “initial install and on-site testing,” Kroot says, “and...provides techs who come out and make sure [CPUs have] the appropriate network access and disk image.” The district continues to manage software inventory and distributes patches and software updates. And it runs a level-one support center but escalates problems it can’t solve to a Dell-operated help desk.
This a la carte approach to mixing and matching services is typical of desktop outsourcing arrangements. In fact, the top two pure-play desktop outsourcing firms, CenterBeam and Everdream, divvy up their offerings into discrete buckets with published pricing for each service. A key differentiator for those two vendors is their heavy reliance on automation and remote service provision. Whereas Dell, with 1.3 million seats under management, sticks close to procuring and managing hardware — as you might expect from a company focused on manufacturing PCs. Other firms that are better known for consulting on business processes and strategic IT planning, such as EDS, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM, also contract to manage the PC lifecycle.
From the perspective of an IT manager or CIO at a multinational corporation, the global reach of the big consulting and outsourcing firms becomes critical.
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Regardless of who owns this market, it’s big: According to Gartner analyst William Maurer, revenues for outsourcing desktop management hit almost $28 billion worldwide last year; at least 22 vendors participated to the tune of $50 million or more each.
Those numbers are likely to grow. Just like New York’s school system, an increasing number of organizations have reached the conclusion that at least some aspects of managing desktop PCs aren’t worth their toll on in-house resources. And in many cases, particularly when many small offices are geographically distributed, an outsourcer can bring order to situations that have spun out of control.
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