Microsoft Service Desk could be tough sell

Even by adding a service desk to its System Center portfolio, it won't be easy for Microsoft to entice Windows shops that have already invested time and money in third-party products.

SAN DIEGO, Calif.--Though they work on opposite coasts, Brian Young and Brandon Fiske, who are both SMS administrators and work for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc., share a similar problem. They struggle getting their service desk technology from third-party vendors to work properly.

"None of them integrate well," Young said.

"I'm on my fourth program to try and accomplish full integration," Fiske added.

Microsoft is betting users like Young and Fiske will be inspired by its newest member of the System Center product family. This week at the Microsoft Management Summit 2006, Bob Muglia, Microsoft's senior vice president for server and tools, said the company would sell a service desk.

The software, code-named simply "Service Desk," is due out in late 2007. It pulls together process and change control logic, Muglia said, and will be integrated with other System Center tools out-of-the-box.

The service desk will be a blow to third-party vendors, such as BMC Corp., IBM and Peregrine Systems Inc., that are currently selling service desks as Microsoft partners, said Peter Pawlak, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash. But, he said, Microsoft has come to realize that offering its own product makes more sense.

"This makes their other tools look better," Pawlak said. "[Microsoft] has a lot of the foundation for this already with their current products. And they have an advantage because they only have to integrate with their own tools, so it makes the job easier for Microsoft than for a BMC or Tivoli."

Stephen Elliot, an analyst with IDC, a Framingham, Mass., market research firm, said the addition of Service Desk reveals Microsoft's growing emphasis on its management suite. "Seven to ten years ago, management was the ugly stepchild," Elliot said. "[Microsoft] didn't care about it. That has changed."

Both analysts agreed that convincing users to purchase Microsoft's new Service Desk would likely take time.

Service desk owners can't ignore costs

Customers won't simply toss aside their installed service technologies so third-party vendors do have time on their side. Customers won't be rushing to switch, Pawlak said.

Pawlak pointed to cost as the major decision factor for most Windows shops. Most large enterprises with a service desk invested time and money and made custom enhancements. However, he said smaller businesses may be interested in Microsoft Service Desk soon. "Some companies are still using spreadsheets to track all of this stuff," he said. "This may be just the entree they need to invest in this kind of technology."

Elliot agreed. "A lot of users will say: 'Well, I've already got a service desk.' They may not be interested now, but they should look at it from a long-term perspective, " he said.

Michael Reavis, an SMS administrator for the local government in Johnson County, Kan., said he would consider migrating if the price were right. Reavis uses a BMC service desk, and, like Fiske and Young, he has found integration to be a challenge. He thinks a Microsoft-manufactured product might solve some of that problem.

"If it were fully integrated I would definitely be interested," he said.

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