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Microsoft managed services SKUs on track

Delivering managed services is no snap, but Microsoft's tech staff is slowly taking over management duties of battery maker Energizer's PC business. Its goal is to develop ideas for new services SKUs. The first services will come later this year.

While Microsoft's first try at managing the PC operations from within a customer's enterprise is chugging along, it is perhaps moving more slowly than originally anticipated.

Still, the software company's overall managed services plans are on track; its SKUs (stock keeping units) are being developed outside of Energizer. The first services SKUs, which are based on Exchange Server, will be delivered within 90 days, a senior Microsoft executive said.

Microsoft's Rick Devenuti, senior vice president of services and IT at Microsoft, explained that the company is currently in the "migration stage" of taking over the PC management of various sites within Energizer Holdings, the St. Louis, Mo.-based consumer goods company.

The process of learning the business, and then developing a repeatable service, has turned out to be not such an easy job, though Devenuti declined to offer specifics on the process. "We needed to learn what was replicable," he said. "That took a lot longer than I thought."

The managed services developments are just one element in a number of broad changes Microsoft made to its services and support business this year. The company also recently overhauled the entire organization in a manner designed to potentially drive future business. The makeover is part of a three-year plan that involves reorganizing roles and responsibilities from a support services perspective, as reported earlier.

In the end, customers will see consolidated contact information, standard response times and other functions that will be made common across the entire corporation.

Today, only enterprise customers with Premier Support Agreements -- and to a lesser degree, Microsoft Essential Support Agreements -- get the kind of handholding that many smaller and mid-sized companies will enjoy following the reorganization.

Devenuti said he was not ready to announce a support agreement to meet other organizations' needs, which might be construed as a hint of more to come.

To make the support reorganization work, Microsoft has had to change the way it views its own mission. "Microsoft has to focus on customer needs and not its own internal organization," Devenuti said. Microsoft will continue to grow services and support as necessary, adding more technical account managers to keep pace with Premier Agreements, as well as more geographically dispersed engineers, he said.

The software giant has been looking for hot new markets, and services and support has potential, although just how much potential is unclear. Experts said that while services will never be as profitable as Microsoft's Office business, for example, Office is not really growing today.

And Microsoft's desktop operating system does well, but it really has nothing to do with Microsoft, said Paul DeGroot, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash., consulting firm. "It has more to do with the PC buying cycle."

Though the first SKUs are managed services around Exchange Server, Degroot said he could see Microsoft offering services that emphasize manageable desktops and software, using Microsoft Operations Manager and Systems Management Server.

Microsoft had said there would be other enterprise customers besides Energizer taking part in the program to develop services SKUs, but it has not identified another customer since Energizer's name became public.

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