Dell's new services help smaller companies
By Connie Mabin
AUSTIN, Texas Mike Hasson wears many hats at Chicago-based TLC Management.
He's an accountant and the computer guy, a one-man IT department responsible for buying and maintaining the 40-person property management company's technology.
When the firm wanted to change the computer program it uses for accounting and get its PCs hooked up to new servers, Hasson turned to Dell Computer Corp.
A Dell salesman walked Hasson through what equipment he needed and referred him to a local technician who networked the entire company in less than a day.
"He saved us some money. He didn't oversell us," Hasson said. "My boss appreciated it even more than me."
Dell announced plans this week to formally introduce a line of services for small and medium-sized businesses that typically do not have large technical staffs or budgets. An estimated 70 percent of small businesses don't have IT departments, according to a report by AMI Partners Inc.
Services include network design, network installation and staff training. Prices vary, but begin at $199 for design and $99 a year for training. It was a bargain to Virginia Martin, who said she had no technology knowledge when she oversaw the purchase of a network package for a dentist's office in Dallas.
"Dell took what little information I could give them and gave us a total package. They are definitely the experts, which allows me to do my job," said Martin, an office manager. "Dell spent a lot of time with me, educating me on the technology and explaining the installation process."
Bruce McKee, director of services for Dell's small and medium-sized business division, said the computer giant is trying to give customers like Martin and Hasson one place to buy servers and other networking equipment and get help with how to use them.
Businesses like mom-and-pop stores, beauty parlors and other small operations have been craving this kind of package, said Michele Hudnall, a Meta Group analyst who tracks technology service and support.
"They don't have the funding to bring in the folks who would have the expertise, so the more out-of-the-box, plug-and-play that Dell can make that, the better," she said. "It has to be very canned."
Hudnall said the tricky part for Dell could be figuring out how to offer proper support to customers once the products are designed and sold because Dell doesn't have a physical presence at the business.
Dell's announcement is its second geared toward small businesses since August, when it entered the white box market, selling generic computers to dealers who, in turn, sell the PCs to small businesses.