IBM Takes On Demand Into The Cubicle

Nov 4, 2003

Jim Wagner

Figuring its infrastructure model for business optimization would work just as well in the cubicle, IBM retooled and launched Tuesday its newest utility computing offering -- Workplace on demand.

For months, The Armonk, N.Y., company has been conducting a marketing blitz on its new back-office services/software/hardware solution; code-named Project Symphony, it is nearing completion as a complete solution, though pieces of the solution are available for sale today.

Like the heat that you use or the water you drink, utility computing charges businesses for the IT services they use, when they have the need. IBM thinks they've got it to work for the infrastructure, now they want to see if they can make it work for the printers, PCs, faxes, copiers, PDAs and laptops used by corporate workers.

The premise is simple: companies spend a lot of money on the maintenance, support and supplies that go into the hardware used everyday by millions of workers. Printers and faxes need new ink cartridges and reams of paper, while users crash laptops and PCs.

Big Blue officials say that while an IT department might carefully plan out and launch a network server deployment, printers and PCs are usually deployed in an ad hoc and scattered manner. Departments buy printers or PCs based on their preference, which are completely different than the needs of another.

"It's pretty embarrassing, but many companies tend not to know how many devices have proliferated throughout their enterprise," said Jim Bolton, an IBM output solutions program manager. "They really don't know what they're spending on their supplies because that's not in the IT budget, that's in the department's budget.

"The way they make business decisions today is, some things are run by facility management, some things are acquired from the CFO office and a few things are bought by IT," he continued. "Part of what we're offering is a way to get that all consolidated and show them what they're spending."

Like its Project Symphony counterpart, Workplace On Demand puts IBM technicians on the floor, recommending the best deployment of new hardware and software from a holistic point of view, rather than department by department. Getting everything under one roof, so to speak, will garner up to 30 percent in savings, IBM officials predicted. They pointed to one such example of cost-savings: printer ink. Using inkjet printers, the cost of printing a single page costs the company a quarter. But by switching to a workgroup laser printer -- more expensive on the front-end than an inket-- it's is much more economical over the long haul at five cents a copy.

IBM also points to a META Group study, which finds that it costs between $3,000-5,000 per year for every PC in the workplace for help desk support, fixes and maintenance.

With Workplace On Demand, companies aren't locked into buying IBM products when they look to upgrade, though you can be sure they'll try. Instead, the company said it will adopt a technology-agnostic view to hardware and work with whatever technology the company wants.

"To be honest, we're going to try to take as much IBM technology as possible, but this is a service-led kind of thing," Bolton said. "Today, we take over environments that have Sun servers, HP servers and IBM servers and help transition them over to any brand they feel comfortable with."

Billing will be handled on a monthly basis at a rate that depends on the services bought. IBM has broken it down into four areas:

  • Consulting and implementation - IBM's end-to-end services component, consulting companies on the best ways to streamline and implement a corporate-wide deployment schedule with optimized printers, PCs and wireless devices. The service also comes with a project manager to keep track of purchases and where they went, as well as consolidated billing for PC purchases.
  • Managed desktop services - A per-user service, with support hardware, software and network support handled either online through IBM's virtual help desk or over the phone using end user support services.
  • Output management services - Billed per page copied, IBM technicians will first spend on average two weeks designing and implementing a printer/fax/scanner/copier deployment in the workplace.
  • Wireless and mobility services - Design and implementation consulting service to deploy the best wireless systems for use in the workplace or on road, whether its a Blackberry or wireless laptop.

Currently, Workplace On Demand is only available in North America, though officials pointed out it supports businesses with offices in other parts of the world. Bolton said a worldwide product will be available soon.


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