Dell hopes support hubs will improve service delivery

Dell is pushing ahead with plans to open IT support hubs worldwide to improve its service delivery to buyers of its servers, storage devices and workstations. Although the hubs are aimed primarily at enterprise customers, they will also cover consumers and small and midsize businesses.

Dell currently has two Enterprise Command Centers (ECC): one that opened last November in Round Rock, Texas, to support customers in Canada, the U.S. and Latin America, and a second one that opened this week in Xiamen, China, to serve clients in that country.

Later this year, Dell plans to open an ECC for its European customers in Limerick, Ireland, and a fourth in Japan to support its clients there. Dell expects to open another ECC in the Asia-Pacific region in early 2005.

"The goal here is to have consistent enterprise support in all regions of the world," said Jan Uhrich, Dell's vice president of enterprise services. Although the ECCs will support only the country or region where they are located, they will be linked in order to give Dell broad visibility into all service incidents from customers with global operations, Uhrich said.

Having the service hubs tied to specific countries and regions is a good move for Dell and should benefit its customers, said Patrick Sayers, an analyst at Technology Business Research in Hampton, N.H. "You get the client intimacy, because (center staffers) don't have to struggle to overcome the customs and culture (of clients), and you also have the cost benefit" if the service center is in an area with a low cost of operations, he said.

Dell is known as a leader and an innovator in making its business processes more efficient, so it's not surprising to see the company aggressively moving to improve the way it provides services, a growing business for the company, Sayers said. "What they're doing is translating the success they've had on the hardware side managing their supply chain and transferring those techniques to the services side," he said.

ECCs are staffed around the clock year round and act as central repositories of service events in each geographic area, Uhrich said. Dell uses ECCs to continuously monitor, track and manage service jobs from beginning to end from a central place.

"The ECC is focused on logistics and field coordination, and it is the hub where everything comes together," she said. "We're watching (service events) from beginning to end to make sure everything goes right and moving as quickly as possible until the system is up and running. The goal is to decrease downtime for our customers."

For example, when a service call comes into a technical support center in the Americas, the case is logged into the Round Rock ECC and tracked from there until it's resolved. This ECC has allowed Dell to significantly improve the speed with which service jobs are delivered in the Americas, Uhrich said.

"In the Round Rock ECC, you can see on maps where all our (service) events are in the Americas, what their status is, which field technicians are on site, which parts are available to a particular customer and so on. It gives us real-time visibility to all service incidents in the Americas," she said. Prior to the opening of the Round Rock ECC, Dell had service-delivery processes, "but the people were in different organizations, buildings, groups and the process wasn't as tightly integrated," Uhrich said.

The ECCs not only deal with reactive, after-the-fact service responses but also handle proactive planning by tracking news feeds and weather reports and shifting resources as necessary ahead of a national or regional emergency, she said. For example, as Hurricane Frances whirled toward Florida, staffers at the Round Rock ECC took steps to prepare for the possibility that customers in that state would need assistance.

"I was able to move parts and people around the path of the hurricane to make sure we were ready to support all our customers in case there was any damage," Uhrich said.

Finally, ECCs don't just concern themselves with break/fix type of support services. ECCs track any type of work, including installation and deployments. "Anything happening with our customers is being tracked," she said.

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