IBM unveils shift in how it sells IT services

IBM Monday announced a major change in the way it will sell its portfolio of IT services and rolled out the first two of more than 30 new "service products" it expects to unveil by the end of the year. The two products unveiled Monday are designed to help companies implement IP network conversion and IP telephony projects.

The new initiative aims to take the company's people-based services processes and turn them into standardized technology and consulting products, according to Marisa Viveros, director of integrated communications services within IBM Global Services. "It's a new way for us to work and share our intellectual capital," she said in an interview.

The new service products, available immediately, are in the categories of Network Convergence Services and IP Telephony Services, Viveros said. By year's end, service products will be announced that cover the entire range of IBM Global Services work areas, an IBM spokesman said.

The service products will reap the benefits of hundreds of custom installs for a given technology, such as voice over IP (VoIP), boiling them down to a set of service methodologies that can be used by any new IBM Global Services customer, Viveros said. "It's almost like a cookie cutter, but IBM will customize 30% of the project in the field. The customer can see the benefit of an improved capability and of a standard offering."

IBM is making the change in part to reach small and midsize businesses, not just larger, Fortune 500 firms, Viveros said. She also noted that IT budgets are smaller, project timelines are shorter and companies sometimes have several people with shared responsibilities for large projects. Having a standard approach can help in those circumstances, she said.

Two current IBM Global Services customers said they are interested in hearing about the program. But one IT manager in a school system questioned whether there would still be enough hands-on guidance from IBM experts who know his specific needs.

"The beauty of working with IBM Global Services since year 2000 has been having the same main contact person the entire time and somebody familiar with education needs," said Christopher Smith, IT director for the Bath Central School District in New York. Some 3,000 students and staff members there have had a converged voice and data network and Cisco Systems IP telephones since 2003.

"I would have reservations about losing the degree of personal attention and attention to our needs that has been a big component of our relationship," Smith said. "I hope that wouldn't change with the new system.... It sounds a little fuzzy to me."

Bath Central has spent about US$1.5 million on its system, which offers users speech-to-text and text-to-speech capabilities and will be used for videoconferencing in the future, Smith said. He understands how IBM might be able to generalize something like a VoIP installation across a number of its clients. But he wondered if IBM would require him to buy service products in the future.

In response, an IBM spokesman said customers will still be able to get custom services as well as the new service products.

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