Sun's IT services

Sun Microsystems recently announced plans to roll out a set of IT services that make use of product and user configuration data being stored in a new knowledge management system -- information that Sun calls "intellectual property". The company also detailed internal changes that are aimed at improving coordination within its Sun Services unit.

Patricia Sueltz, who became executive vice president of Sun Services in July, spoke with Computerworld about the restructuring moves and her strategy for competing with rivals IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co., both of which have much larger IT services organizations than Sun.

Q: By intellectual property, do you mean knowledge? And if so, whose knowledge do you plan to use? Yours, or your customers? I really meant it as taking the knowledge we have and tying it together. We do work for customers. If we're disciplined -- and we are -- we put this into our knowledge base with the problems and issues that we encounter. It's like the difference between oral tradition and literature: Once you start writing it down, it's preserved. We have intellectual capital [in different areas] that can be tied together, and that shared data will help us give better service.

Q: If you have all that information, do you plan to let users know about the product warts you find?My boss [Sun CEO Scott McNealy] says, "Why don't we just have Web sites that say we've had these problems with products?" You don't want to say that the sky is falling, but at the same time, I think full disclosure makes good sense. That's where we're headed, and I think sooner rather than later.

Q: You've put marketing and strategic planning for the three businesses within Sun Services under a single executive. Was coordination a problem before? We've had a 25 percent annual compound growth rate over the past nine years, which is nothing to sneeze at. But some of that was during the heady years of [IT market] growth, and we need to be able to make sure that it can be sustained. The three units did their own marketing strategies before. I said, I think, we need to be much more coordinated and cohesive.

Q: You've also filled seven of the 10 positions that report to you with new executives. That makes it seem like the organization was broken before. It wasn't. We were working fine. But integration was key, and if I had a player who didn't want to integrate, I had to make a decision. Were things broken? No. But did we have to infuse some thoughts about Sun and integrating with our software? Absolutely.

Q: You talked during the announcement about a plan to implement common services methodologies across Sun Services. Don't you already have that sort of thing? We have these practices, and sometimes we did them once in a row. I'll be candid with you: Any time you go through an 11 percent reduction in force, like we've just done, it hits you hard. You can't do things the way you did before. What we're trying to do is take the practices that we've used and make sure that we can use them more than once.

Q: Other Sun executives have said the company's goal is to become more of a general contractor that takes a lead role with users on projects. What does that mean for Sun Services? In the past, our services were really thought of as service -- meaning support. What we're trying to do now is have Sun Services more involved in consulting right at the beginning [of projects]. I think of myself as the No. 1 subcontractor to [Sun's] global sales organization. My professional services [unit] will play a lot bigger role.

Q: But will Electronic Data Systems Corp. and other systems integrators that you work with now still have roles as well? What we're trying to say is that Sun and our partners together are stronger than IBM, and certainly stronger than HP. I think it's folly to say that all the pearls of wisdom fall from one company's mouth. What I'm doing is making sure that I give users a single point of contact, so there's no finger-pointing. But the best brains available are working on the solution.

Q: What kind of new services should users expect to see Sun offering?What I hear from customers is that they want flexibility, and by that they mean the ability to buy something upfront or to buy it over time. We have a strategy for [utility computing services]. We're piloting some programs now, and then we're going to beta-test it at Sun. I need to add metering capabilities and more flexible billing capabilities. But I'm expecting that I'll be rolling something out early in 2003.

Q: You said services currently account for about 32 percent of Sun's revenue. Where do you expect that to go in the future?I want to see it stay in the high 20s or the low 30s. I don't want it to go up to 60 percent because that would mean we're not leading with technology solutions to help solve customers' problems.

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