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Microsoft gets serious about consulting

Microsoft gets serious about consulting

You're getting another choice in the contest for your IT consulting dollars: Microsoft.

You're getting another choice in the contest for your IT consulting dollars: Microsoft. In its move from supporting player to starring role, the software company has created a single consulting organization called Microsoft Worldwide Services that as of Memorial Day had about 12,000 employees. According to Jim Wilson, group marketing manager for Microsoft Worldwide Services, IT consultants focusing on e-commerce, enterprise application planning and distributed network architectures make up a little more than a third of this group. The rest are IT analysts and a growing legion of customer service representatives.

Microsoft's move means the Redmond, Wash.-based vendor will try to become the prime contractor on enterprise consulting engagements, vying for business with players like IBM Global Services, Electronic Data Systems Corp. and the consulting arms of the big accounting practices. Wilson says Microsoft Worldwide Services is aimed at his company's bigger clients. "When global customers acquire a mission-critical solution they expect the vendor to take direct responsibility," he adds.

Do you sense a market shake-up looming?

There are clear benefits for some customers: Using Microsoft consultants means working directly with the creators of the products they are implementing. Randy Harvey, senior vice president of software solutions at Reynolds & Reynolds Co., a Dayton, Ohio, services provider to auto retailers, says his company uses its contracting relationship with Microsoft to gain early access both to technology and to Microsoft's developers. "Microsoft has demonstrated a real desire to work with us," Harvey says.

Direct access to Microsoft is likely to prove attractive for CIOs who "don't want an intermediary between them and the deep source of information," says Tony Adams, principal analyst at Gartner Dataquest's IT services group in Lowell, Mass. "Many [CIOs] have had bad experiences with Microsoft partners who have to call Microsoft for an answer."

If anyone is looking askance at Microsoft's new direction, it's likely to the value-added resellers that now must cope with Microsoft as a potential competitor. Gartner Dataquest's Adams notes that this is a new role for the company: "Up until now Microsoft's business model has been to push the partner forward and remain in the background, fixing problems as necessary."

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