Microsoft outlines service SKUs plan

During a keynote address at Microsoft's recent Worldwide Partner Conference here in Minneapolis, CEO Steve Ballmer said the company will offer managed services that are designed "more like a product or a standard offer and less like a set of customized outsourcing services." Rick Devenuti, senior vice president of Microsoft Services & IT, discussed with Computerworld the company's plans to sell services under a model where they're listed as stock-keeping units, or SKUs.

Are there certain types of services that will be more conducive to the SKU approach?

We don't have a whole list of where we're going with SKUs. We've got a product marketing organization that will make sure it looks at the opportunities. But I think essentially the platform opportunities are things we know we can do because we do them inside and we do them with customers. Where customers are having pain today, you look at that and understand what part is difficult and how do we solve that -- or where customers have adopted technology, but they're not using it productively. Customers ask us all the time: "We want to run it just like you do. You're successful with it. How can we be successful?"

So you like the idea of productizing services as much as possible?

I'm not saying it's the only way to do it. I'm saying it's a way we know that works. We've codified it. We've tested it. We've proven it. And why not share that? Frankly, it's something IT can't do. They've got day jobs. It's something that our consulting and support organization can do. And it's something that, as we have to train our support people and our consultants, we absolutely can build the same [intellectual property] for partners.

What will be the first SKU?

The first one is around Exchange [Server]. It'll be a combination of SKUs, starting with looking at the overall health of the environment. How do you measure it? How do you monitor it? What's the availability of [the customer's] Exchange servers worldwide? . . . [That SKU will grow] to, how do you deploy [Exchange] and how do you really support it once it's in place?

When will Microsoft introduce the first one?

We'll be using it internally in this half of the[fiscal] year, and we'll be offering it to partners sometime during the second half. We've got a lot to learn about the difference between what this concept is and how you train somebody to do it. Today, they suggest we take people out of IT and marry them with consultants. But that doesn't scale. There's really got to be training. There's got to be certification or accreditation.

Will customers in the future be able to find a catalog of SKUs for services?

Yes. We want to broadly market these SKUs, and they can be delivered by Microsoft or by partners. I don't think it's something customers will do for themselves, because you need to be accredited and trained on it.

Will Microsoft ever be the sole service provider, or will you always work with partners?

Certainly, in the original stage, we'll do it because we've got to prove it. We've got to build it. And we've got to market it, because unless there's a broad umbrella that says one of these Microsoft things is good and there's proof points to it, there's no way to scale it up. So we'll start with them. But the only way to really reach velocity is to have partners enabled to do that.

Will the service SKUs be offered under Microsoft Consulting Services

For both Microsoft Consulting Services and in Premier [Support]. I tend to think of those two organizations as our enterprise services group.

Does this put you into competition with your partners to some degree?

I don't think so at all. We're really talking about building out an asset for the partner and customer channel. But we have to prove that it works. And this concept of having a very prescriptive way to do something that works in a heterogeneous environment -- that gets the guaranteed predictable results we're talking about -- we haven't found it to be an easy thing to do. So we need to make sure that we can do it and we know how you need to be trained to do it and that you can do it profitably.