Industry Giant Seeks Soulmate | Article

MicrosoftBest Aligned Deal

1998 Editor’s Choice Award

From the editor:
In the Best Aligned Award, we recognize relationships in which two parties have found ways to align their interests for their mutual benefit. In the Microsoft/ENTEX relationship, Microsoft has succeeded in outsourcing what, at first blush, looks like a core competency to an efficient supplier. The supplier, ENTEX, also is incented to grow the relationship through their OEM channel and other operations. It is this synergy of interests that we wish to recognize. We see it as a cornerstone to ongoing success.

Microsoft is widely touted as a giant in the marketplace, a visionary organization in the marketing arena. It should come as no surprise that they sought an outsourcing relationship that meshed with their philosophy. That search led them to ENTEX.

“They’re like Microsoft,” says Mark Achzenick, Microsoft vendor account manager. “They are aggressive in what they do as their core competencies. They are on top of the industry and out in front of it. And probably one of the more key issues is that they’re flexible. They work with us on modeling the services we want to perform and don’t mind stepping out of the box.”

The relationship is two-fold. ENTEX is the service provider for Microsoft’s help desk services for employees using the company’s products within the Microsoft environment. They also are a business partner, reselling Microsoft services.

Although ENTEX has been on-site with Microsoft since the early 1990s, the company was selected as a single service provider only in 1995. The original three-year contract has been extended to July 2000. In addition to providing support to Microsoft employees, they also perform desk-side repair activity.

“Everything is service-level-driven,” says Achzenick. “They own the process, from the call origination to final resolution.”

The call center is located in a building near the Microsoft corporate campus in Redmond, Washington. Other services are located on-site at Microsoft. Because Microsoft, prior to the ENTEX agreement, was operating what Achzenick calls ‘a body-shop-type service,’ with multiple vendors supervised by company personnel, the software company had few individuals at the management level in that area.

“Because of their talent base, we utilized them elsewhere in the company,” says Achzenick. “It wasn’t a direct transition of personnel to ENTEX. They brought in service talent to fill those gaps.”

The Two Sides of Responsiveness

Responsiveness is viewed from two perspectives. The vendor deals with the operational perspective, and Microsoft employees focus on the company’s strategic initiatives. To ensure that those roles are followed, a streamlined continuous improvement function has been created, and three high level managers from ENTEX are officed in the same building as Microsoft’s vendor managers.

“So at any time, they can go down the hall and engage on as minuscule an issue as a single incident that went awry to an issue that they want to have initiated across the help desk services,” says Achzenick. That level of responsiveness continues through the executive management levels, he says, “so there is just no misunderstanding about who’s responsible for what. It’s a very nice alignment.”

When Change is the Order of the Day…

One key to that responsiveness is the flexibility in the relationship. Achzenick notes that the contract typically is the document that drives a business.

“That’s not the case in our partnership,” he says. “If something within our document does not work for us, there is a very flexible process, specifically referred to as the change control process, in place. The right players get together on short notice and put together whatever changes need to happen…Changes can and have been as broad as change from the key SLA they need to achieve to adapting service to allow us to achieve budgetary and pricing issues that we have.”

All SLAs revolve around five key metrics — financial, delivery, quality, innovation and customer service. From that basis, all initiatives between the two parties are driven. “ENTEX has some; we have some,” says Achzenick. “We make sure that there is synergy between the two to achieve those goals.”

Dealing with a Complex Environment

He notes that Microsoft, as the developer of the Window’s operating system, has a complex environment that supports more than release type operating systems. That means that the vendor must be extremely flexible and in tune with the company’s internal initiatives.

“They need to be prepared to support those beta products on the desktop far before any other service vendor or before a training program exists,” says Achzenick. “So those are the things that may deviate from a standard help desk and standard desk-side support organization.”

The outsourcing relationship not only frees Microsoft from delivering these services, but it also provides other benefits. It enables the company to deal with the help desk from a business perspective versus managing head count and offers better career paths for service technicians. Driving the business from a service level perspective allows Microsoft to focus on the delivery of services to their end users, says Achzenick.

Envisioning the Future

The fact that ENTEX is a reseller means that they are tied into the OEM channel with Compaq, Toshiba, Gateway and other OEMs. That experience is valuable in the generation of ideas for the future, according to Achzenick.

“We rely heavily on them in those areas to make sure that best practices are being used within our environment and service support is done in a very innovative fashion,” he says.

In some cases, that can lead to working with ENTEX on a new way to deliver service or a SLA measurement that’s not been done before.

“That’s where the flexibility comes back into play with this partner,” says Achzenick. “They are willing to look outside the box, which quite often means risk, and to take on the challenge of something that just hasn’t been done yet.”

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