Will IT Managers Need Support After a Break-Up?

While a post-Microsoft era may not be marked by famine, pestilence, and IT managers huddling in cold concrete bunkers, a breakup could present certain challenges for Microsoft Corp. customers. If Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson’s orders stand, Windows 2000 and Microsoft’s (www.microsoft.com) BackOffice applications will be marketed and maintained by different organizations with little contact.

This may be a frightening scenario for IT managers considering moving to a Windows 2000 infrastructure: Could a vendor in flux throw a customer’s network into flux? Because of the tight integration between BackOffice and Windows 2000, straightening out technical support could present a challenge to administrators in need.

"What a company likes is to call one vendor for repairs," says Rob Enderle, vice president at the Giga Information Group (www.gigaweb.com). However, even today, most enterprises use software from a variety of vendors, making it impossible to rely on a single vendor for support.

An enterprise with investments in both Windows infrastructure and BackOffice applications may have a gloomy future ahead of it. If the breakup occurs, there still may be issues in finding help with these products.

"It’s certainly going to affect technical services," says Laura DiDio, an analyst at Giga Information Group. DiDio is convinced that if a breakup occurs, getting adequate technical support from the Baby Bills will be difficult. She adds, however, that Microsoft users are accustomed to dealing with support from a variety of vendors.

There may be a problem learning which of the Baby Bills is responsible for aiding users with Windows and BackOffice issues. Since the products are tightly integrated, there are many gray areas where it is unclear if a problem lies in BackOffice or in Windows.

DiDio further suggests that a breakup could drain the spin-off companies of talented and experienced staff, further complicating administrators’ attempts at resolving issues. "Expect tech support staff to leave -- you’ll see a weakening of the support structure," she says.

While a breakup may weaken tech support from the software vendors, both DiDio and Enderle expect a breakup will strengthen other companies -- third party consulting firms. Vendors such as Andersen Consulting (www.andersen.com), EDS Corp. (www.eds.com), and Compaq Computer Corp.’s Professional Services division (www.compaq.com), offer third-party support for Microsoft systems and applications, as well as popular applications from other vendors.

"The market for those things is being fueled already," DiDio says, adding "Microsoft is aggressively promoting the EDSs, the IBMs, the Andersens." DiDio believes Microsoft is uninterested in the support market, choosing instead to focus on creating and selling software.

"Go to a third party; do not rely on Microsoft technical support," Enderle says. He feels it is prudent for any enterprise to develop a relationship with a support vendor whether or not Microsoft is broken up. "Using a third party support provider is like your insurance," he says.