As an increasing share of IT budgets appear to be swinging from hardware to services, system makers are offering their enterprise customers more of what they want in the form of management tools and so-called life cycle solutions.
Both Compaq and IBM are set to launch such initiatives this quarter and next.
In the fourth quarter, Compaq plans to upgrade its Web-based workgroup management solution, Insight LC (Light Console), with push technology from BackWeb Technologies. This new version will automatically send out drivers and updates tailored to a company's particular hardware configurations, company officials said.
Compaq is also in discussions with a number of tools vendors to license additional software that automatically deploys updates after business hours and installs them the next day when the PC is rebooted.
"We are looking real hard to partner with someone at the same time as we launch the BackWeb technology," said Ed Reynolds, marketing director of Compaq's Solutions and Strategy division. "A network administrator will be able to schedule a job to run at 7pm, after the end users have gone home, and silently install the driver."
Compaq will use BackWeb's Foundation application, which can deliver text, audio, video, software updates, and other multimedia electronic data using existing bandwidth. The BackWeb technology was originally developed to deliver content, and Compaq has modified it for delivery of software packets.
The push technology that Compaq will offer to its corporate customers will send the drivers directly to an IT manager's file store, according to Reynolds. Until now, alerts were sent, but file stores had to be updated manually, he said.
Separately, IBM will announce this week the launch of its IBM PC Lifecycle Care Program, which will include three components: designation of "workhorse" models, notification of technology changes and previews for key customers on upcoming IBM products.
Through the Workhorse program, IBM promises to offer and support older hardware platforms, even after the components, such as chips and hard drives, have been replaced with newer technology. Some IT organisations have already implemented the Workhorse program.
"In the past, every time IBM came out with a new notebook we would have four or five different systems in the field. It caused havoc," said Jaren Levitt, executive vice president at Apogee Marketing Group, a staff augmentation and technology consulting company. "Being standardised is a big cost saver in [terms of] time spent on upgrading systems."
IBM, like Compaq, is promising to notify customers about upcoming technology and products from companies such as Intel.
Compaq's Reynolds claims that the industry is in the midst of a transitional swing away from spending the lion's share of IT budgets on hardware toward a larger portion targeted to services. However, not everyone sees the change as permanent.
"We won't know whether it is a transitory trend or driven by [the year 2000 bug]. Until we get past the Y2K issue we can't tell if it is a sustaining trend," said Rob Enderle, vice president at Giga Information Group.