With margins on hardware and software continuing to decline, it is not surprising that many resellers are now looking at offering services as the means of maintaining growth.
The question is, how do you go about implementing services programs? And more to the point, how do you ensure that the programs you are implementing are actually going to generate more revenue than they soak up?
Astea International believes it has a product that may be able to help. The software vendor, with a strong reputation in developing products for the higher end of the services industry, has recently released ServiceAlliance, a package designed for medium-sized companies looking to move into service provision.
"Astea has been in the services business for a long time, and we've gained a lot from our customers," said Brian Ainsby, Astea's general manager for Asia-Pacific and worldwide ServiceAlliance R&D manager. "ServiceAlliance deals with the service to the customer after they bought the product," said Ainsby."
While Astea has traditionally focused its Dispatch-1 offering at large enterprises, Ainsby sees the largest growth area for Astea being with smaller organisations. "And when I say smaller I don't mean organisations that are necessarily start-up - probably the medium-sized organisations. ServiceAlliance has been designed specifically for medium-sized companies."
Tightly integrated within ServiceAlliance are systems to handle customer requests, contracts, service orders, sales orders, help desk, inventory and logistics.
The software automates many of the procedures that are often manually performed in service organisations, and thus allow companies to better retain the knowledge of their customer base they gain through providing services. A universal view is used to track individual customers through the entire service lifecycle.
Ainsby said for many organisations proper use of ServiceAlliance can create an environment where services contribute to revenue growth, rather than taking away from it. One area is in helping to retain customers - which he says is a far less expensive exercise than recruiting new ones.
By using ServiceAlliance Ainsby said companies can use their services to best effect. "If you send the right person to the customer with the right information, you end up spending a lot less time there. If you get into service without these type of tools, you end up hiring a lot of people to effectively replicate what they're doing.
Education the key
"With our software, we aim to educate people to provide the right person for the job, to make sure they've got the capacity to provide service. So if you can effectively arm people with the right intelligence or the right product to fix a problem, it reduces the time, and reduces the cost.
"If somebody wants to buy a product, you make sure you've always got that product available. If you haven't got it, they'll go somewhere else. In service, the same thing applies. If you haven't got somebody who can service the customer, they'll go somewhere else. There's no monopoly."
Ainsby said any returns to be made through use of ServiceAlliance will depend greatly on the efficiency of the service organisation prior to its implementation, and also on the degree to which that organisation has to restructure its operations to gain the efficiencies the product can provide.
"Many organisations see an immediate return on investment, because they are now more aware of their customers and more aware of the costs, and they don't miss any opportunity to collect revenues," Ainsby said.