Microsoft's move to combine its consulting and product support services divisions into one enterprise service operation will hit 13,000 staff globally but will have little impact on Australian operations according to the company.
Kevin Ackhurst, enterprise services director for Microsoft Australia, said the move will bring global services in line with the sort of things Microsoft already does in Australia, and has been doing for the last three years.
The combination is aimed at providing large enterprises with a Microsoft-led team that can design, implement and maintain complex e-commerce and Web platforms, namely Microsoft's new .NET platform. But it also will provide Microsoft with another revenue stream as the economy and Microsoft's bread-and-butter PC market tighten.
According to Ackhurst, the Australian channel weathered the worst of this shift earlier this year when Microsoft and Accenture (then Andersen Consulting) formed the consulting firm Avanade.
Microsoft said the new organisation will give partners, who help deploy, design, build and maintain Microsoft-based enterprise systems a single point of reference when they themselves are lead contractors on projects.
"Customers find it a hell of a lot easier dealing with one entity rather than negotiating with two separate ones," Ackhurst said. He believes the move to standardise enterprise practices globally will mean greater ease and efficiency for customers looking at cross-continent expansion.
Mark Chrimes, managing director of Avanade Australia, says the announcement is a positive move, demonstrating a commitment to the enterprise space.
Microsoft's consulting services - employing 4000 consultants - currently has programs for IT that focus on such things as e-commerce, enterprise application planning and distributed computing. The 9000-strong product support services will contribute its Alliance support subscription-based service that provides on-site assistance and other services.
The new services organisation gives customers the option of directly contracting with Microsoft, which said it will start to take contractual responsibility for delivering services directly.
"The fact that products like DataCenter, Windows 2000 and SQL Server are becoming viable alternatives for mission-critical applications is prompting customers to tell us they want us to take on more of the risk of these rollouts," says Bob McDowell, who as vice president of worldwide services will lead the new organisation.
As an example, McDowell points to a recent project the company spearheaded for the British government to integrate citizens and business users with government institutions. The first part of the deal involved deploying Microsoft BizTalk Server 2000 as the linchpin of an electronic payment system for business tax.
Ackhurst qualifies this, saying that Microsoft's role is in deep level, early adoption of products, leaving the broad multiplatform integration of applications to certified partners, thus maintaining a careful differentiation.
The vendor has no intention of abandoning its 32,000 MS Certified Partners and one million MS Certified Professionals, and although US analysts are predicting anxiety in the States, IDC's Merv Langby says "there is heaps of room [in the local B2B space] and partners should be happy to increase the pie".
Part of Microsoft's motivation for taking a lead role is to help large enterprise customers cut through the quagmire that is its .NET vision. The .NET platform - with its eight servers and a wide range of client devices and development tools - is a means for delivering software over the Web instead of in shrink-wrapped packages.
"Our .NET vision is what's driving a lot of this demand for services," McDowell says.