HP makes SMB push with new services

Hoping to improve its standing among a group that provided almost 30 percent of its revenue last year, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) is expected to unveil an expanded program of products and services for small and medium-size business (SMB) customers Monday at the HP Partners America Conference in Los Angeles.

Last September, HP announced a US$750 million initiative geared at marketing and research and development efforts for the SMB market. Customer feedback since that announcement has led to the creation of new services packages that are delivered through HP's partners or directly from HP services to SMB customers in North America, said M.L. Krakauer, vice president and general manager of customer support business.

The Palo Alto, California, company announced a variety of new SMB services detailed below:

-- HP Proactive Plus for SMB is a support program for HP servers running operating systems from Microsoft Corp. Customers can request help for five incidents over a one-year period for US$1,175, and receive help for an additional incident if the service is ordered by July 31.

-- HP Learning Curve provides unlimited access for one year to online resources such as instant chat with a technical support representative for $149. Access for an additional person is included for free if this service is ordered by July 31.

-- HP IT Professional Help Desk for SMB allows customers to access Level 2 and Level 3 help desk support through HP's professional services organization. For $1,550, customers can seek help on up to five incidents, and can receive help on an additional incident if the service is ordered by July 31. Level 2 support generally requires a more advanced IT staff member, while Level 3 support is reserved for the most critical and difficult problems.

-- HP ProLiant System Minder Solution for SMB monitors ProLiant 300 servers for crashes, maintains the system remotely, and patches the operating system for $3,650 a year or $308 a month.

The company also plans to offer a number of existing products such as the Compaq dx2000 desktop PC, the ProLiant ML110 server, and the HP LaserJet 3000 Series all-in-one printers in packages tailored to specific vertical markets such as health care or real estate, said Nigel Ball, vice president of SMBs for the Enterprise Products Group. Some of those packages will get bundled with some of the new service offerings, he said.

HP has taken great strides in improving its relationships with the SMB market since its acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp., said Helen Chan, an analyst with The Yankee Group in Boston. The company's focus on improving its relationships with channel partners after that merger will help it a great deal in the SMB market, where companies prefer to purchase products from local resellers, she said.

"If you're trying to sell technologies users haven't used before, that requires consultative selling," Chan said. Part of HP's plan for the SMB market is to show owners of small companies who don't have a technology background what the latest products and services can do for their business, and that's hard to do without a strong partner program, she said.

HP thinks it has an advantage over its competitors such as Dell Inc. and IBM Corp. because of its close relationship with partners and its roster of technology experts ranging from imaging and printing to servers and storage, said Chris Ogburn, director of sales and development for HP SMB Americas.

SMB customers will pay more for products that come through partners who can help them set up and configure their new equipment, said Ray Boggs, an analyst with IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts. These customers don't want learn the intricacies of network management, and will appreciate the value of service packages that allow them to implement IT products while keeping their main focus on their growing business, he said.

Services packages like the ones HP announced Monday also boost its standing among its channel partners, Boggs said. These smaller resellers are used to selling low-margin hardware products such as printers and PCs, and services are higher-margin offerings that also give the resellers more opportunity to sell additional hardware while engaged with the customer, he said.

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