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Energizer says Microsoft's a great host

For more than three years, the battery maker has had Microsoft running a huge chunk of its IT operations.

SAN FRANCISCO--One might think that as a CIO, it would be tough to have someone else running all of your desktops and many of your servers.

Not so, says Randy Benz, CIO of Energizer. For more than three years, Energizer has handed off much of those duties to Microsoft. And he'd be fine with Microsoft running just about everything, save perhaps for the company's iconic battery-powered bunny.

"If I never run another server in there for the rest of my life, I'm as happy as can be," Benz said over lunch last week following the launch of Microsoft Online, essentially the company's effort to turn the Energizer experiment into a business.

Energizer CIO Randy Benz said he's happy to have Microsoft running his servers. That gives his workers time to do other things, like offer specialized computer training for workers. Energizer

Initially, Microsoft is offering to host only a few of its server products--Exchange and SharePoint, although over time businesses will gain the option to run most of Microsoft server products as a service running from inside the software maker's data centers.

So, one might reasonably ask what Benz and his team are doing if they aren't running all the servers and managing desktops?

For one thing, his group now offers a much broader range of computer training for Energizer workers. Beyond just teaching how to use specific products, Benz said Energizer now has classes for different types of workers focused on their particular role. One recent creation is a specific program just for road warriors.

"It cuts across products," Benz said.

Of course, businesses that don't want to handle the more mundane IT tasks have had other options for a while, such as more conventional outsourcing in which a third-party company comes in and handles things like help desk and server management.

The problem, Benz said, is it typically doesn't save much money. Any efficiencies the outsourcer gets because of its expertise are offset by its profit margins.

By having Microsoft run its software from its own data centers, though, Benz figures that it will have enough scale to actually be more cost effective.

Not everything that Microsoft has been doing with Energizer is going to be offered broadly. But, Benz said, that has more to do with the fact that some of the things aren't good businesses for Microsoft, as opposed to the fact they didn't work out for Energizer.

"There's nothing we've done that I'm disappointed in," he said. Rather, he is looking to what he can hand over next. The two companies recently added a hosted business intelligence offering, something that isn't yet part of the services Microsoft is offering broadly.

Benz also knows the managed service route isn't for all customers. Even though it resembles outsourcing, he said it is actually more suited to customers that want to be on the cutting edge. Having Microsoft manage their software means that Energizer is always running the latest versions, for better or worse.

,p> "This has to be targeted at people that want to keep up," he said. "The reason we got into services arena is to avail (ourselves) of newer stuff."

One of the areas the company is looking at keenly, Benz said, is Microsoft's plan to offer Web-based versions of Office applications, the company licenses the full version of Office for every PC, but limits the number of PCs it gives out accordingly. Having a lower cost Web-only option for workers that only need light editing abilities might mean more workers get access to technology

"It may be a breakeven for us but we are reaching more of our people more appropriately," he said. "We'll revisit it when the products are out."

Microsoft has said it will have technology preview versions of the Office apps will be available later this year, but hasn't said when the product will be formally released or when the business version might be available. For consumers, the Office Web apps will be part of Office Live, while businesses will be able to provide access as part of Microsoft's SharePoint server software.