ActiveAnswers is Compaq's Web-based effort to attract corporate customers by offering information on how to plan, deploy, and maintain complex software and the computers it runs on. In addition, the site offers computer sellers access to expertise so they can expand the types of products and services they can sell.
The service used to cost a subscription fee, but the company made it free beginning this year, said Rick Frazier, vice president of marketing in Compaq's enterprise solutions division. The goal is to make it easier for companies to offer better service, leading to improved customer satisfaction with Compaq products.
Compaq is likely to benefit by sharing knowledge formerly restricted to a select set of expensive system-integrator experts who knew how to plan complex systems but who charged a lot of money, said Jim Garden of Technology Business Research.
In September, three months after ActiveAnswers was announced, there were 6 services. By the end of December, there were 12. Now there will be 24 or 25, Frazier said.
In addition, Compaq has begun offering the expertise of market research firm Summit Strategies, best practices cataloger KnowledgeSpace, and training company Netg. Though these companies will provide some information to ActiveAnswers users for free, the Compaq site will have links to discounted fee-based services at the firms' own Web sites.
Compaq also has beefed up the international features of ActiveAnswers, Frazier said. For example, the service now is available in four languages besides English, and Compaq parts lists produced by the ActiveAnswers system can be localized for six different geographical regions.
Although the service is designed to increase sales of Compaq systems, ActiveAnswers doesn't link to any sales or ordering pages, Frazier said.
HP, on the other hand, has begun offering a system to help people tailor high-end HP servers to the task at hand. But HP and others are "playing catch-up here," Garden said.