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Dell taps Unisys as service partner

The direct vendor will announce a far-reaching agreement under which Unisys will become one of the company's major customer service providers.

On Monday, direct vendor Dell Computer will announce a far-reaching agreement under which Unisys will become one of the company's major customer service providers.

Unisys will become a preferred provider for service and support of Dell's corporate customers, according to sources close to the direct PC maker. Under the alliance, when customers call Dell for repairs or network help, Unisys technicians in Dell uniforms will handle the task.

Financial terms of the agreement could not be ascertained. A press conference at 9 a.m. PT Monday will provide details of the arrangement.

Since January's announcement that Compaq Computer agreed to acquire Digital Equipment, Dell has been seeking out additional partners to perform on-site customer support. Digital's Multivendor Customer Service (MCS) division has been responsible for a substantial portion of Dell's customer service, but reliance on the worldwide force of thousands of computer technicians and software specialists obviously grew risky as soon as it became a future part of Compaq's organization.

At the time, MCS handled about 25 percent of Dell's U.S. customer support and acted as the primary service provider in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a Dell spokesman. But Dell has been phasing out Digital's involvement in its operations and giving business that traditionally went to Digital to other service providers such as Wang.

Dell has also continued to gain market share in PCs and servers, increasing its need for field service and support.

Cementing an alliance with Unisys is a logical, if not inevitable, choice. Unisys employs several thousand technicians, and while the company does not maintain as large a presence in the U.S. market as some providers, it has a strong presence overseas, system integrators have said.

Further, Unisys is one of the few major service providers does not present business conflicts. Many of the large field service operations are owned by competing PC vendors, and an alliance with these parties would indirectly serve to help competitors.

With the pending Digital acquisition, Dell became the only major PC vendor without its own army of field technicians. IBM and Hewlett-Packard have service, support, and integration divisions which account for significant revenues.

Service capabilities can also be found in the "channel," the international network of computer resellers and integrators who make revenue from selling computer products to corporations. But while Dell works with channel members on certain contracts, direct vendors and computer resellers generally mix as well as oil and water. Dell's direct business model has sapped much of the profit out of hardware sales, a sore point with channel members.

Although Dell is primarily known for hardware sales, corporate customers seem to be enamored with the field service performed by its agents. At least two major computer resellers informally polled corporate customers on their reasons for choosing Dell as a vendor. In both polls, service came up as the main reason.