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Gateway to broaden small-business services

Gateway will announce a series of services designed to appeal to small businesses, reflecting the industry's growing need to maximize "after-sale" revenues.

Gateway will today announce a series of services designed to appeal to small businesses, reflecting the industry's growing need to maximize "after-sale" revenues.

The PC manufacturer will begin offering more flexible support for growing companies, according to Gateway's executives. The new initiatives include loaner programs, assistance in designing corporate computer networks, and implementing software throughout client computers on a network.

The moves would place Gateway in the middle of the PC industry's effort to boost services and support programs as a means of attracting small and medium-sized businesses. The huge--and largely untapped--market is estimated at about $50 billion in the United States and close to $140 billion worldwide, and sales to small and medium-sized businesses are growing faster than the overall information technology market, according to market research firm International Data Corporation.

Support is traditionally a low-profit business because of the high cost of paying service personnel to answer calls. But online support is increasingly embraced by PC companies since it is relatively inexpensive.

Rival PC makers are also hopping on the bandwagon. Dell, for example, recently introduced a support plan which uses Internet-based system diagnostic tools to detect and fix computers without phone support. The company has also added natural language search technology to its online support database.

"Our strategy is to provide a wide breadth of reliable, personalized client care programs to meet our business client's support requirements," said Nemo Azamian, vice president of Gateway's client care group, in a statement. "Our serve-to-order focus drives everything we do and is intended to reduce our clients' total IT [information technology] support costs."

Gateway's new Mobile Access program will let customers to pick up loaner laptop computers at regional Gateway Country Stores during repairs and servicing, according to company executives. The program will include integrated phone, Internet, and local support, starting at $199 per year.

Through its Network Installation program, Gateway will offer services such as network planning and configuration, as well as installation of associated hardware devices. These tasks may be daunting to smaller companies without an established IT department, Gateway is betting.

Finally, the company is rolling out its Business Assistance Center, which will provide network integration support through Microsoft- and Novell-certified engineers. These technicians will troubleshoot and identify potential network problems, Gateway said.