Microsoft aims to ease license tracking

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Microsoft plans to unveil a tool next year aimed at helping business customers keep track of their licensed software.

The Customer Connection Center, or C3, was already in beta in the United Kingdom but was going to beta this month in the US. Later betas were planned for Germany and France, the company said.

Customers could click on the web-based tool and see where they were in their overall license position.

 "[It's like] a licensing bank statement," said John Lauer, vice-president for worldwide mid-market in Microsoft's small and midmarket solutions and partner group (SMS&P).

While this is a customer tool, Microsoft can use it to help match "under-deployed" customers with a reseller to help them better use software they already had.

 "The benefit for partners would be a faster sales cycle because problems are already pinpointed," Lauer told CRN.

Several Microsoft resellers said they could, with a little effort, use already-purchased licenses of SharePoint Portal Server to show off the full value of Office 2003, for example.

Microsoft was waging a battle to get customers of all sizes to deploy software they had already bought but were not using.

"Shelfware" can be a time bomb when it comes to re-signing customers to volume deals.

A Microsoft spokeswoman claimed the move was not a license enforcement tactic. The company did not plan to enforce compliance with C3, but wanted to provide a web-based tool to attract business customers to Microsoft's online resources, she claimed.

"This site is a good landing point for mid-market customers, it gives them relevant information. Any time you develop a web site, you need a sticky application, something that keeps people coming back. Whether it's flight status, or bank information, it has to be relevant to you. Our feedback is that customers want to know what their software assets are," Lauer said.

Microsoft was also working on another tool, code-named Da Vinci, to help customers guage where they stood versus their peers in "overall IT readiness," Lauer said.

"If I'm mid-market CEO and want to see how I stand in comparison, this tool lets me [enter] a lot of financial metrics and compare them against the rest of the industry," Lauer said.

"For a manufacturer, it might show a problem with Cost Of Goods Sold (COGS) and then they can dive down to look at maybe why their inventory turns are slow, analyse their business."

Results could be passed on to a reseller with expertise in that market, Lauer said.

The tool would use metrics from Finlistics, another US company, the Microsoft spokeswoman said.

A prototype was slated for a January focus group perusal, with broad roll-out expected in March.

The tool would eventually help customers find the right partner to solve their problem. Ultimately, this made for more informed customers and helped generate demand for both Microsoft products and partner services, a spokeswoman said.

Da Vinci was expected to eventually tie into C3.

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