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In the past, navigating through Microsoft volume-discount programs for small to mid-sized businesses could be likened to a challenging maze. Buyers were required to track all their purchases, often across multiple resellers, to ensure they got the best price. Some got lost in that process, while others assumed discounts weren't available except to enterprise customers with 500 or more desktops.
Truth is, you don't have to be a big company in order to get big-company discounts on Microsoft products. And now, through the newly launched Microsoft Business Advantage Web site, small- and medium-sized businesses in the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom (with more countries to come) can conveniently access volume discounts on purchases made through the Microsoft Open License program and continue to reap the same savings on subsequent purchases for two years.
Microsoft Business Advantage is part of Microsoft's ongoing efforts to provide world-class technology solutions to all customer segments, from entrepreneurial firms to multinational corporations. Microsoft designed the Microsoft Business Advantage site for small- and medium-sized businesses looking for affordable software licenses, comprehensive information on technology solutions, and external experts to help implement those solutions.
Navigating volume discounts
Growing companies, with a computer count ranging from five to 500 machines, have traditionally found it difficult to achieve the volume of purchases needed to reach the deep discount levels enjoyed by large enterprises. Although these companies may buy a significant number of licenses over time, adding software as the company and the computer count expands, each purchase involves a small quantity that may not qualify as a volume sale under a traditional software licensing structure.
With the Open License program, however, companies can earn discounts when purchasing as few as five licenses. And, for two years afterwards, they can buy more software at the same discount. Discount levels run between 18 and 28 percent, with the savings dependent on the size of the initial order - a larger order generates a deeper discount - and the type of software requested.
Customers shop by product category - desktop applications, server software, and desktop operating systems - and can set separate discount levels in each category. This way, businesses can maximize the savings when licensing widely used applications.
For example, most businesses have more desktop computers than servers, and consequently license more desktop applications. Because Microsoft Business Advantage determines the discount level based on the size of the initial purchase within a category, a company that first places a small order for server software isn't locked into that more modest discount level when it subsequently buys a large number of desktop application licenses. And all other purchases of desktop applications for the next two years would earn that same deeper discount.
This extended discount period gives small- and medium-sized business the flexibility they need to expand and upgrade their IT systems as the company grows. Companies can purchase just the software they need, when they need it, and always stay current with the latest versions.
In addition to the potential for considerable cost savings, the Microsoft Business Advantage Web site offers convenience. The online licensing tool is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The site can store orders in progress and provide purchase histories to customers.
Once customers specify their needs with a simple point-and-click process that results in a summary order page, they can print and send the summary page to a preferred reseller or transfer the order automatically to one of several online resellers. Microsoft requires each of the seven participating resellers - CDW, CompUSA, Microwarehouse, License Online, SoftChoice, SoftMart, and Software Spectrum - to send an e-mail confirmation and, if the customer requests it, make a personal phone call to the customer to confirm the order or answer questions within one hour, day or night.
Hurdling business challenges
In addition to online licensing, Microsoft Business Advantage offers detailed information on solving business challenges (ranging from inventory control to database design) and on key trends in IT (such as Y2K solutions and implementing extranets).
Growing companies don't always have a well-staffed IT department, as a Fortune 500 company might. In many cases, companies have one support person responsible for up to 90 users, or someone functioning as a volunteer IT staffer in addition to a primary job elsewhere in the company. In this situation, extensive, accurate, focused information can quickly point the way to the right solution in a rapidly changing market.
The Microsoft Business Advantage site contains a comprehensive solutions section broken down by problem scenario, industry, and product. Microsoft plans to update this section regularly and include new solutions engineered by the companies that use Microsoft Business Advantage.
Passing the baton to MCSPs
Another result of fast growth and a stretched-thin IT staff is that many small- and medium-sized businesses rely on outside experts to manage IT expansion projects. In a survey by Access Media International (USA), every small business was found to outsource its technical services and support at one time or another.
Through Microsoft Business Advantage, companies can easily find the right person for that outsourcing job; the site includes a referral engine linking businesses to the more than 9,000 Microsoft Certified Solution Providers (MCSP) in the United States and Canada. With a few mouse clicks, the engine will help pinpoint the best MCSP for the job - not just the closest one. Microsoft Business Advantage includes information on each MCSP's product knowledge, industry specialties, and services.
There are close to eight million small- and medium-sized businesses in the United States that can benefit from Microsoft Business Advantage. The site addresses their key needs: cost-effective licensing programs that are flexible enough to let them grow their IT infrastructure over time; current, comprehensive information about technology solutions to business problems; and a way to find dependable, experienced, third-party professionals to work on their IT projects.
Amy Helen Johnson is a Seattle-based freelance writer.
Last Updated: July 26, 1999