Few network administration tasks are as tedious and time consuming as workstation configuration. Desktop management software or disk imaging applications can make the job less painful, but they still require a substantial time commitment. As a value-added reseller (VAR) or systems integrator, you can help customers with hardware and software configuration, and benefit from additional sales.
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Suppose, for instance, that an administrator deploys a standard configuration to each workstation. This can be done with disk imaging software; however, every disk imaging application is different, and some are better than others. Typically though, once a disk image has been deployed to a new workstation, the workstation's SIDs must be randomized and the workstation must be assigned a unique name. Often times, disk images are also hardware specific, so every time you sell the company a computer with hardware that differs from the previous model, the administrator may have to modify the disk image.
Now let's face it: your customers can buy hardware and software from anyone. Your customers need a compelling reason to continue purchasing hardware and software from you. You can greatly improve your odds of securing future sales by offering PCs that are pre-loaded with custom configurations.
Any time a PC comes pre-loaded with OEM software, the PC could be said to be running a custom configuration. Pre-installing software onto workstations that your customers purchase from you is a good start, but it really isn't what I am talking about. If you want to save your customers time and thereby become an extremely valuable asset to your customer, you need to understand not only what software your customer is running but also how that software needs to be configured.
For example, there is a particular screen capture application that I use to get screen captures for the articles that I write. I have dozens of PCs on my network, and this particular application is installed on all of them. Whenever I purchase a new computer, I not only have to install this application, I have to configure it to meet my needs. This includes setting the file types registered by the application, turning off the feature that automatically creates a new image every time the program is launched, disabling the feature that automatically saves my workspace, etc.
My point is that it takes some time to install and configure this application, and this is just one of several applications that are part of my standard configuration. I would love to purchase my PCs from a reseller who takes the time to deploy my standard configuration onto all of the PCs that I purchase.
Another advantage to offering your customers custom-configured PCs is that you will probably sell more software. Every time your customer starts using a new application, they are going to want that application added to their standard configuration. Of course, adding an application to the standard configuration means that your customer must purchase the application from you.
Deploying a custom configuration for each client will incur some costs. It takes time to meet with the customer and document their standard configuration. It's also time consuming to deploy a custom configuration for each client. You may have to hire additional help. Even so, very few resellers are willing to customize PCs to this degree, so you could charge a premium price for your service.
About the author
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at www.brienposey.com.