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Friday, November 16, 2007


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I'd love it at home. I pretty much have this situation at work: the IT guys outside my door hear me scream, they come in - tell me to go take a short walk down to the water - and when I get back, well, everything is happily and mysteriously 'better'. If I could have that situation at home (which for the right price I suppose I could, even now) - I'd be thrilled. I'd love to get a call saying 'Pam, it's time for you to exchange your computer, we'll be out there and we need two hours to transfer all of your files and get things moved in (and out)'. Heaven. I've come to accept that I don't care anything about computers other than that they work well, fast, and do what I need them to do - I've stopped even caring about the lingo.


Oh, how much would I pay. It's worth more to me than the cost of cable television.



So, if cable is about $40 a month and you figure that your ISP is about $30 a month... well, I just wonder.

The numbers I'm looking at:


$1,500 (computer and monitor, one-time charge)
$2,000 (software that I need)
$500 (scanner/printer)
TOTAL: $4,000

Monthly cost, based on a four-year replacement cycle: $83

$500 (maintenance, external drives, consumables, etc.)
$400 (DSL ISP)
$75 (security subscription)
TOTAL: $975 per year

Monthly cost: $82

So: If you figure $165 a month for computing... It would certainly be worth it to me to spend $150 a month to have all of this taken care of for me. And if you gave me the promise that instead of upgrading my basic system and software once every four years, I'd have several upgrades within that cycle, I might be willing to pay $200 a month -- particularly if I can write off it off as a business expense and it makes me more productive.

Now: If the company could negotiate better prices (bulk-buying components, software, DSL discounts), then there's the profit. And maybe you have some built-in options, so that once you exceed x-number of hours tech support or service hours, you pay an hourly rate.

Now, obviously, I've got needs that exceed most users. But I can easily imagine that you could have a basic-needs subscription that would cost far less.

I know a retiree -- smart guy, too -- who can use a computer just fine, but he's not getting everything out of it because computers require so much attention and involvement. He needs to have some things set up and started for him, and once those things are rolling, he'll be golden. But in six months things will change, and in a year he'll be behind the curve, and in two years he'll be struggling.

You could set him up with a solid desktop and a bargain monitor, plus some basic productivity software, for less than $1000. Throw in pedestrian DSL and decent security, and his monthly cost comes out to about $50.

So I'm figuring: Give him a minimal upfront cost, charge him $60 a month, put a decent but discounted computer in his house, make sure he has a human being to talk to and give him a visit once a year.

How is that not a good deal for everybody?

Billy The Blogging Poet

This is a fantastic idea! That is, as long as they don't outsource the tech support. Where do I sign up?


And one of the ways that you keep your tech support costs down is that instead of wasting a lot of time on a stubborn problem, you swap out the user's computer for another one in good working order, migrate files and programs and send the screwed up box back up your supply chain to the upper level support group.

This is the way we repaired M-1A1s. If I couldn't fix it and the motor pool mechanic couldn't fix it, we'd pull the component, replace it, and send the bad component back back to a unit where they just fixed that particular problem. Then the repaired part re-entered the supply stream.

And the sweet thing about the tech support? You could franchise the front-end support, so you'd be creating local jobs. Could you still outsource some types of calls to Bangalore? Sure, I suppose you could. But you couldn't do this business as I've described without having local technicians.


I think Phone/Cable ISPs are best positioned to do this already. For example: NVC's Computer Lease Program.

Billy The Blogging Poet

I know Time Warner doesn't offer it.

Also, this could be just the thing to make the best use of open source. A system like this could be built on penguins and the software cost would be zero which would keep a service like this far below what many computer users are already paying.


If you were in the leasing business you could morph into this model pretty easily, but what I've imagined definitely shouldn't be confused with a beefed-up leasing program. The big shift is the notion of subscribing to an experience, rather than leasing or buying assets that you then have to manage.

And Billy is absolutely right: If you offered an open source option, your costs could be extremely low. The reason I don't switch to Ubuntu? Because it would take too much time out of my life to manage the transition, there's a steep learning curve, and then there's the risk that I'm not up to managing a penguin world. But if I'm subscribing to the experience of having all the capabilities, and the company is managing the software, and there's always the option to upgrade my subscription to a Windows-based experience, why NOT try the open source OS? There's practically no risk involved that way.

Great idea, Billy.


Plus: If you're configuring the computers you send out and buying components in bulk, then your prices will be good, the limited components and software list will reduce your support costs (and improve your support performance), and finally: You'll configure the boxes to allow for logical upgrades that fit into your program. No shipping 1 GB boxes that have no RAM expansion slots and two 512 cards. Not cost effective if you're the one managing the memory upgrades.


I believe PeoplePC has tried that model, where you get a PC and an ISP and they upgrade your computer when needed for a monthly fee. It didn't work out. This was a few years ago when most people still had dial up.

I believe IBM or Dell would have tried this computer-experience model if they think they could make it profitable. You are either a manufacturer (hardware or software) or a service provider. Bundling is good in theory, but never good in practice when you are the company. As Tim said, Baby Bells and cable companies are in the best position to do this, but they don't. They are bloated now and the service part is too expensive for them. They have a hard enough time servicing their basic stuff. You wait all day now for the cable guy, can you imagine waiting for the computer guy to show up?


Hi Billy! Long time no see.

No, T-W doesn't offer it. What I envision is the computer and support will be "bundled" in the near future the same way that the hardwired phone had been (and now wireless phone has been).

This will become more likely as home networks become more common. Unless bundling falls out of favor, offering a selection of computer/TV/integrated-media-center (not too far off) seems a likely progression for service providers.

It will also be interesting to watch how wireless broadband, fiber-in-the-home and fiber-to-the-home develops in the next decade and how that will drive demand from service providers.

TV, phone, Web, wireless - telecoms want to bundle it all for you

A survey released in August by CFI Group USA, a firm that researches customer satisfaction for various industries, found that 53 percent of respondents bundled at least some of their telecom services. CFI also projected that 20 percent of consumers who don't bundle now will within a year.

Bundling has benefits that the telecom companies like to tout: the convenience of a single bill, one payment a month for as many as four services; the ease of contacting one company to handle questions or problems; the ability, in some cases, for the home's various systems to communicate with one another; and, most of all, the cost savings.

"Bundling is what customers want," Mitchell said. "The more you bundle, the more attractive it becomes" in terms of price and features.

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