Remote, and In Control

By John McCormick  |  Posted 2003-10-01 Print this article Print

CIO David Boatman has to support 5,000 PCs at 139 dealerships in 15 states.

Remote, and In Control

When it's time to update software, Everdream electronically distributes the new programs. Everdream says customers like Sonic might want updates on a quarterly basis. It estimates onsite software upgrades, including travel and labor, could cost a company like Sonic as much as $750 for each store visit. If those numbers bear out, electronic upgrades could save Sonic as much as $300,000 a year.

Additional savings come from automatic backups.

Everdream copies all data from a user's PC, usually on a daily basis, to an Everdream server. Should a machine get lost or stolen, Everdream simply reloads all the applications and files on a new PC and sends it to the user. Boatman says that kind of service provides dealers with a level of support they've never had before and can be a real lifesaver, as he learned firsthand. Last year, Boatman and a deputy had their computers stolen from their car during a business trip in Houston. The two contacted Everdream, which sent them new laptops loaded with software and their files. Boatman, who left Houston that day on a scheduled ski trip, says his new machine was at his lodge the next day.

Cynthia Doyle, a desktop-management expert at International Data Corp., says that if desktop management companies are to stay afloat, their services must be clearly better than what a company could provide on its own. No matter how good remote service is, it's still remote. It's hard to replace face-to-face communication with an onsite service person.

But Sonic's dealerships are too spread out to make that feasible or cost-effective.

Boatman says he's satisfied with Everdream's service and savings, though nothing's perfect. One hiccup was Everdream's decision to relocate a support center to Costa Rica in July, which resulted in some communications problems. Even when dealers connected to the desk properly, they had trouble communicating with personnel on the help line.

Some of the help-desk staff spoke English with a thick accent. "There were some language issues that popped up," admits Duke Prestridge, a program executive at Everdream.

But Boatman says Everdream has been quick to address problems. For example, he and his deputies can now personally interview and approve the Costa Rican personnel assigned to the Sonic account.

Everdream says calls from Sonic to the help desk are picked up in less than 15 seconds and that it's been able to handle 80% of Sonic's problems on the first call.

With Everdream, Sonic took a chance. Privately held, Everdream is relatively small, with a business that handles about 50,000 PCs. At $55 per monthly subscription, that would put annual revenue at roughly $33 million. Customers include real-estate firm Carr America and Federal Express.

Boatman says Sonic prefers to do business with big, prominent companies. But after meeting with Everdream's managers, including Chief Executive Officer Gary Griffiths, taking a peek at the company's finances, and getting the right terms, Boatman and other Sonic executives were convinced to give Everdream a try. "Some of it was Gary, but most of all because they had the lower cost model," Boatman says.

Sonic included provisions in the contract to safeguard against Everdream hitting hard times. For instance, Sonic retains ownership of its hardware and software. If Everdream, for some reason, becomes insolvent, Sonic doesn't have to worry about what might happen to its systems.

Boatman's next move: eliminating his PC costs altogether. Next year, he will start moving users to terminals with Citrix Systems software. With a Citrix box, applications are stored at a central server and users access them over the Web. "Eventually," he says, "we'll have what I call disposable appliances."

If a Citrix terminal breaks down, Boatman says, all the user has to do is unplug the device and send it to a repair depot or, if the unit is outdated or beyond repair, to an approved disposal company. He'll then send out a new terminal. Users will hook up the Citrix device to the Internet with one cable, plug the power cord into an outlet, and go.

In the Citrix model, Everdream's role would diminish. But Boatman says he's probably going to need some help managing the distribution of the Citrix boxes, so Everdream will likely have a role to play.

Either way, the use of Everdream's service or Citrix terminals takes technical issues off Sonic's hands. Says Boatman: "It lets us focus on selling cars instead of fixing PCs."


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