AUSTIN, Texas—The annual SpiceWorld conference here, known mostly for costumed users, orange dinosaurs and wacky events took an unexpected turn. Actually more than one. Not only did the company get a new CEO while keeping the old one, the company known for giving away its products for free has now started giving away services for free as well.
One service that has been around for a while, the Spiceworks Help Desk, added a cloud-based version last year, but the cloud version cost $10 per month per user.
The cloud version of the Help Desk turned out to be very popular, especially in organizations that didn’t have the resources to implement an internal server- based help desk system in the data center.
But there was one problem that nobody had anticipated. For some organizations, such as non-profits or local governments, even the $10 monthly fee was too much, and in some cases IT managers were paying for the cloud- based software out of their own pocket.
So Spiceworks did what apparently only that company can do, and decided that the cloud-based version of the Help Desk would be free. Then, the company decided to refund all of the money the early customers had paid, including all of the taxes.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” said Nicole Tanzillo, who is in charge of the Spiceworks Help Desk project. Tanzillo said that by making the product free, the user base expanded dramatically, bringing in many new customers, rather than simply transferring customers from their original server-based help desk installations to the cloud version.
So how does Spiceworks make enough money to stay in business while giving away products for free? The answer is they sell ads with their online software and earn commissions on IT partnership deals.
Then Spiceworks went a step further and created an IT Pro Concierge Service. In case you’re wondering what an IT Pro Concierge Service is (as I was), the answer is that they help IT people do things.
There does not appear to be an actual limit on the sort of things an IT person can ask for concierge help with, although John Eitel director of Spiceworks’ concierge team, said that they are better at some things than others, but that they will try to find a way to help no matter what the request.
Eitel said that the company expects most of the concierge requests to be calls for help from overwhelmed IT staffs that need to do something but can’t because they’re resource constrained. He said that in one case the concierge staff helped a small IT department near Dallas find a firm that would provide resource augmentation so they could take on some additional duties involving compliance.
One of the reasons that Spiceworks can offer a service that helps IT managers find help or expertise is because the company maintains an extensive network of users that communicate with each other in a sort of work IT-focused social network.
Spiceworks Adds Free IT Pro Concierge to Service Lineup
The company keeps track of the members’ expertise in the user group and are able to approach those members to help their peers.
One typical action that might be taken by the concierge would be to pair a more experienced IT manager with another manager with a similar type of shop. Many of the connections are simply peer-to-peer pairings where one IT manager helps out another. But Eitel said that the Spiceworks concierge also is able to help put an IT pro in contact with a service provider such as a consultant or hardware or software vendor.
A Spiceworks spokesperson told me of a number of areas in which the concierge staff was able to help, including planning project launches, planning ways to communicate IT projects to management and even kick-starting major projects. I asked Eitel if anyone else had ever done anything like this, and he said that they hadn’t.
“Some vendors offer bits and pieces,” he said, adding that when available, the services usually were very expensive. Eitel said that one key area in which Spiceworks was getting strong buy-in from providers is in helping IT professionals figure out what tasks needed professional help, and then organizing the help so that the tasks could be done as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
SpiceAgents are employees who take care of IT staffs that need help. These people seem to have a nearly unlimited charter and they can be summoned with nothing more than a phone call or an email or by clicking on the AtYourService link on the website.
Spiceworks has set up an extensive partner network in concert with its wide- ranging user network, and the concierge service is a way to leverage the capabilities of both. As in the case of a number of other big software companies, Spiceworks has an active user community that gets deeply involved with the products.
It’s the enthusiastic members of the user community who show up at SpiceWorld with their costumes to help show support. Those users were the ones who thought up the orange Tyrannosaurus Rex, affectionately known as “SpiceRex” that was a common sight at the show.
Oh, and about that new CEO. Unlike other companies, when Spiceworks gets a new CEO, the old one doesn’t leave. So when Scott Abel got tired of being the CEO, he simply turned the job over to his unsuspecting co-founder Jay Hallberg and became “Chief Strategy Officer.”
During the conference there were rumors, quickly killed by Hallberg, that Spiceworks was going public. I think that the Spiceworks faithful don’t realize that taking the company public would certainly kill the innovation that makes the company what it is. How long do you think stockholders and institutional investors would stand for giving products and services away for free?