Small businesses in the UK are being offered a one-stop-shop for software and broadband through a new joint offering from BT and Microsoft.
If the service takes off, Microsoft will look into offering it internationally with other partners, said Rakesh Mahajan, general manager for strategy and business development with of BT Retail.
BT Connected and Complete has been put together to give small companies broadband access, e-mail, Office software and support and maintenance on a per-user basis.
For about £50 a month per user, depending on the size of the company, a local BT channel partner will install and set up the broadband connection, with firewall and anti-virus software, and provide Microsoft's Solution for Hosted Exchange 1003, Version 2.0, for e-mail, contacts and calendar access, plus Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2003.
Companies will also be offered a domain name and simple web design software to help them create their first website, said Microsoft's Scottish regional manager Raymond O'Hare.
BT's channel partners will provide support and will visit each customer every six months to perform an "IT health check-up" on the company to assess its infrastructure and future needs. Customers will also have access to both BT and Microsoft's helpdesks.
A first phase of the service will be available in Scotland in June, through a channel partner called Capito. This initial trial will identify any problems and test customer demand. Nationwide availability is planned for September.
Small businesses have needed a service like this for a long time, said Walter Herriot, manager of the St John's Innovation Centre, an "incubator" supplying facilities and services for knowledge-based, startup companies.
"It seems ideal. While we provide a connectivity service as part of the package at the Innovation Centre, it's more difficult for independent companies. If they're trading from home they've been able to use personal services, which were available at lower rates, but there's been discrimination against smaller startups. This sounds a useful, integrated service," he said.
"We now have the full portfolio to offer for corporate, consumer and small business customers, " said Lucy Dimes, director of ICT and strategic partnerships at BT Retail.
"There was a bit of a gap for small and medium-sized companies. This is unique, no-one else is offering these sorts of services together," she said.
The "sweet spot" for the service will be companies with between five and 50 employees, Mahajan said.
The exact pricing has not been determined but will depend on the number of users and the proportion of those who need different parts of the service.
Gillian Law writes for IDG News Service
This was first published in April 2004