A research note from Gartner published last week warned users that when dealing with Dell, "key contract terms and conditions are vital to a successful relationship".
In the note Gartner analysts Frances O' Brien Leslie Fiering and Mark Margevicius discussed the pitfalls to avoid when negotiating long-term contracts with the PC manufacturer.
One of the biggest issues is that the specification of a PC a user buys at the start of the agreement with Dell may not have the same specification of machine purchased at a later date in the contract.
Dell's flexible build-to-order manufacturing system means that its ability to deliver same hardware configuration for the duration of a contract is limited compared to its rivals such as Compaq, HP and IBM, said Gartner.
"[Dell's] standard contract provides significant leeway in the use of substitution components," the research note states.
Gartner pointed out that the differences may have been minor to Dell but users have reported that changes "forced them to re-image their systems multiple times within a one-year period".
To reduce this disruption the research note advised Dell users to maintain system image consistency for six to nine months. "Any changes brought forward by Dell in advance of the expected product/component change must be communicated in writing, at least 30 days in advance."
The Gartner analysts also warned that the standard Dell purchase contract makes no mention of account management, escalation procedures or conflict resolution. Although these points seem minor, the research noted warned, "they can be extremely significant when something goes wrong".
Nick Eaves, UK marketing director at Dell refuted Gartner's claims about PC configuration changes in the company's business PC families. He said the Dell OptiPlex GL 1 PC was available for 24 months. During this time, while the chipset and processor changed Eaves said users were able to standardise on a configuration.
Eaves also disputed Gartner's allegations on product warranty and service. "Warranty and service is part of the contract," he added. "We have never had a policy of eliminating a service." He said that service was tied to the customer rollout.
How to deal with Dell
1. Any PC configuration changes brought forward by Dell in advance of the expected product/component change must be communicated in writing, at least 30 days in advance.
2. Service offerings and warranty entitlements should be clearly defined and negotiated. Dell should agree to provide the services contracted throughout the life of the contract.
3. Dell customers and Dell should jointly establish a methodology for resolving disputes, escalating issues and designating account management responsibilities and performance.