Dell teams with ESRI for PC/GIS bundle

Seeing a growing interest in desktop mapping in the federal market, Dell Computer Corp. this month began offering federal customers a package that includes a Dell PC workstation and software from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc.

The package bundles Dell's 410 or 610 Precision WorkStations operating on a Microsoft Corp. Windows NT platform with ESRI's ArcView software product, which lets users view, manipulate and analyze geographic data as electronic maps or charts.

Dell and ESRI officials expect that the new package will offer a shortcut for the many new federal users who are incorporating electronic maps— or geographic information systems (GIS)— into their work.

"It saves you the time of having to go and find your computer system," said Dana Paxson, federal marketing coordinator for ESRI. "It's a plug-and-play, and that's very attractive to the federal government."

Randy Andes, brand manager for Dell, said the package may find its niche among federal customers who are not quite sure which mapping software products to couple with which pieces of hardware.

It used to be that GIS thrived on the high-powered Unix platform. But more recently, companies such as ESRI have been developing products for desktop platforms, thereby opening doors to more users. GIS "just allows you to get a big picture, make better decisions and visualize information in a unique and different way than you've been able to do," Andes said.

An Expanding Market

The market now is rapidly expanding, bringing in people who have worked with GIS applications before and are unsure what to buy, Andes said. That is one of the audiences Dell and ESRI are trying to reach.

"We take away that fear factor," Andes said. "I think there's that whole customer concern and uncertainty that we eliminate by doing this." Andes also said that having two products in one could save a federal customer the pain of having to complete two purchase orders to set himself up with a GIS.

But how agencies will receive the new GIS software/hardware bundle remains to be seen.

"If they were to go ahead and bundle, it may very well be that people would be dying to buy it," said Karen Theobald, a computer specialist who coordinates contract purchases, including governmentwide contract buys, at the Fish and Wildlife Service.

A lot of her customers in the Fish and Wildlife Service, however, buy much of their hardware without going through her office. "Most of the time, people just do buys on their own and then just come to me for the software," she said.

Keeping Customers Informed

The decentralized approach to acquisition in the agency could leave a question mark hanging over the success of the Dell/ESRI package, but Theobald said she tries to keep her customers informed. Andes said the packages will sell for close to $3,900— not far off what users would pay if they bought the hardware separately from the software.

But the price should be worth it because having the two products together from the get-go should eliminate the hassles of installing software and configuring hardware, Andes said.

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