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Standing Up to MOM

The word "argent" can mean many things: the tincture of silver, a semi-successful 1970s English rock band, or -- for our purposes -- a Microsoft-focused systems management vendor whose biggest competitor is Microsoft itself.

The company was launched in New York in 1990 by feisty Australian-born CEO Andrew Blencowe, who remains CEO 16 years later. Argent was built with an aggressive support model in mind.

"The original concept is the same as the concept today. It's based on the premise that most software companies are staffed by arrogant incompetents," Blencowe explains. "Software is such an amazing medium to work in. Because it's so flexible, so fungible, it very quickly invites hubris and arrogance -- make the sale, screw the customer. Argent's foundation has always been to provide more support than a customer needs, which is a novel concept in the software industry."

Andrew Blencowe, CEO, Argent

Blencowe so believed in his idea that he took no outside capital and suffered through the recession of 1991. That November, the company lost some $128,000 on sales of less than $10,000.

Today Argent has 400 employees, four locations and a couple thousand customers. It will need all of this bulk to compete with Microsoft, whose Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) tool (now Systems Center Operations Manager 2007) is aimed squarely at Argent's market. But Argent is hardly shy about standing up to Microsoft.

"As my old Australian Rules football coach, and a former player, used to say: 'I hate playing against Psycho' -- my pet name on the team -- 'because he is always on you ... He's not the best player, he's just one that hits you the hardest.' Our approach to Microsoft is the same -- timidity about the 900 pound gorilla is a mistake in our view," Blencowe insists.

This approach speaks volumes about the corporate culture. "Let's just say we're not candidates for any political correctness award," Blencowe says. If Blencowe is to be believed, his company would be an HR director's nightmare, as it's staffed by "the usual mixture of defrocked preachers, boat sinkers who claim insurance, psychopaths, toothless ex-junkies and others normally found in technology companies."

The company is now rewriting its monitoring tools in .NET, a project code-named Mobar set to bear fruit late this year. Under this plan, there will no longer be separate Web and GUI interfaces. The rewrite will also support remote debugging and diagnostics. Further down the road the .NET version will allow Argent to sell its software as a service.

Argent is also developing a series of customer steering committees, a formal way for customers to help drive future product designs, features and directions.

And as for the name? Blencowe was looking for something that would make it to the top of the Yellow Pages. "I wanted a name that started with A to get the top of alphabetic indexes, and something easy to spell. We were lucky enough to get the domain Argent.com registered early."

So how often does Argent talk to Microsoft? Pretty much never.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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