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