Microsoft Venture Gets Help from 'Ruby on Rails'


There is a legal and ethical imperative to keep certain relationships at arm's length when you jointly own a company. Still it's more than interesting that a company partly owned by Microsoft -- msnbc.com -- is using a Ruby on Rails-based software as a service (SaaS) called ZenDesk to automate its IT help desk. ZenDesk is hosted by Engine Yard (see my podcast with Tom Mornini here).


In fact, it is an even more interesting twist that msnbc.com won't answer a kind of obvious question:

"Couldn't you have used some version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Live to run your help desk?"

The answer could be pretty simple. Maybe Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online at around $40 - $ 50 per user per month is overkill when ZenDesk is available for around $20 a month per user for 450 users (manufacturers' suggested retail prices). Citrix's GoToAssist Express Web site says it isn't suitable for help desks. I guess GoToAssist itself is best suited for when the help desk "guy" (gender neutral) wants to "take over" the user's device. Maybe there is something in the nature of certain company's trouble-tickets -- companies that are centered around Web sites -- that ZenDesk is especially suitable for? ZenDesk's ITIL support may be a differentiator. And it appears msnbc.com didn't want on-premise software ruling out a lot of the usual suspects, including Dynamics CRM itself.


Or maybe it's more interesting than that. Maybe this is just for a part of msnbc.com, such as newsvine.com. Maybe msnbc.com doesn't use Office and Outlook either so it doesn't need to integrate its help desk to them (highly unlikely given that msnbc.com's corporate address is 1 Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA)? Maybe msnbc.com--although it has only 450 "customers and internal IT users" according to the ZenDesk press release -- feels the users are so important (Chris Matthews!!!) that CRM Dynamics can't be trusted to do the job. Or maybe Microsoft doesn't want to really compete too directly with such products because it has many good partners in this space.


But when we asked the first question above and to clarify the other points, Gina Stikes -- the director of PR and marketing at msnbc.com -- would only give name, rank and serial number:

"Yes, Jared Manley is manager of the support desk at msnbc.com."

Any way, these are all good questions for you to ask your CRM/help-desk supplier the next time you upgrade, or think about taking these functions from on-premise to SaaS.


And, ZenDesk, I hope msnbc.com is a better customer than they are a reference.