The maturing of cloud computing and subscription-based models is changing how enterprise customers choose to adopt and maintain their IT infrastructures. In the past IT landscapes were complex, including a wide variety of legacy systems, but they now have the added complexity of cloud and on – premise 'hybrid' environments.
For CIOs this is a challenge. The increasing emphasis on web-based business processes means CIOs have to develop agile, responsive IT infrastructures that can blend traditional and Cloud-based systems.
This raises questions around interoperability, data privacy and control of sensitive company data. But what happens to your support team in this ever-changing landscape? How do you keep the lights on in such a mixed world?
Industry analysts believe successful IT landscapes will transform from large, integrated single-vendor product suites to a hybrid IT landscape of core transaction 'systems of record' integrated with best-of-breed 'systems of engagement' applications, combining on-premise and cloud application delivery models.
This has huge implications for the support team, who might previously have overseen a single product line or solution, delivered by one mechanism. Now this team is being asked to oversee multiple applications delivered by multiple means.
Fundamentally this means the support function will have to evolve significantly in the next five years. It will put pressure on the function in terms of the expertise and skills needed to remain relevant, but most of all it will require a mind-set shift.
Instead of seeing the world through the lens of a single application, support teams will need to be thinking holistically about overall systems maintenance. As companies consider digitising business processes, support functions will have to understand how core transactional systems interact with applications at the edge of their IT infrastructures.
With subscription-based models, end users are demanding more control, and the support team is facing the prospect of new applications being added each time a department spots a new digital opportunity.
In this situation, how support stays relevant and ensures the lights are kept on is no easy task.
A key shift that needs to occur is that organisations need to adopt and foster a 'Support First' culture which evaluates each situation with the user’s needs at its core, and demonstrates a holistic understanding of the implications of change for the business, not just IT systems.
This also requires a relationship with your vendors that is different than the general perception of IT vendors today, namely one where the customer does not feel he or she is simply a 'cash cow' for the supplier.
It is well known that licensees of some of the traditional vendors are increasingly dissatisfied with the level of service they receive in return for their expensive annual support fees, and they are seeking options that provide better value (more services, better service experience and lower cost).
Most licensees are happy with their robust software, but simply don’t want to be forced to implement costly upgrades they don’t need just to stay supported.
Of course there are some who would question this point of view. But the blunt truth is if licensees were receiving the support services they wanted at a fair price, they wouldn’t be leaving vendor support in record numbers. How support is delivered has to change.
It has to become more vendor neutral and more focused on solving the customer’s business problems. In today’s mixed, complex IT environment, customers need the confidence that vendors will have the expertise and dedication to fixing their cross-vendor and interoperability issues and supporting their business needs.
They need to support customisations too, not just the base code – it is one integrated environment and customers are becomingly increasingly nonplussed with vendors simply citing contract clauses whenever they are asked to do something.
This is a huge step, and some vendors might argue they already provide such support through sales consulting, but I would simply ask, 'How much does that cost? And why should I pay more for that when I can get all of the support I need at less cost from an independent support vendor?'
Any customer considering their future support needs to ask some honest questions of themselves, and ask some tough questions of their vendors. Indeed, they should look to audit their suppliers and better understand their SLAs (Service-Level Agreements). Key questions to address include:
Is the vendor providing the right support for your business needs? Do they have the knowledge in their support staff to actually help you make business decisions with the software vs only providing known fixes to error codes?
How much profit margin does your supplier make on its support business? Can your vendor help reduce operational IT costs by up to 50% to allow me to reinvest in strategic business initiatives?
As well as this, there need to be considerations around the contract such as: do your fully understand the terms of my SLAs with the vendor? Is the vendor actually meeting the SLAs? And does your support contract cover customised code?
There are questions of what falls under your standard support payment, and how much additional cost it could mean, as well as what the supplier refuses to support.
How many issues were submitted and how many were accurately resolved? How many issues did your own internal IT team resolve because it was too painful to explain the problem to the vendor vs. just fix yourself? And what is the cost per issue?
You should also be assessing your vendor account team, to ask: how much experience your vendor support engineers has, where they're based, and if they're in your time zone.
Additionally, how well paid are your support engineers and what is the vendors’ staff retention rate? What is the average response time of the vendor’s engineers?
Questions around customer service include things like: how do you connect with your support contact, and where are they based?
Do you connect with experienced engineers or general help desk personnel? Does your vendor provide support references from satisfied customers?
Does your vendor provide security patches for customised environments?
How long will they support the current version of the software you run in production and what happens when I go to extended support or sustaining support? Do your costs increase? Do you lose service like tax, legal and regulatory updates?
What is the migration path to the next generation of products, and how much is this upgrade going to cost?
If you are unable to answer the above questions, or are concerned about what your vendor’s response may be to these pointed questions (if indeed they address them at all), then it may be high time to put your current supplier 'on notice' while you further investigate those options available to you which come equipped with a Service First approach and ethos.
Sourced from Sebastian Grady, President, Rimini Street