As companies look at their IT spending each year, the differences between standard support options and premium support options are becoming increasingly complex and can affect spending beyond the cost of the services.
Software and hardware providers have made changes in their support offerings during the past couple of years in an attempt to create services that decrease support calls by packaging training, consulting and online resources into both basic and premium services and support offerings.
Because of the increasing complexity of systems and the dependencies among applications and between applications and a directory, companies need to think about how best to support these systems with IT staff as well as through vendors and third-party systems providers.
The systems providers see compatibility issues causing the vast majority of critical support issues, according to Bob Igou, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn. In large part, this is driving the effort to keep customers informed about known issues through knowledge bases and other proactive tools that push information to customers, Igou said.
Another new wrinkle in proactive support are tools designed to help software vendors monitor and troubleshoot applications remotely in conjunction with a customers staff. Oracle Corp., for example, offers such a service for its products by establishing a VPN connection between its support staff and a customer.
In terms of support offerings, a fairly large disparity exists between large software companies and smaller ones. For many smaller software companies, standard support options include just the basics of technical assistance and product maintenance. In contrast, additional services are common in larger companies basic support offerings. These services typically include account management, product alerts, customer-accessible knowledge bases and issue-tracking applications.
One of the biggest differentiators between standard support offerings and premium support offerings is training, an element crucial to the success of any software deployment but one that is often purchased a la carte.
Training is also critical in making the most of a support investment, according to Microsoft Corp.s general manager of U.S. Premier Services, Matt Collins, because it speeds resolution of support issues. "Many of our services are workshops and training for [a customers] third-tier support staff, so they can deal with a disaster or debugging scenario," said Collins, in Bellevue, Wash. "Catastrophic problems are usually configuration problems."
Vendor premium services generally provide buyers with more flexibility in terms of speeding problem resolution, including consulting, escalation and on-site support.
The investment in consulting services is perhaps the soundest because it can make a big difference for companies that need to closely integrate applications that touch a corporate directory. Consulting services can also pay off for messaging applications because they can touch so many other systems.
For business-critical applications and systems, the premium you pay for premium support is most likely worth it. The value of escalation and on-site support can be difficult to calculate unless there is an emergency, but companies looking at premium contracts should be able to estimate the monetary value of features such as consulting hours and training.