Friday, October 9, 2009

Tech Support - Always? Never? It Depends!

Tech Support - Always? Never? It Depends!
By Jeff Fantalis

When a company purchases software, they usually have to decide whether they want tech support or not. If you are the person who makes the decision, what do you base it on?
In order to answer that let’s first talk about what tech support is. Many software companies call the components of software support different things. Support can usually be broken down into enhancement and technical support.
Enhancements almost always come from the software vendor and provide you bug fixes, service packs, hot-fixes, service releases, and, most importantly, new releases of the product. It is everything to do with getting new software.
Technical support can be seen as the interaction for issues and questions. This interaction can include problems that are resolved with a change in configuration of your software, a change to the environment (e.g. guidance on to re-index a database), a change in the process you are following in using the software (e.g. instructions to click xyz button first before running the process) or the determination that a fix is needed (this is where your enhancements come in).
Some software companies combine both enhancements and technical support together. This doesn't give you the option of purchasing one and not the other.
With some software packages you can get technical support from a 3rd party. This is valuable for several reasons:
· It creates competition for the technical support, keeping prices down. This is especially helpful for software from very large companies, as some have the (well earned) reputation of gouging their customers.
· For cases where the software is heavily customized and the customization was done by a 3rd party, typically the software vendor is not very good at supporting these environments or not willing to support the customizations.
· Technical support from a 3rd party tends to offer more options than a software company. This may include items such as support for non-standard configurations, support for functional type questions, etc.
· 3rd party support can sometimes be more personal and more direct to experts vs. going through many layers of discussions before you get to someone who has the answer you need.
So now that we are on the same page on what technical support is, should you have it? As the title of this blog suggests, it depends. Very large companies almost always purchase technical support, but some have a large knowledgeable internal staff and use them for technical support. Very small companies usually have little to no internal staff to provide technical support but will sometimes not purchase technical support to save money. So should your decision be based on the size of your company?
The answer to that is no, but the size of your company will increase the chance that technical support will be of value to you. As with all purchases, it’s all about value. Is the money you are going to spend worth what you will get out of it? If you don't have technical support what are the costs, both direct and indirect?
Some factors to consider:
· How likely is it you will have problems?
· Is your environment static or dynamic?
· When issues arise and you don't have technical support can your internal team resolve them?
· What will it cost you to get issues resolved (usually a lot more per hour if you don’t have technical support)?
· Does your business rely on this software to run? There is an indirect cost in the fact that the speed of resolution is typically much slower if you don't have technical support. What is the cost of the software being down for 4 hours? For a day or two?
In some cases, technical support is worth it more as an insurance policy than a direct dollar for dollar savings.
Like any other important financial decision, weigh all benefits against the costs and make an educated, informed decision.