In any activity, whether of the technological world or otherwise, everybody understands the value of drawing up and carrying out a project. Creating something, getting a system or product up and running and even improving something that already exists are activities anyone can be proud of, winning due recognition and bragging rights at family meals.
But that’s not the end of the story. Any creation needs to be maintained afterwards, looked after and checked on constantly or at least periodically to ensure the created value lasts as long as necessary.
Proper support is no bagatelle and it is well worthwhile looking at the difficulties involved and how the cost might reasonably be calculated. The aim of this article is to shed some light on this matter.
What does proper support entail?
Probably the first task that springs to mind when thinking of system support would be customer attention, i.e., a telephone or some other arrangement for fielding and dealing with client needs or problems during a set timeframe (could be 24×7, in working hours or during some special timetable). This generally undervalued task might seem at first sight to straightforward but it can turn out to be complex when dealing with services of different clients, maybe even in various languages. The team responsible for this work necessarily has to be housed in some service center, working continuously.
Very closely related to the above responsibility is service supervision, i.e., a team that continually deals with any alarms that might crop up to warn that something might call for some attention. This team is very similar to the former and may even be the same.
Dealing with the problems that might arise from the two previous points calls for specialist, properly trained staff with well-oiled working procedures. We should bear in mind here that it’s not always possible to solve a problem as soon as it crops up. On many occasions some sort of compromise might be needed, with the service running on a restricted basis until the definitive solution is found. The teams responsible for this task could be several, working from the service center itself, in other centers or working on an on-call basis and remotely whenever necessary.
To these tasks we need to add such service tweaks as are almost always necessary to keep it going. Reconfigurations, registering new users, phasing in new functions with the concomitant risks of sparking off a new problem that is not always visible immediately. Bear in mind here that to reduce impacts or risks it is often necessary to carry out these tasks during off-peak times (nights or even weekends).
Preventive maintenance work also has to be factored in here. This periodical and programmed work aims to head off any incidents (cleaning, installation of security patches or similar) or to deal with them as promptly as possible if they occur (making backup copies, redundancy testing, etc.). These activities, despite being fundamental for a smooth-running service, tend to fly under the client’s radar.
On another level there are also typical administrative tasks of any management arrangement: reports, meetings, contract renewals, etc.
Advantages and difficulties of proper support
Good support is a key element in client satisfaction and hence in our ability to retain this clientele and broaden our range. Each incident that crops up is a chance to show our company’s commitment and efficiency. A client is quite often happier with the service after an incident well dealt with than if it had never occurred at all.
Nonetheless, organizing a service of this type poses many difficulties that are not always visible to the client.
From the organization’s point of view it is essential to have teams working on a shift basis, during the night, at weekends and even on public holidays. This raises particular difficulties in terms of managing this personnel properly. Any absenteeism and rotation will have a much bigger impact than in other activities.
It is also very hard to keep the team trained and informed of the situation of each project. It’s not enough just to have experts on every subject; it’s essential for someone with proper knowledge of each service-rendering technology or system to be on hand in any time interval.
Resource planning is no bagatelle either. Although forecasts can be made, a good part of the work crops up randomly. There might therefore be a succession of low-demand periods with little work and other moments with a buildup of requests and incidents and available personnel might then be hard put to deal with everything thrown at them.
Clearly there has to be a set of proper tools, up-to-date documentation and clear working procedures. Creating all this and keeping it in a perfect state is essential but no means easy. The ideal situation would be a uniform and consistent system for all clients and services. This is not always possible. On some occasions the client or service calls for something special and exceptions therefore become essential. The right balance therefore needs to be struck between homogenization to cut costs and managing fine detail to achieve excellence.
Organizing all this is never simple. Giving a good service at a reasonable, competitive and affordable cost demands hard work, constant tweaks and sometimes even a dash of artfulness.
Maybe that’s why so many people don’t like this work. And just maybe it’s also why some of us love it. During my almost twenty years working on support-related matters I’ve had some so-so moments and some bad ones. But I’ve also been lucky enough to work with extraordinary professionals with whom we have built up great teams.
AUTHOR: CRESCENCIO LUCAS
Director of the Managed-Services Division of GMV’s Secure e-Solutions sector
Las opiniones vertidas por el autor son enteramente suyas y no siempre representan la opinión de GMV
The author’s views are entirely his own and may not reflect the views of GMV