Monday, January 28, 2013

Support for software in today’s open world – “who you gonna call”!

Among the vendors with a lengthy working relationship with the Nonstop community, chosing between vendors often comes down to a combination of expertise along with the support they provide. Then again, with some vendors, its not always evident as to what support you will get …

It was only a short time ago that I accidently destroyed my laptop while on a business trip. A circumstance I have covered in posts elsewhere, but sad to say, the ramifications are still impairing Margo and my productivity - if you missed the post of November 13, 2012, Losing my mind! Protection is becoming paramount – an intro to PANfinder and SecurData!, it’s worth checking out.

It was natural to buy a replacement laptop, but unfortunately, the new laptop came with Windows 8, and ever since we have been wrestling with Microsoft on a regular basis. As much as aspects of the latest iteration of Windows look interesting, we truly aren’t as well-off, computing-wise, as we were before the accidental destruction of the original laptop. Long hours spent on the phone haven’t seemed to have been all that helpful for us.

Whereas Microsoft paid the Rolling Stones a lot of money to use the opening lines from the song Start Me Up, with its enticing opening lines – “If you start me up … I'll never stop” when Windows was first introduced, I’m not sure today that it is still the song that comes to mind for Microsoft’s customers. Perhaps the more famous song by the group, dating back to the 1960’s, Satisfaction, with its opening line – “I can’t get no Satisfaction … 'Cause I try and I try and I try and I try” better sums up what many of Microsoft’s customers now experience.

Not by chance then was my interest peaked when the subject of support came up in a recent email exchange with comForte VP of Marketing, Thomas Gloerfeld. The mix of products on offer from comForte are usually highly visible within the companies using them, as these products are relied upon for secure access to mission-critical applications running on NonStop. Lose, or have corrupted the primary way information on a NonStop system is processed and patience runs thin very quickly.

As you know, today we provide global 24 X 7 technical support for our customers,” Gloerfeld explained. “As much as we can tell, our customers could not be happier with the level of support they are getting from comForte.” While not every customer of comForte necessarily presses for global, 24 X 7 support, nevertheless comForte has made the investments needed to ensure it can be provided to those who really must have that level of support.

With support operations anchored by presence within Asia, Europe and the Americas,” said comForte’s Delivery Manager, Gertraud Hermann, PMP, “we can leverage our presence in these three different time zones to best meet the needs of our customers. Today we offer two different programs, what we call our Gold support option providing 8 X 5 support out of each time zone as well as our Platinum support option providing true, 24 X 7 support. Not surprising to anyone within the NonStop community, with the Platinum support option, we also ensure that a primary and back-up team member is informed immediately, any time, 24 X 7, with the arrival of each emergency ticket no matter how it is created – by phone, via an email or directly via our web interface."

Of course, what comForte provides today has its roots in procedures and offerings dating back many years. “In 2008, we introduced our Open Ticket Request System (OTRS) allowing us to set up just one ticked no matter how many different ways an incident may be reported, and made it easier for us to track, a ticket has a defined owner, status and priority,” explained Hermann, who reports directly to Michael Horst, comForte Chief Architect and Managing Director”. And then, in 2011, we opened the ticket system to our customers, so that they can use our web support interface not only to open a ticket but also to track existing ticket information and respond to questions from our support team.  In addition we have a Knowledgebase, where customers can search for information about their problem or question.”  

Every start-up I have been associated has lived or died according to the level of support provided. Sales may generate the “breakthroughs” every company needs early on, but it is support that is responsible for every subsequent deal. For the most part, that is. And it’s getting even more important given the spread of social media channels today, offering nowhere to hide for any vendor who short-changes their customers and gives them poor support. Patience is in short supply and the ease with which news can spread means few vendors can escape the fall-out from providing less than optimum support. “Read the manual” is no longer a sufficient response for any customer.


“Since we are a small company, what we are now doing is only possible with a team of highly committed people, spread over the different time zones. Most people have more than one role (development and support or support and licensing) and can support more than one product,” Hermann acknowledged. “Then in 2012 we started regular support surveys to allow our customers to provide feedback. This is giving us feedback into if, and where, we need to improve. And to date, we have received a lot of positive feedback as the chart included here portrays”

Among the many comments received have been “their follow-up information-gathering question was spot on and pointed me in the right direction; the support representative had an in-depth knowledge of the product and a concise understanding of issue I was having” as well as “I have always had excellent support from comForte and, very timely and useful response; thanks”.

In today’s marketplace, with its emphasis on commoditization, standards and open systems, there is the implication that with so many users out there, products will prove to be more robust, easier to support, and that this will lead to less-costly solutions over time. However, this is proving to be far from the truth and it’s going to be increasingly important that support remains firmly in lock-step with product roll-outs no matter what their origins. Despite the origins for much of today’s code, there are just too many moving parts to suggest that the need for support is lessening in any way.

The theme song that came out with the movie, Ghostbusters, remains popular even today with advertising companies.
Captured in its opening lines is the observation “If there's something weird, and it don't look good ... Who you gonna call?” and it’s an experience all too familiar for many in IT. Certainly, when it comes to the troubles we have experienced with our laptop, we can identify with the appearance of something weird and have been paying the price as a result.

For the NonStop community it can be extremely troubling, as any situation that has the potential for stopping a NonStop is unacceptable and many vendors looking to penetrate the NonStop marketplace have suffered unanticipated losses as a result of poor service. Enjoying a global presence as it does today, comForte has made it possible to provide the level of support the NonStop community demands, and this will likely prove as beneficial to comForte as it is routinely proving to all who rely on their products today.

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