​Making support relevant in the digital era

​Making support relevant in the digital era

Why your enterprise application support function will need to evolve significantly over the next five years.

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 already complex, including a wide variety of legacy application and infrastructure 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 digital, 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?

Many 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.

Through speaking with CIOs on a regular basis, it is my experience that some licensees of traditional enterprise software vendors have been 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 retain full support.

Of course there are some who would question my point of view, suggesting it is biased. I would agree – I am biased in favour of the customer! In my opinion, if licensees were receiving the support services they wanted at a fair price, they wouldn’t consider leaving vendor support. How support is delivered has to change.

It has to become more vendor neutral and more focused on solving the customer’s business problems quickly. 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, as well as providing full support of their current robust releases for longer.

They need to support customisations too, not just the base code – it is one integrated environment and customers are becomingly increasingly nonplussed with vendors citing contract clauses and requiring them to prove they didn’t create the issue in the first place.

I realise this is a huge step, and some vendors might argue they could 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?”

I would encourage 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).

Andrew Powell is managing director of Rimini Street Asia Pacific, a provider of independent enterprise software support services.

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