A few weeks back I wrote a blog called “Vendor support; experiences from a Customer and Vendor’s perspective.” It was basically about how critical it is to have adequate vendor support agreements in place for your IT environment and how difficult it can sometimes be dealing with them and being satisfied with the result. I know we all have experienced poor support and those war stories will remain etched in our memories. I ended my blog by saying how going through difficult support situations helps reinforce our company’s full commitment to providing excellent and personalized support to our customers. We better be, since we are a Managed Service Provider and Cloud Hosting company (Private, Azure, AWS). With that said, I realize there are many other items worth discussing when it comes to vendor support. So I will attempt at covering a few of the more important considerations regarding this topic.
To start, I am assuming we all know why vendor support is important. So, let’s move to the “what” hardware or software does your company need support with? The simple answer, anything you purchased and use in your IT environment (hardware and software). I know, it sounds painful and expensive but you must have a path of escalation in the event that product isn’t working correctly or has failed. The good news is most products you purchase do come with some type of limited warranty. I say limited because no manufacture will guarantee their product 100%.
More good news is a warranty does not add (at least it shouldn’t) any cost to the product as it is included in the purchase price. It is important to understand a product’s warranty and must be done prior to any purchase and should be part of the decision criteria. Typically hardware warranties have a time limit (1 – 3 years) and software warranties are based patching and version upgrades. With that said if a product seems great and meets all business requirements except a solid warranty and options for ongoing technical support then you need to continue looking. In the long run this will save you time, money, and frustration.
As your understanding the warranty (prior to purchase) you must also investigate ongoing support i.e. life after warranty. Chances are you will be using your product well beyond the warranty expiration date. Meaning, you need extended support or maintenance agreements. Software support usually includes “software assurance” and “technical support.” Software assurance basically provides patches and upgrades. Software technical support provides access to experts who can help troubleshoot issues and assist with configuring the product. If this isn’t enough, look to your integrator as they can supplement the manufacture’s support programs. All this comes with price tags so understanding and planning for this is critical.
Hardware support can be a little trickier to figure out. Most manufactures offer many options for coverage. At a minimum, access to the manufacture’s third level support team is usually included in any agreement. However, you may have to choose whether you want access to their engineers 7×24 or 5×8 or some other timeframe they may offer. In my humble opinion, this is a critical service since they can help you determine the root cause to most issues and help you resolve it. It truly supplements your team’s technical abilities and since most engineering work is done after hours you may want to think about the 24 hours coverage.
After that, you have a couple of different options to choose from. The first option is agreement duration. You can choose from 1, 2 and 3 year plans (some longer) that offer different pricing and discounts. Obviously the longer the agreement the more money you can save. The problem here is cash flow, as you are paying upfront for these services.
The final option (for this article) is based on how long it takes for a replacement part to show up at your facility. Many choices here again but the most important are: 4 hour replacement delivery vs next business day (NBD); and 7 days per week vs 5 days per week. Obviously each choice comes with different pricing which can be dramatic. So how do you decide? Business requirements should drive this process. You also need to consider how much redundancy your environment already has. If you are fully redundant at every level then you may be able to get away with next business day delivery.
Just remember, support is critical and must meet your business requirements. So take the time to fully discover your options and the associated costs from date purchase through expected life of the product.