- You really can’t run an enterprise without some level of support contract these days due to infrastructure complexity
- Your own talent pool & business needs will drive the level of support contract required for your environment
There are many case studies and hot topics that have circulated for years (and will continue to for many more, I’d wager) about how much support contracts cost. However, I’ll ask you this, “Do you want to be the one responsible when you explain that the network outage could have either been avoided, or considerably shortened with expert help available?” The question isn’t whether you should have access to expert help. The question is what level of expertise is appropriate for your organization. This in turn depends on the systems in question, how many vendors are involved (in which case you begin to drift from a vendor specific support contract into a more involved services engagement with an integrator/partner – which is out of the scope of this particular blog) and what kind of an investment in your IT staffing you’ve made – and will continue to make. Certifications, time out of office, headcount, expertise focus, business metrics, uptime requirements, line of business commitments for network uptime, etc. It’s quite simple, right? (Tongue firmly in cheek.) At minimum, you should have a standard business hours call center contract, which also gives you access to software updates. Not every vendor requires a contract for this and it is a significant perk for customers of those who are satisfied. Though in mission critical situations, when a problem can run from a simple configuration error (which in my experience, is increasingly rare) to the more grievous hardware failure that you may not have hot spared on site (these lessons are learned once, painfully, and then never repeated), you need expedited assistance. When a two or four hour support contract is put in place, a vendor or local partner is trained and carries inventory for every SKU that such a high alert contract may need. After all, when an outage occurs, it could be trivial, it could represent millions of dollars per hour in lost revenue, or it could result in potential litigation (think about emergency services or when lives are on the line). This is the vendor-side support model.
Alternatively, you can invest in your staff, which may be a less attractive proposal for HR and accounting, but it has the potential to offer significant OpEx benefits beyond just troubleshooting. Talent management is not strictly about retention, though an argument can be made it’s the most critical, but it is also about managing for the team’s and the business’s success. Grooming new management with an intimate technology understanding, ensuring staff is immersed in emerging technology that could radically transform an enterprise, or simply ensuring mission critical systems never go down, or if they do the outage is measured in minutes vs. hours. Contracts are still required to supplement the staffing, but when one considers a fully loaded full-time equivalent with talent is a $200k line item vs. the comparable annual support contract costing up to $200k per system, it makes the case to at least consider staffing talent. In addition, the tangible benefits of real time response and troubleshooting make things generally go quicker in those critical situations that I certainly hope never occur – but certainly can, prepare for the worst, hope for the best.