Third Party Support – The pros and the cons

By Elizabeth Ryan

As budgets have gotten tighter over the last several years companies have looked towards third party maintenance (TPM) as a solution to reduce their ongoing support costs.  Some of these companies have found it to be a positive experience as they understood the good and bad parts of third party support while others never fully understood what it meant not being supported by the OEM and why choosing the right company was so important.

Hardware support – the easy part of support

When looking at a third party maintenance company it is important to understand and differentiate between software and hardware support as third part support companies are not all created equal and when comparing to an OEM it is where you will see the most difference.  On the hardware end of the support world the questions you need to really think about are as follows:

  • How the spare parts are provided – are the spares onsite or are they in a central location and if so how far is it from me?
  • Do you perform in house testing of the replacement parts or are they just sent with the company hoping that they work?
  • How many engineers do they have that are either OEM certified or have real world experience with the systems – just because a company advertises hundreds of engineers does not mean they have hundreds of engineers that work on the systems that you have!
  • How are dial homes accomplished and do you have people to reach directly if there are issues that require immediate escalation?

These are a few of the key points for you to consider on the hardware side but as was mentioned earlier the software is where you will see the biggest issue.

Software support – The good, the bad, and the ugly

Software support consists of two portions.  The first is the patching and software upgrades of the system and the second is the usability and day to day issues that most companies experience.  The upgrades are what I would refer to as the ugly side of the third party support world as many of the companies are not forthcoming about their inability to provide upgrade and patches for your system with the bad side being companies that say that they can provide the patches even though it is illegal and exposes the customer to possible lawsuits.  In my experience in over twenty years in the industry and having worked for many of the largest OEMs in the world I have never seen a third party company authorized to provide patches and upgrades unless the OEM had been paid for the support.  Some people will stop reading now and say that third party support is not right for them but let’s look at a few questions that will help you determine whether it is still right for you.

  1. Where in the life cycle of support is the product – many vendors release new products on anywhere from 18 months to 36 month schedules and if the new product is out are they truly going to be developing for and patching the older series system?  Systems that are end of life no longer receive patches so this is not a concern at all.
  2. What is your patching schedule for infrastructure – most companies that we work with for support as well as installing upgrades run code that is not much newer than the day that it was installed unless the vendor “suggested” that they upgrade due to possible issues.  After the first 12 to 18 months of a products release most patches and upgrades are minor as any new functionality is being put into the new product and not retrofitted into the old one.
  3. How many issues have you experienced that required a software patch or upgrade – after the first 18 months of an average system being installed the number of fixes addressed by software patches.

In looking at these questions and understanding where you stand it will make the bad portion either something that stops you from going the third party support route or else allows you to explore how much cost savings it can provide to you.

For the good portion of third party support it really requires the right vendor with the technical expertise in house to assist with the problems that many companies experience with issues such as disk assignments, replication issues, connectivity, and troubleshooting that is not clear on whether it is software or hardware related.  This expertise allows the company to not only provide support but in many ways to supplement your staff to help them to effectively and efficiently accomplish their job tasks.  Most of the best support organizations have consulting practices that provide both feedback on common issues as well as escalation support to address the software issues that can be experienced by an organization as many of the hardest ones are external to the supported systems and involve the interaction of other software and hardware products with the platform.  This expertise allows for a level of service that even the OEMs struggle to match due to the fact that many of them only provide services on their products and have very little interaction with other products.

Summary

Third party support can be a great money saving measure for your organization and can be a truly great experience as long as you understand what it consists of and what the limitations are.  As in any decision made regarding hiring a company to provide services you should spend the time to understand their capabilities and whether or not the staff you are speaking with are in house or external resources and that your expectations match the reality of what you will receive from the organization.

Posted on October 14th, 2014 under Information Technology


 
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