In as diverse and complex a technology category as network and systems management, vendor customer service and support is key to customer success both in selecting the appropriate solutions and in product implementation.
The fact is, distributed systems and network management don’t lend themselves to cookie-cutter solutions. Vendors’ plug-and-play products and point solutions only address part of a big task. “When it comes to networking and systems management, IT departments need to know how to put it all together,” says Richard L. Ptak, vice president of systems and application management at the Hurwitz Group Inc., in Framingham, Mass.
Systems integration is one of the biggest tasks that organizations face when implementing systems and network management tools. In these product categories, IT departments seek to align themselves with vendors offering a solid product, a methodology for implementation, and a strong services organization.
But it’s not always easy to find vendors who are up to the task. That’s why IT departments should evaluate customer service and support carefully before choosing a vendor. “Vendors need to be up front about the capability of their products and how it will fit into your environment,” says Terry Dymek, director of IT infrastructure design at the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., in Boston.
IT managers say network and systems management products are often oversold. “Many vendors will say that their products offer a lot of functionality, but in truth, they don’t deliver,” says Dymek.
What’s the problem? Many vendors like to position their presales people as partners when they’re actually salespeople rather than support staff. “IT departments are better off working with vendors whose presales people come from the services side of the house,” says Ptak.
When moving from a mainframe to client/server environment, there’s no simple solution for systems management, according to Kevin Conlin, director of IS at Dial Corp., in Scottsdale, Ariz., a $1.5 billion company that makes consumer products. The problems are complex and “solutions are unwieldy and require strong support resources” for both presales and post-sales services, he says.
So, even with its knowledgeable IT staff, Dial officials still must rely on their vendors. That’s why the quality of customer service and support is a major consideration at both Dial and John Hancock when selecting a network or systems management vendor. “We’re always looking for the vendor who’s willing to go the extra mile,” says Conlin.
Thumbs up for The Kid
Cisco Systems Inc. is the type of vendor Dan Dixon, chief technology officer at John Hancock, can rely on because customer service and support is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “I can always get a live body when I need one,” he says.
Dixon finds that many other network and systems management vendors don’t offer comprehensive customer support. “A lot of vendors are not like Cisco. These other vendors need to realize that we can’t fly blind and run a computing environment without manageability,” says Dixon.
But different vendors in this product space have different models for customer service and support. “There are some network vendors whose products you can purchase over the Internet and whose support infrastructure might rely on outside channels,” says Ray Paquet, a vice president at GartnerGroup, in Stamford, Conn.
Other vendors are aimed at the enterprise market and tend to sell at the CIO level, or top-down rather than bottom up, he adds. When IT shops purchase large systems and network management solutions, they usually have higher expectations of customer service from vendors.
And, according to IT managers, their expectations are justified because they may be paying millions of dollars for platforms and services associated with implementing and managing them. “For every dollar spent on software, corporations spend two to four times more on services,” says Paquet. So, for instance, while product documentation is important, it may not be nearly as important as product training for internal IT staff.
As IT departments continue to make the transition from an infrastructure and cost center to a profit center and focus on competitive advantage, the need for vendor services and support will escalate. And the vendors that can deliver customer service anytime, anywhere will be the vendors of choice for IT decision makers. //
Lynn Haber, based in Norwell, Mass., writes about the evolution of networking technology and the issues faced by users of the technology. She can be reached at [email protected].