If you’re an OEM, providing good customer support for your products is likely to get harder and more expensive in the short-term. That’s because cloud computing, in its various guises, is going to add complexity to already-challenged OEM support operations. As another way for customers to procure and implement IT, cloud represents another set of customer support requirements that must be met by product manufacturers.
Product OEMs already work with and through a variety of customer types and partners to deliver customer support on their products, either directly or indirectly:
• Traditional installed-base customers (non-cloud),
• Private/hybrid cloud customers,
• Service providers (public cloud,)
• Channel partners, authorized third-party maintainers,
• Integrators, outsourcers, traditional hosting firms,
• Vertical-market manufacturers who integrate the OEM’s product into their own solution.
Some of these are direct customer-support examples, the kind OEMs are most experienced in handling. In other cases the OEM needs to help a partner provide customer support around the OEM’s products and also offer technical support, training, and certification where appropriate.
Cloud computing comes with expectations of seamless, dependable service that doesn’t have to be worried about—that’s part of the attraction. For OEMs selling products into cloud environments, this raises the customer-support ante. The variations are many, but let’s look at a single public cloud service-provider (SP) example where a software-as-a-service (SaaS) backup company is using the third-party SP for its infrastructure, instead of the SaaS firm building out its own data centers. The OEM has provided much of the infrastructure to the third-party SP but has only a minimal relationship with the SaaS backup firm. But if the SaaS backup service goes down due to infrastructure problems, the OEM will have a support problem to deal with and may end up getting blamed for the backup service’s downtime. After all, it’s their hardware that failed in SP’s data center. In effect, the SaaS backup company’s customers are also the OEM’s. Not so different perhaps than if the OEM’s products are used at an insurance company, or a law firm, except that downtime for a cloud service is immediately poisonous to the business.
EMC’s VCE Support Approach
Private cloud infrastructure promises significant efficiencies while allowing customers to continue to manage their own environments, as opposed to the public cloud/service provider model. Still, when a private cloud solution comprises multiple vendors’ products, support has the potential to become a finger-pointing exercise among the represented OEMs, and the benefits can fade. Wikibon’s Stu Miniman has touched on this previously in the context of the VCE private-cloud coalition of EMC, VMware, and Cisco and their Vblock solution. It’s clear however that these companies have thought through the potential pitfalls of a multivendor solution and have made significant investments in making sure customer support is seamless, including the following:
• A large team of dedicated support engineers that have received thousands of hours of cross-training on technologies from each other’s companies.
• A single support implementation plan that combines best practices from each of the three companies.
• Use of leading-edge collaboration tools such as Telepresence and Webex to facilitate collaboration among support engineers across the three companies.
• Linking of the three companies’ CRM systems so that any Vblock support request can be viewed by the virtual VCE support team or any of the three companies’ support operations, regardless of where the request originated.
• A multi-million dollar investment in lab equipment and the build-out of two joint problem re-creation labs, staffed by engineers from all three companies.
• A single phone number for support and a VCESupport.com portal where customers can submit cases.
• The establishment of cooperative engineering groups that can be accessed directly by all three companies.
Multivendor support has a long, often discouraging history, but it’s clear that the VCE firms have invested heavily to make sure customer support does not become a drag on the overall Vblock initiative. In fact, customer support can be part of the innovation behind the solution.