Technical Suuport: Better Safe Than Sorry

Although
managing a company’s network can be difficult, finding reliable
technical support can be even more challenging. It is important
to distinguish between capable technical support providers
and those who have little practical experience in solving
the networking issues of a company.

A few
guidelines make finding reliable technical support for a company’s
network more easy and productive. These also help in detecting
the potential sources replete with the necessary skills and
evaluate the type of technical support required.

Types
of technical support

Every
network-regardless of its size, its location, its hardware
and software-eventually requires some type of technical support.
To solve each problem, a company should have the requisite
resources and reliable outside help to tackle the problems
present. It is equally important to evaluate the type of technical
support needed. There are three types of technical support:

CRITICAL-CARE
TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Such technical support is provided during
emergencies on an as-needed basis. This kind of support is
similar to triage doctors working in a hospital’s emergency
room.

ON-GOING
TECHNICAL SUPPORT: The support needed to complete complex
projects, like implementing new technologies, can be hired
on an on-going basis. This kind of support is similar to family
practitioners treating chronic conditions.

ON-SITE
TECHNICAL SUPPORT: When the technical support staff has to
be supplemented on a long-term basis and additional employees
cannot be hired, on-site technical support is sought. Such
technical support providers are similar to home-care nurses
alleviating your workload when you are recovering from an
illness. Determining the type of technical support needed
is of critical importance. In addition to considering the
specific problem or project on hand, other factors, like size
and experience of the technical support staff should also
be considered.

Further,
the cost of each type of technical support is also significant.
Depending on the exact services needed, one may have to compromise
to reduce costs. The right time to opt for support should
also be judiciously gauged to avert a crisis situation. There
could be experienced and versatile technical support providers
handling more than one type of problem. But they also need
to draw the line somewhere. A critical-care technical support
provider cannot help to add a new user to the company’s network.
Likewise, an on-going technical support provider implementing
a database solution cannot restore a failed router.

There
are two types of technical support providers:

Independent
consultants
Consulting companies

Most independent
consultants provide reliable technical support in specific
areas of expertise, often at a lower cost than consulting
companies. On the other hand, consulting companies usually
provide a broader range of services that cost more. As a result,
these companies can often provide more experience and faster
assistance than independent consultants can do.

Averting
disasters

Several
critical questions should be addressed before choosing the
support provider:

How much
experience does the technical support provider have with the
particular company’s network, including the hardware and software
used?

Does
the technical support provider guarantee availability?

Does
the technical support provider offer a single point of contact?

Does
the technical support provider offer a list of references,
enabling to you contact both past and current customers for
more information about the provider’s quality of service?

Experience
matters

I have
provided technical support for many years. Many of my customers
approached me because their technical support provider could
not help them. Most of these customers neglected to ask the
appropriate questions before hiring their technical support
provider. The most important question to ask is the one about
experience. To determine whether or not potential technical
support providers have adequate experience, you should document
the company’s network, making a complete list of the hardware
and software used. This list can then be presented to potential
technical support providers so they are aware of what they
are expected to maintain. This list can also help protect
one from unscrupulous technical support providers trying to
convince you to get unnecessary equipment or replacement parts,
assuming that you are not familiar with each component in
the company’s network.

Guarantee
of availability

The speed
with which a technical support provider responds to a service
request may determine whether or not your company’s network
survives a system failure. In addition, you should find out
whether or not potential providers maintain their own supply
of replacement parts. If a technical support provider does
not stock replacement parts for the hardware used, you may
find yourself at the mercy of manufacturers’ warehouses and
shipping services in the event of a hardware failure.

Single
point of contact

Having
a single point of contact may not seem important when your
company’s network is functioning properly. But when something
goes wrong, you cannot underestimate the value of being able
to contact a technical support professional who is familiar
with the company’s network.

A single
point of contact is also useful if you are trying to juggle
multiple projects simultaneously. In this case, your contact
can act as a project manager, ensuring that each project is
on track. In addition, a single point of contact provides
you with a support professional who can evaluate all of the
services you are receiving and determine whether these services
are satisfactory. Otherwise, you may receive unsatisfactory
services because no one is co-ordinating these services.

References
are critical

Nothing
beats references when you are trying to find reliable technical
support. You should always request a list of references from
each potential technical support provider. This list should
include contact information for several customers who are
using or have used the same technical support provider and
have received services similar to the ones you require. You
should then contact these customers, ensuring that they have
had a good experience with the technical support provider.

A reputable
technical support provider should supply you with contact
information both for customers who praise the provider and
for those who have experienced problems. You can then determine
the technical support provider’s strengths and weaknesses.

You can
also use references from other companies to track down potential
technical support providers. You may want to ask the company’s
partners, suppliers, and customers whether or not they are
happy with their technical support provider. In addition,
you can ask other network administrators, such as members
of your local NetWare user group, if they have any recommendations.

Performing
your role

After
choosing a technical support provider, you should ask what
the provider expects from you. For example, I do not accept
a new customer without first performing a basic health check
on the company’s network. This health check allows me to conduct
an inventory of the hardware, software, and services that
are running. I can also determine if all of the current patches
and updates are installed.

Based
on what I find during the health check, I know if I should
accept the job. If the network’s overall health is relatively
good, I may accept the job because I do not have to spend
an inordinate amount of time reconfiguring hardware and software,
installing current patches and updates. If the network has
significant problems, however, I may decide to reject the
job because the extra work I am faced with may interfere with
the time required by my existing customers.

A reputable
technical support provider may have a similar selection process,
to ensure appropriate distribution of support to every customer.
Technical support providers who are willing to take on any
and every customer may eventually end up spending all of their
time and resources with the one customer whose network is
in the worst shape, leaving little time for the remaining
customers.

Conclusion

Managing
your company’s network is only part of your job. You also
have the responsibility of finding reliable technical support-a
process requiring you to do your homework. You must evaluate
the company’s technical support requirements and determine
the type of support needed. In addition you must interview
potential technical support providers, asking them a variety
of questions and checking their references. If you complete
these steps, you are far less likely to make the company an
unwitting victim in a technical support horror story. Instead,
you may develop a successful technical support relationship
that can serve the company well for many years.

By
MICKEY APPLEBAUM
Excerpted from NetWare Connection
Courtesy: Novell

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