The Myth of Support (Part 2)
July 23, 2005
There's a story about vendor support people like to tell: if you pay enough money, a lot of money, you'll get excellent support; but if you aren't willing to pay lots of money for support, clearly it's not really that important to you.
I don't know if paying lots of money gets you excellent support; I've never worked for an organization that was in a position to pay that sort of money. (I think you are unlikely to get it from a single vendor, for the reasons outlined in SupportMythPartI.)
But this myth really angers me, and I have recently been able to work out why: we expect things we buy to actually work, especially if they are expensive.
The myth tries to convince you that it is routine to have to pay very large sums of money so that the vendor will fix things that are its own fault. It's trying to convince you that it's right that you pay twice to get a working system. And that is why this myth angers me. I feel that people who buy expensive computer systems have a right to have them work right without spending lots more money.
Also, note that the myth creates a perverse vendor incentive: the more post-sales little problems their systems have, the more you seem to be 'getting your money's worth' from your expensive support contract, so the more it pays for the vendor to allow such little problems to exist.
I'm not likely to get a world where vendors fix problems for free. I can hope for a world where support contracts are more like insurance than prepaid consulting fees. (And this makes the vendor incentives run the right way.)
(Similarly I object to the story that one should not object vociferously when vendors stop providing much support because the expense to them of doing so has exceeded the amount you're paying them. The general rule: the vendor's screwups should be its problem, not yours.)
Sidebar: Maintenance, Support, and Consulting
Maintenance is the process of replacing breakable things as (or before) they break. I expect to pay for maintenance, since things like disk drives do wear out sooner or later. (One may have a debate about whether software can be considered 'breakable' or simply 'not working to spec'.)
Consulting is making the system do something new, outside of what you and the vendor agreed on it doing. The vendor can, should, and does charge you for this, and I have no objections to it.
Support is for when the system doesn't work the way the vendor said it would. This is unlike consulting, because the system should work right, and unlike maintenance, because it is not a breakable thing finally breaking.
Disclaimer: all resemblances are totally coincidental
This rant has nothing to do with any relationships between the University of Toronto and its vendors that I have been involved in, which have all been good (or even excellent). It is purely a reaction to being relatively recently re-exposed to this myth in various forms and forums.
Written on 23 July 2005.
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