IBM support lock-in 'reasonable': users group

"Inadequate" technical support problems should be resolved with IBM's revamped software licensing model, according to IBM's Australian user group.

Steve Kerridge, Interaction Australasia IBM Users Group president, believes IBM's move to lock clients into technical support with any software upgrade purchase is a "reasonable move".

In October, IBM kicked off its retooled Passport Advantage volume-licensing program, which among other changes, bundles base technical support and software upgrades into a single package called Software Maintenance.

IBM said Passport Advantage and its software maintenance provision assures customers have support, and streamlines the acquisition and maintenance of IBM products, including those from its Lotus and Tivoli Systems subsidiaries. As part of the retooling, IBM eliminated individual technical support programs for Lotus and Tivoli.

Under the revamped program, IBM, Lotus and Tivoli customers can no longer purchase licences for software upgrades without also purchasing technical support. In the past, cost-conscious or highly trained users often opted out of long-term base support contracts. Those users now have no choice but to pay for support along with licences that guarantee access to software upgrades. Premium technical support services continue to be priced separately.

Kerridge said IBM's move to "protect the quality of support being given" was a "reasonable move".

"I believe all vendors suffer from the wide contrast in skill and customer service levels of independent (local) technical support organisations and contractors supporting their products.

"IBM may be tiring of inadequate technical support levels being supplied by independent organisations and the image of its products, in the customers' eyes, being tarnished outside of its control."

Companies that have not been buying one of the software maintenance components -- either software upgrades or technical support -- will see a cost increase, according to a letter IBM sent customers in July. The amount differs from company to company because it is based on a complex, volume-based points system that IBM uses to calculate pricing discounts.

IBM officials said companies that already purchase maintenance and support services will have similar costs under the software maintenance component.

IT executives can waive software maintenance after the first year of a new licence, but will lose access to software upgrades and support by doing so. They will also have to pay a hefty penalty if they decide to rejoin later.

IBM has also announced its 'preferred rate financing' will be extended until the end of 2002. The 'buy now, pay later' offer is a first for IBM Global Services, IBM said. At the end of the deferral period, IBM Global Financing will provide financing.

The low-rate financing is available to qualified customers on a spectrum of IBM hardware, software and services.

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