Users find follow-the-sun tactic sheds no light

IT's follow-the-sun strategy -- which lacks local and individualised input -- is frustrating users while concerns about quality, timeliness and method of IT support accelerate.

Dennis Remmer, vice president of the Australian Oracle User Group, said essential problems such as the reduction in localised, one-on-one communication, the age-old problem of the 'upgrade is the solution', and the difficulties in supporting new strategic products proliferate.

The chances of communicating with a local consultant conversant with your site is slim, Remmer said, as Oracle makes its gradual move from phone support towards self-support directly through its Metalink service, and indirectly through facilities such as the Oracle technology network.

"It used to be that you were reasonably guaranteed of communicating with a local consultant, whereas now, through follow-the-sun support, depending on the time of day, you might be dealing with any number of people to resolve your issues, each of which might need reiteration."

Despite apparent user unhappiness with Oracle's support strategy, a spokesperson for the company said that, according to a December 2001 global support survey, one of the keys to its improved product support status has been the self-support component.

"The [MetaLink] repository is accessible 24x7 so customers can find answers themselves at their own pace. There are about 12 million successful searches per quarter."

However, Remmer said: "The escalation process does not always work effectively, and skilled support resources might be limited in some areas - particularly for emerging technologies such as 9iAS, Portal, iFS and other products."

Resentment is growing within the user community about the spiralling cost of technology support in light of declining vendor support (Computerworld, March 4 2002, p1).

Curtis Williams, IT manager with Cussons, said trying to get the same technical people when a support call is logged, that understand the site and setup was "frustrating".

However, Williams put this problem down to the fairly large turnover of vendor jobs. "I think cutbacks and restructuring with a lot of vendors has had a negative impact on us as the customer."

Paul Hawking, chairman of SAP Australian User Group, disagrees that the 'follow the sun' help desk strategy is a bad move. "Users log their request through the SAP system; it is prioritised and responded to. The level of support is very good."

With regards to the 'forced upgrading' issue, Adam Cogan, Microsoft regional director and president of the Microsoft Access/ASP/SQL Server User Group, Sydney, said: "Microsoft is in a no-win situation."

"It shouldn't support old stuff, but since it does, it is being spread a long way."

Cogan said Microsoft needs to "move users up in versions".

"Telling users that [Microsoft] is not supporting old versions is quite negative, but so is being slow with patches."

Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting, said customer satisfaction on support is elusive throughout the applications market. "When I talk to IT managers and CIOs, one of the consistent complaints I hear is that the overall quality of software and support is below expectations."

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