I just returned from a fantastic week on Italy’s Amalfi Coast to celebrate my mother’s birthday! A trip that we’d talked about for years, planned last minute in April and started to regret in May. How could anyone regret a trip to Italy you may wonder? Quite simply—worries over health can quickly overtake feelings of excitement and anticipation. If you’re lucky enough to have travelled to the Amalfi Coast or even heard about its stunning beauty, what stands out most are the steep hills, unending stairways and precipitous cobblestone streets. The best way to enjoy it all is to walk around the Coast and meet the locals. So, when my mother became nearly bedridden by a severe knee injury only weeks before our departure, our trip appeared to be in jeopardy—facing either huge cancellation fees for our family of 11 or traveling as planned with my mother in pain enjoying not much more than the view from the hotel room balcony.
Fortunately, we were able to get her the right medical support from her trusted doctors before we left for the trip and didn’t have to run around in a new country seeking medical help. She was able to enjoy the Amalfi Coast every bit as much as the youngest in the family. Getting back to the office, this whole experience got me thinking about the larger scale implications of a sudden illness.
What does this experience have to do with a global maintenance, deployment and support business? Much more than you’d think.
Having spent several rewarding years in the maintenance and support organization for a large, multinational telecommunications provider, I decided it was time to refresh my understanding of this line of business and its role given the barrage of convergence and complexity being managed within enterprise IT organizations. Add my recent insights on automation and its impact on service delivery, I expected to be reminded times have changed. But I certainly didn’t anticipate the level of profound changes I found.
“Maintenance and support is quickly becoming a software business, with virtualization and automation of people and parts changing the dynamics of delivering support services,” cites industry leader, Doug Schmitt, vice president and general manager of Dell’s Global Support and Deployment line of business.
IT sprawl and disproportionate investment in maintenance has been overcome by consolidating and virtualizing complex environments, according to leading research analysts at IDC. Yesterday’s problems have been replaced with new demands including the need to provide multi-vendor support, solutions for complex IT environments, support for converged environments, and end user expectations for 100% availability. Managing these new stress points is enough to make even the seasoned CIO sick—sick of dealing with outages, escalating repair and replacement costs, and delays in reaching knowledgeable support personnel.
Yet, forward thinking CIOs are recognizing the need to look beyond the technology challenges and demonstrate the business value driven from their IT support. “Our customers are partnering with us in new ways to help them become more relevant and remove the image of being technology geeks whose key contribution is COGS,” suggests Schmitt.
Many CIOs used to view support contracts as a necessary evil—the dreaded insurance expense. Significant time and effort negotiating detailed SLAs outlining uptimes and recovery times was the norm. Not anymore.
“Just as cloud computing, mobility and big data have changed the lives of millions of consumers, a proactive approach leveraging predictive analytics and automation is changing the business of support,” says Schmitt. “This return on time frees up IT organizations to take on value-added projects including deepening their understanding of both internal and external customers, shortening time to market for products and services, and agility to support business units pursuing new market opportunities.”
How Predictions Link to Prevention
How do these changes relate to my summer vacation? After talking to Doug Schmitt, it was obvious that if my mother had “predictive” capabilities, she could have possibly prevented her knee injury and certainly pursued a cure sooner.
Schmitt’s premise is this—a predictive service offers CIOs an opportunity to be proactive, preventing problems instead of waiting for them to happen. Reactive support is a business I understand well—technical support teams trained to handle varying levels of severity calls including those where downtime can quickly register impact in the millions in mere minutes. Dell’s model takes a proactive approach.
“Within our ProSupport Enterprise Suite, we have a robust support model that incorporates proactive capabilities and predictive modeling to lower the customer effort required to quickly address issues and even prevent problems from occurring in the first place,” states Jim Roth, Executive Director, Product Group. “The effectiveness of this type of approach can be seen through an analogy to the levels of prevention used in medicine—primary, secondary and tertiary—which clearly translate to the world of IT management and support.” He went on to clarify that in the IT world, primary prevention means focusing on preservation and includes careful planning, system maintenance, performance monitoring and leveraging predictive analytics to identify recommendations that can prevent issues and help optimize systems and infrastructure. Secondary prevention addresses problems promptly as they arise and tertiary prevention means managing ongoing issues, often systematic, where costs can mount quickly in a reactive mode making it difficult to shift focus to planning and optimization. “The further upstream we can apply preventative measure, the likelier it is to be effective,” comments Roth. “Our ProSupport Plus offer, which is enabled by SupportAssist remote monitoring technology, delivers a proactive and automated support experience that moves customers closer to primary prevention.”
In the saga of my mother’s knee, I could relate. Had my mother taken more aggressive primary prevention measures such as annual orthopedic check-ups (since she’s for years suffered from back and spine issues) or been wearing a microscopic sensor in her knees (which is no longer a farfetched idea according to innovative health care applications) this sudden knee injury may likely have been predicted or even prevented. Additionally, time was wasted visiting her general practitioner and waiting for tests and results. By addressing her pain directly with an orthopedic surgeon, she could have received an injection much sooner—avoiding the weeks of hoping that the medication would kick in as we flew over the Atlantic.
“Instead of the customer having to make a call for support after a failure, through automation, predictive capabilities or other preventative measures, we have the intelligence to proactively contact a customer before they realize a failure has occurred or even fix the problem before it happens,” states Schmitt. “Successful providers take a full environmental view and active involvement in recommending actions that can keep the data center running at peak performance. For an Asia Pacific customer, one proactive call proved this approach. Thanks to our remote monitoring capability, Dell technicians identified a server was overheating which triggered a call to local support personnel allowing them to confirm the air conditioning system had gone out. This type of system monitoring and other real time tools accelerate reaction time and help prevent future problems.”
This approach is also expected to deliver cost savings to CIOs, drive down the cost of managed services and allow more focus by outsourcers and IT organizations on higher valued services that are core to creating new business value. Roth cited one of Dell’s recent successes. “Host Europe, a leading internet hosting solutions provider, spent up to 20 minutes raising tickets through the hotline, but now it takes their Dell-certified personnel just 2 minutes using the Dell TechDirect online tool. This saves them time and boosts staff productivity.”
Another aspect raised by Schmitt is the concept of that prevention can actually be easy. Just as simple acts like flossing our teeth and obtaining immunizations help prevent future health issues, technology such as smartphones and the applications spawned by these intuitive designs can help make everyday life easier and safer. Apps that automatically unlock your front door as you approach with your phone or upload fitness data automatically after a workout are just two examples that are analogous to support services. Autonomics and predictive modeling from industry leaders like Dell are in use today helping support the claim that 30% of routine maintenance issues can be handled via automation.
“Prevention is the goal, but it’s made easier because of the advances in predictive modeling and application of invisible design techniques,” says Schmitt.
Selecting the Right Provider
Seeing firsthand the importance in getting to the right specialist begs the question, what qualities should CIOs look for in their global support provider? To ensure that your provider practices this new approach of preventative-oriented support, I recommend selecting a provider who offers the following capabilities.
- Scale. There’s reason bigger is better when it comes to world class support—processes, infrastructure, repetition and practice. Each of these essential elements come from selecting a provider who can scale the globe with parts depots, command centers and people strategically placed in countries with access to your data centers.
- Simple Portfolio. Flexibility and the ability to customize solutions without cost are critical. Being able to quickly react to infrastructure and end user needs demands a simple yet flexible solution. Many providers claim they can customize their solution but often this comes with a high cost or lengthy development timeframe.
Roth agrees, “Dell’s Global Support team is unmatched in its coverage and experience. We analyze over 300 terabytes of data collected from over 10 million enterprise servers as part of our predictive remediation and recommendations. And our ProSupport Enterprise Suite can reduce the number of steps it takes to troubleshoot a problem from 6 down to just 1 or 2—a 75% reduction.”
Ongoing investment in the business is also key. “Dell has invested heavily to stay at the forefront of IT support with services such as software-based tools leveraging big data for predictive analytics, innovative management support consoles, world class labs and infrastructure, ongoing training and certification for support engineers, and partnerships with leading software developers and other ecosystem players,” cites Schmitt. Given that Gartner analysts project the global IT Support business to grow at only 2.1%, provider investment demonstrates commitment to the segment and a desire to deliver differentiated services.
It’s never too late or too soon to get healthy. If you’re stuck with a provider who has not adopted the proactive and predictive techniques that are leading to prevention, consider starting with an internal check-up. Collect relevant data on key pain points like recent failures or outages. Talk to IT managers and business unit leaders to better understand business goals and objectives beyond day to day maintenance.
“Our goal is to give CIOs back time and money by reducing the complexity associated with managing an ever changing IT landscape,” states Schmitt. By selecting a provider who has the right dose of prediction, you can prevent problems experienced today.