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No Need to Gamble When it Comes to Vendor Support

by | Aug 13, 2013

Every day, most senior managers need to make choices based on a cost-benefit analysis. “Is it worth spending x amount of dollars to ensure this bad thing doesn’t happen” or “Is it worth buying this product to lower the risk that this might happen?” If your project is mission critical, clearly some investment is prudent. But how do you determine what is cost efficient and what is excessive? And where should the money be spent?

As a software products vendor in the document management field, many of our customers’ projects are in mission critical applications. We have banks converting millions of checks or serving up thousands of document page views per day that are critical to their operations. We have shipping companies who rely on the systems that include our products to view and process bills of lading and other shipping documents. If a critical component in these operations breaks down, business is delayed, if not stopped. Losses could mount to millions per day. The same can be true for insurance claims, credit card processing operations and all the other myriad industries we work with to make sure their documents are processed accurately and on time.

Many of these companies reassure themselves, as do we, that software doesn’t wear out or break. “If it worked yesterday, it will work today and tomorrow as long as I don’t change anything.” And because change is infrequent or rare, you can rest peacefully. Well, maybe not.

What if your IT staff gets notification of a security issue that requires an urgent iOS upgrade to your servers? Security often trumps all other concerns. Compromised customer data can destroy your business. The problem with these kinds of surprises is you can’t really plan for them. It’s about a vulnerability you didn’t anticipate… and you have no choice but to update. And then all you can do is hope everything keeps running. Well, in mission critical situations, hope isn’t enough. You need some certainty.

Another relatively common scenario for Snowbound occurs after signing up a new customer. They often work with documents generated by systems we’ve never seen before. And we tell all our customers over and over again: “not all documents work identically”. Many PDFs are generated by non-standard products that don’t follow the specs. Technically they’re corrupt, but if there are thousands or millions of them, what are you going to do?

This is why you need a responsive vendor at your side. Someone you can call in the middle of the night to get help and advice.

The realities of business today are that successful, growing companies are never idle and work to minimize inefficiencies. The staffs they have are experts in their field and they work hard servicing their customers. Sure, a reputable company tries to provide timely support to all its customers, but given the common restriction of limited resources, choices have to be made. And by necessity, these companies prioritize who gets helped first by which customers have purchased priority support to protect their mission critical operations. Making sure that your organization is one of those priority customers provides assurance that when your boss is breathing down your neck demanding an operation be restored, you have access to a prompt answer and a solution from the vendor.

That answer should be a SLA (Service-Level Agreement) appropriate to your organization’s needs and budget. It is important to determine your specific support needs and then find a vendor that can fulfill those requirements and work with within your desired response time. If your operation is mission critical, your realistic range of response times need to be less than a day (24 hours, 12 hours, 4 hours or 24×7 immediate response). You cannot just hope that your vendor will have time for you when things are going south; you need to be on their radar as a priority customer from the get-go.

It’s easy to see, then, that in this specific cost-benefit analysis the benefits of 24×7 support from a responsive vendor far outweigh the costs.