by Andy Jonak
This month let's revisit one of the topics that can seem dull on the surface but is one of the most important parts of your IT environment: support. The support structure is what helps to make an IT environment successful. You have all of this technology implemented—no matter where it sits: on-prem, cloud, or multi-cloud—but if it doesn't perform its intended function and if that intended function is not continually reinforced (which is essentially what support is all about) then these technology solutions are worthless or, at the very least, not meeting expectations. This is why support is critical. A pretty bold claim, but my experience has shown that to be the case throughout the years.
I still see support as being one of those overlooked things when it comes to IT environments, even though every firm has some form of IT support and every firm uses or consumes support in some way. It might be fancy, expensive support, or it might be just calling “John” when things happen—but there is support in place.
I view support similar to how an excellent website is perceived. When you have an excellent website, no one really notices, as the expectations are you will have one. Talk about a circular argument. But here’s the kicker: when you have a bad (or not as good as it needs to be, is probably the PC term) website, everyone notices it. The same holds for support. When your IT environment is working well and users are happy, support is barely noticed. However, when something goes wrong, IT support is the most important thing in the world at the time. Isn’t that how life is most of the time—all or nothing? That’s OK and means IT support is living up to its intended purpose, but I think this perception gives makes it seem not important.
How common is support in the IT world? Pretty much every IT solution that anyone has in place will have some sort of support tied it. Just about every hardware, software, or cloud solution includes some sort of support with it. It might be minimal, or it might be premium support, but there's always something there if you are working with a reputable IT provider.
We see the types of support firms use vary differently, and this is usually dependent on a whole lot of factors, but much of it has to do with firms IT maturity. I like to look at IT maturity in a very simple definition that starts with a question: in your firm is IT looked upon as a business drive or just an IT liability and expense? The answer to that question says a lot about how IT is viewed within the organization and usually dictates how willing a firm is to invest in IT support.
However, support is much more. The support you get as part of your technology solutions is where support starts. That generally takes care of the "help me; it's broken" type of support. Necessary, of course, but just the start in my opinion. Where firms start to become more mature in their IT journey is around the "help me do it better" support. This type of support is what helps firms thrive and is an investment into making the firm better, versus only an investment in IT support.
There are lots of options in terms of support that a firm can consider and implement. Some prefer to keep things in-house as much as possible and only use an outside firm when needed. This works well as long as you have a network of trusted partners. (See some of my previous blogs where I discuss this here, here, here, here, and here). Some would prefer to outsource as much as possible, and that is where a trusted MSP makes sense. Some firms, when adopting new technologies or new solutions, will use an outside provider for a certain period of time until they can build up the necessary skills in-house or hire someone in. These are all good solutions as they stand alone of any combination thereof.
But here's the thing: no matter which way is chosen, we have to have a way to be able to do this, you have to be able to provide adequate support to your firm. For many, adequate support is not enough, as it should help people be at their best in their work environments, allow the best features of the solution to be "exploited" and used and, allow business value—as the solution is intended to bring—to be realized. If those three things are accomplished, then support can be looked at as not just an afterthought something critical that is worth every penny that spent.
So what type of support is needed for your firm? It's choice, comfort, and cost that will drive your support options but leads to questions. Are you comfortable with the support your internal team can provide? Do you prefer to outsource it? Are there regulations or internal rules that don't allow outside people or firms to access your data or environment? What degree of support can you live with: immediate response, next day, email, phone calls, must 24x7, etc.? All needs to be considered and, in many cases, it becomes a tradeoff. Capability versus cost. Any of us that have to manage to a budget or P&L understand this and find balance within what we want/need and what we can afford which always leads to the question: “what cost versus rewards benefit versus risk can I live with”?
Support is not the next hot thing, the next technology that will transform your business model. But without support for that next hot thing, your technology will definitely not be business transformational. I continue to believe IT support is one of the unsung heroes our IT world. Let’s show it the respect it deserves.