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Product Support: Fifty Shades of Grey?

by Rob Addy  |  July 9, 2012  |  4 Comments

Damn, it was stiff. He applied some lubrication to aid his entry. Muscles twitching from the strain, he grunted from his exertions. She was being difficult. But her resistance only made his resolve harder. A cold bead of sweat trickled down his back. It was hellishly hot. She was hotter still. But he had a job to do. She was silent. Unnervingly so. His rough hands pulled at her smooth firm body vigorously. He fumbled behind her and unclipped the last token of her resistance. She finally yielded to his unfaltering will and gave him access to her innermost recesses. He gazed at her longingly and surveyed the scene. She was bare before him. Exposing her darkest of secrets for him to unravel. He knelt to get a better vantage point and easier access. He parted his lips, eyes wide with wonder and curiosity, he inhaled deeply and extended a digit. Deftly, he reached inside. It was a tight squeeze but he eased himself inside her slowly so as not to disturb her unnecessarily. His nimble fingers exploring subconsciously, lightly caressing her delicate parts and gently manipulating them to help force a connection. Not a flicker. She remained still. Passively, she lay there. Her inner goddess dormant. She was keeping her thoughts to herself and refusing to give him any indication as to where he should focus his attentions.

His head filled with a throbbing drone as he struggled to concentrate on the job in hand. A spark of electricity shot between them. He recoiled in surprise. Banging his head in the process. The sickly sweet stab of pain made him shudder. Through tightly clenched teeth he cursed under his breath. So that’s how she wanted to play it. Withdrawing carefully yet deliberately, he securely shackled her to prevent a recurrence. He didn’t like surprises. He wanted, no needed, to be in control. He would enforce his will upon her whether she was compliant or not. He sensed her potent, needy, liquid desire to please him. The heat between them was intense. The enforced closeness of the cramped conditions pressed them together tightly. He could feel the warmth of her body through his shirt. Their close proximity, the unnatural heat between them and his exertions combined and he began to perspire once more. His nostrils were filled with her scent. It was a heady mix. She was smouldering alright. He could smell it. If only he could put his finger on it. Then he would be able to bring her up to speed. He had taken her to the edge before. But this time he wanted to finish the job properly. He probed her insides gently. The hairs on the back of his hand stood up in anticipation. His palms tingled. She was delicate and yet tough. Expensive, but now cheapened by the ravages of time. Now was not the time to use brute force. Although that may be necessary later. For now he pondered the challenge she posed. It was going to be a stretch but everything worth having was worth working for…

She was an aging Unix box with an intermittent fault. He was the vendor certified mid-range engineer sent to fix it. But that, as they say, is a different story.

What has this mummy porn homage got to do with product support? Not much. Except that it demonstrates how people’s attention can be grabbed reasonably easily and how even something as mundane as a hardware break fix dispatch can be made interesting if one tries. Imagine how exciting something as truly sexy as prevention based proactive and predictive maintenance can be!

E L James’ novel does raise one interesting support related question however. The title itself encapsulates one of the great areas of debate within the IT Services arena. Just what exactly is support? Are any Infrastructure Services distinct or are they all just varying shades of grey? Where does support end and managed services begin? Are the inter-service hand-offs clearly defined and universally understood? Is there a linear continuum of service value? If there is, what does it look like? What’s a managed service? And what is outsourcing? How do these services differ? Are these all just arbitrary names for incredibly similar service lines? Or distinct and different disciplines that need to be separated? If a provider and customer mutually agree to call a service something (or anything) who are we to say they are wrong? Certainly, such classifications help put revenue into buckets for the purposes of forecasting and determining who has market share bragging rights, but that aside do they really help?

A traditional hierarchical view of today’s IT services landscape…  But is it (or IT) really like that?

Scopes of works and service definitions overlap. They always have. Even within the traditional service towers there is very little consistency as to what actually constitutes a particular type of service. In the support arena we have the Gartner Product Support Maturity Scale which clearly explains what can be expected. If only every service line was as explicitly defined.

The “Managed” prefix and “Management” suffix are routinely used as catch all terms to describe supposedly more valuable services. It is as if by adding the word ‘management’ to each discipline, service providers believed that they were adding a veneer of legitimacy and credibility to raise their offerings above the noise of the general IT market. But do these services really “manage” anything? Recording copious amounts of detail about something does not mean that you are managing it.  It just means that the person following you will have an effective audit trail with which to follow your progress, or lack thereof, and to review the cause of your untimely demise.

Technical boundaries used to define the limits of support services. Not so now. The scope of support services is expanding. It is no longer sufficient to merely hand off issues to another technology provider the moment the cause of an issue can be traced to their stuff. Cross discipline support is a requirement, no, an expectation within today’s marketplace.

Support was often considered more overtly technology-centric than other services. Management services went beyond the mere bits and bytes to actually help the business derive value from their technology investments. And so does support. Product advocacy services and business process guidance and recommendations are being added to support portfolios as providers seek to differentiate themselves and increase their value proposition.

Staff augmentation, the fundamental cornerstone of outsourcing, has been an element of high end support contracts for years. Embedded or dedicated engineers are commonplace. How is having your man (or woman) permanently on their site different to outsourcing? Customers rarely see a distinction. Because there isn’t one.

Outsourcing deals are backed up with contractual SLAs and punitive penalties. Support contracts traditionally weren’t. Although even this is changing. Not that it matters much as the majority of penalty clauses have so many lines of fine print to make them incomprehensible and unusable to all but the lawyers. Support providers were at least honest about their intentions. “Best endeavors” targets are as good as it ever really gets.

The lines between traditional service lines have disappeared. One person’s managed service is another’s mission critical support contract. “Do it to them” has transitioned to “Do it with them” or “Do it for them”. Demonstrable business value is the primary objective irrespective of under which service line banner it is delivered. Support is embracing prevention based services faster than many of its services cousins. When will they wake up and smell the coffee?

Perhaps it is time for the traditional IT services hierarchy to be redefined?

For years Support was the gimp of the IT Services industry. It was all about the box. Be it physical or logical. Support never strayed too far from the box. Support liked its box. Support needed its box. The box gave it purpose and made it feel safe. It resided within its box, largely content with its lot, and was only let out under the strictest of supervision. But those days are gone. The world changed. Support needed to change with it. Support has evolved. Not every support service or support provider has transitioned. But many have (or they are in the process of doing so). As an industry it is maturing. It could be arguing that it is maturing faster than the broader IT community that it serves. Support is ready to take its place in the world as a value added business orientated service. Whether the rest of the IT Services industry is ready for it to do so is another matter. As Neo said at the end of The Matrix,

“I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.”

What do you think? Am I over stating the case for support? Should support get back in its box? Should I get back in mine? Please please please let me know what you think…


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Category: customer-experience  support-value  

Tags: gartner-product-support-maturity-scale  market-perceptions  market-trends  predictive  proactive  trkfam  

Rob Addy
Research Vice President
5 years at Gartner
More years than I care to remember in the IT industry

Welcome to my blog! I post about all things services related from the provider perspective. End-users are welcome to read but please be aware that you may sometimes find its content unsettling. I will endeavour to post frequently (as it's a lot cheaper than a therapist) but please forgive me if other more mundane activities occasionally get in the way...Read my official Gartner bio here

Thoughts on Product Support: Fifty Shades of Grey?

  1. Rod says:

    This is why I pay no attention to Gartner research.

    • Rob Addy says:

      I’m sorry to hear that Rod. But for the record, this post isn’t formal Gartner research. None of the postings on GBN are (see for full details). It was an attempt to humorously (and I know that humor is incredibly subjective) raise the topic of service line convergence using a parody of E L James’ novel as a vehicle to grab ones attention and perhaps get one thinking about how today’s product support service boundaries and scope constraints are evolving in a slightly different way. Did it work? Maybe not. (And from your comment I guess definitely not from your perspective). But the lines between traditional IT service silos have eroded / are eroding IMHO. And I believe that this erosion is worthy of discussion and further investigation. I would love to hear what you think about the central premise of the piece. Many thanks for your comment. Regards, Rob.

  2. MR says:


    Absolutely attention-grabbing, fascinating piece with lots of CRP (Curiosity Raising Power)!

    Traditional Product Support is so dull. You made it so colorful just by adding a touch of grey to it, no pun intended!

    Keep it up!

  3. Oh come on – this was funny. I love how you always make Product Support interesting – and in this case even sexy! Maybe it’s because I am in marketing, but traditional support services could use a little sizzle!! Good one Rob.

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