Apps support lags, users say

Pressure on IT shops to get a 'bang for your buck' has accelerated growing resentment about the spiralling cost of technology support coupled with plummeting vendor help desk support.

Curtis Williams, IT manager for Cussons, said overall technical support has declined while pricing for support has "not become any cheaper".

"I think the quality of technical support is still reasonably good, but it can be frustrating trying to get back the same technical people that understand your site and setup due to the fairly large turnover in jobs within the vendors.

"I think cutbacks and restructuring at a lot of the vendors has had a negative impact on us as the customer."

Williams' comments concur with surveys by US user groups and Computerworld US, which have given vendors such as Oracle and SAP mixed marks on technical support.

Bones of contention include issues such as hard-to-install patches and slow responses to requests for help in resolving problems.

Williams, who declined to name his specific vendor, gave one such example of an 'unhappy' help desk incident.

He said his vendor's support hours were between 7am and 7pm, seven days a week. However, "I will never forget the time our Unix Server (transactional system) died at 6.30pm. By the time we logged the call to the helpdesk of our vendor it was 7.02pm.

"I was promptly informed that I was calling 'outside of our support hours and that out of hours support was not in our contract'. I can assure you I made a number of phone calls that evening that resulted in three engineers out here within two hours."

Williams said paying out large sums of money for "reasonably average support" seems to be a common theme.

According to a survey conducted by the US Oracle Applications Users Group and research firm Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co, more than one-third of users gave Oracle a "poor" rating on support.

In addition, 32 per cent of the respondents said the quality of Oracle's support is declining. Another 52 per cent said that Oracle isn't a customer-centric company. The report attributed much of the dissatisfaction to upgrade problems that many users encountered after Oracle released its E-Business Suite 11i applications two years ago.

A spokesperson for Oracle Australia said that, according to a global survey of 4786 users in December 2001, 92 per cent said they will continue using Oracle Support Services, and that support had improved. Also, according to a report by Morgan Stanley, Oracle was placed "first in customer satisfaction" for its E-Business Suite, and 97 per cent of users said they would repurchase the application.

Oracle isn't alone in drawing criticism. Gartner said in a report this month that it has received increased complaints about SAP's support over the past six months.

Greg Pike, director support for SAP Australia and New Zealand, said a recent worldwide customer survey, to which 70 per cent of customers in this region responded, indicated quality of support has been improving every year.

"Going back five years ago it wasn't that crash hot ... [but] it has been improving hand over fist every year."

Paul Hawking, chairman of SAP Australian User Group, said as SAP has a 'follow the sun' help desk strategy, concern about technical support "is not an issue".

"I haven't heard any grumbles from a technology support perspective. Users log their request through the SAP system, it is prioritised and responded to. The level of support is very good."

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," he said.

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