Government // Mobile & Wireless
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2/24/2012
10:39 AM
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How To Escape Consumer IT Hell

Those smartphones and tablets are wonderful, except when they're not. Instead of telling employees they're on their own, IT must bone up on consumer tech support.

The consumerization of enterprise IT promises to lower costs, increase agility, and produce myriad other benefits. But don't expect any miracles from consumer tech vendor support. In fact, expect a lot of employee time to be wasted if your organization doesn't get involved directly with that support.

Having spent my career in enterprise IT, I'm used to seeing third-party tech support people trained to avoid giving you the service you're paying for. It's a high-stakes game that has a contract with a bunch of zeros attached to it. Because of all of those zeros, enterprise IT support generally provides a road for you to get what you need if you provide objective data and escalate the case to a higher level. While enterprise tech support folks attempt to conserve resources by holding back, they must eventually serve you or risk losing the contract.

But that's not the social contract with consumer tech support. Over the weekend I spent several hours in consumer support hell as I tried to fix a contact sync problem across several devices. I came to the conclusion that, in large volume, consumer support will drain every iota of productivity out of your organization.

I did all of the things that I'd normally do before an enterprise call. I researched the problem so that I had links to provide to the support tech. I gathered diagnostic logs, determined the fault domain, and came to the conclusion that it was a problem with the remote database, not my equipment. Then I pinched my nose and contacted Web-based tech support.

[ IT departments face a number of challenges, including The Shadow IT Threat. ]

I did expect to get the runaround. I didn't expect to spend more than an hour only to hear: "There is no way to know which record is creating the error. There are no tools available to me that could repair the database. Yes, you're correct in thinking that you'll have to burn everything down and re-create everything." I would have been happier if the vendor's support page simply said: "HAHAHA, YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN!"

After bouncing my experience off some other IT folks, I've come to the conclusion that this shoddy service isn't unique to this one vendor; it's just one example of the sorry state of consumer tech support in general. I also know some folks who work on the inside at some of these large consumer technology companies, and they hate and dismiss their support folks, too.

These call centers have the same objective as enterprise support centers: Get the customer off the line as soon as possible. But without the contract with all of those zeros attached, it's very difficult to incent the support organization to actually help consumers.

It's tempting to think: "Well, let's just not let our employees adopt consumer technologies." But that's not an option. Those agility benefits of consumer technology--when the technology works--are real. The consumerization train has already left the station, folks, and IT needs to get on board.

So what can IT organizations do? Start by adding value instead of reverting back to the "no" police. Identify which consumer technologies your company's employees are using. Proactive IT organizations are not only establishing ground rules on which technologies, or groups of technologies, they'll support, but they're also guiding users on which ones can be most beneficial. If you haven't, now is the time to take inventory and try to steer employees toward a small set of technologies.

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Note that I didn't say there can only be one technology. This isn't Highlander; it's consumerization. Folks will have different preferences, and the way to avoid chaos and the "splinterization of consumerization" is to present a small set of options instead of the universe of options or just one single option. Folks will put up with the narrow set if IT also offers decent support for those devices and apps.

Once you've narrowed the options, tweak your IT service management practices. Train internal pros in the black arts of supporting those technologies. Bottom line: Better to pay to get some IT folks up to speed on the latest consumer technologies than to have highly compensated execs getting frustrated with consumer tech support people and wondering why their company still has an internal IT function.

Jonathan Feldman is a contributing editor for InformationWeek and director of IT services for a rapidly growing city in North Carolina. Write to him at jf@feldman.org or at @_jfeldman.

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Philippe Winthrop
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Philippe Winthrop,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/27/2012 | 8:14:07 PM
re: How To Escape Consumer IT Hell
Excellent article. The Enterprise Mobility Foundation published today a paper on a very similar topic. "Struggling With BYOD? Five Things Every Workplace Should Consider As They COPE With Enterprise Mobility" You can download it here: bit.ly/wTbqfo
kmarko
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kmarko,
User Rank: Strategist
2/27/2012 | 1:28:46 AM
re: How To Escape Consumer IT Hell
This clash between product support and technical users in general, and IT specifically, is one between mission and expectations. Consumer electronic support lines are designed to help people operate and configure a relatively complex product with features and options many buyers may not understand.

Technically savvy users, i.e. IT types, can figure out all of the subtleties. When we have a problem, we've been through all of the obvious fixes; we've rebooted, reset to default configs, looked at any available error log, unplugged extraneous peripherals, i.e. done all the standard troubleshooting steps. Hence, by the time we call 'support' there's at least a 50-50 chance we're dealing with a product bug or defect; not something that can be easily dispatched by a call center drone.

The problem is that it's virtually impossible to wade through the 'support' bureaucracy to reach some who can either: (a) file a bug report (i.e. the product doesn't do what it's supposed to do under a certain set of circumstances) or (b) send a replacement product (in the case of hardware) for a device that clearly isn't working properly under normal conditions; that is not an edge case, in which we might suspect a bug, not a defect.

Big dollar IT spenders expect escalation to support people that can initiate a software bug fix or hardware replacement, but this support model seems infeasible in the age of consumer devices. How do you prove the technical bone fides allowing you to bypass the front-line support drones and reach people that can actually effectuate change? Maybe it just boils down to money. Those that spend the dollars can get engineer-to-engineer conversations, but for everyone else it's call center scripts and FAQs.
pcalento011
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pcalento011,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/24/2012 | 10:01:10 PM
re: How To Escape Consumer IT Hell
Consumerization potentially allows IT to (re)align with user/exec/stakeholder enthusiasm. Key to supporting new devices, BYOD et al is probably a change in how an engagement works. Perhaps a guide to "using your device" or other proactive (and unexpected) materials would be a step in the right direction and avoid what you call "splinterization of consumerization" --Paul Calento http://bit.ly/paul_calento
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