When the economy is bad, businesses hold off on buying new enterprise apps and instead try to prolong the life of the ones they have. But there's still the significant expense of vendors' support contracts. Third-party support contracts may be the answer to reducing that cost.
Software vendors don't want to lose those support revenues, especially since they're making less in new and upgrade sales. Some even have tried to raise their support income through schemes such as tiered support (a debacle at SAP) or all-or-nothing support (Oracle's most recent approach to extracting nore money from customers) -- but doing so risks driving customers even faster to third-party offerings.
[ Demonstrating the high stakes of software support, Oracle won a victory years-long support-licensing legal battle with SAP. | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line blog and newsletter. ]
Software vendors will tell you that their support is better than the third-party support and, thus, worth the higher cost. Though it's true that third-party support is usually cheaper, it neither as feature-complete nor as up to date as vendor support.
Here's how to evaluate the third-party support option.
Is third-party support right for you?
The answer depends mainly on two factors, says Forrester Research analyst Paul Hamerman: where the application is in its lifecycle and how important it is for you to stay current with software upgrades. "If [a user] has an installation that's a couple releases back, customized, and difficult to upgrade, third-party support is a more viable option," he says. "If it's an expanding business or a new installation, third-party isn't a good option because you're off the enhancement pack."
If you are set with your software deployment, don't need to get software updates, and primarily want someone to turn to when you run into bugs, you're in a good position to take on third-party support.
What should be in the support contract?
Jason Mark Anderman, president and co-founder of WhichDraft.com, has negotiated many maintenance agreements and has even created one of the leading contract templates for software support. "You need to strike a deal that sets expectations properly and creates a strong sense of trust," he says. "If you don't have that, things often go wrong."