I recently visited Salesforce.com’s annual event, the Dreamforce conference. The attendance was significantly larger than last year, which in turn had been noticeably larger than the year before. The Cloud/Software As A Service tsunami that Microsoft’s Bill Gates described as a sea-change in the high technology industry is growing ever larger. Almost two years ago, Gates saw something gathering on the horizon that concerned him, as well it should. When all you need to access the business technology is a reliable browser, does it matter which operating system you have on your computer?
The implications of the shift to the Cloud are not limited to operating system manufacturers. I had a conversation with Nathaniel Kunes, the product line manager for Citrix Online’s GoToAssist product. (GoToAssist allows a support technician to remotely reach into a user’s desktop or laptop computer over the internet to diagnose and fix problems while the user watches what is being done.) Who uses GoToAssist more, a traditional software manufacturer’s support group, or their colleagues at a SaaS vendor? Before I describe his answer, stop and think about an example case for a moment yourself. To a customer support rep, what’s the real difference between a user’s desktop calendar & contact system and one that resides out on the web?
The Cloud/SaaS support rep already has direct access to the application software itself because it’s on his own server. If there’s a problem, it only has to be fixed in one place. According to Kunes, there are two main things that might require an on-demand product’s support rep to need to reach out into the user’s computer. One is a browser problem. The other is a conflict with anti-virus security system that is preventing access over the web to the application server. Who uses GoToAssist more? Support teams for traditional desktop/laptop applications.
When the need for certain skills and knowledge substantially diminishes, what happens to the workforce that was dedicated to that expertise? (Hint: How many COBOL programmers do you know who are still working?) Some will retire. The rest will have to be retrained, to reinvent themselves so that they are again needed. The handwriting is on the wall; change, significant change, is coming. Instead of being overthrown by the wave when it hits, why not prepare now to ride it?
So long as support people think of themselves as the fixers of problems, they are vulnerable if the need for fixers becomes less. There is no economic value in break/fix for either the company or the customer. At best, such “support” is a necessary evil. What’s the answer? Change the game. Reinvent the role. Create a new mission. Make support into a profitability engine by being about increasing the customer’s productivity with the application instead of waiting to focus on fixing things that break.