The HotLine Magazine Archives
For The Profession of Cloud/SaaS Product Support
By Mikael Blaisdell

When I first heard of the SaaS/Cloud model, where the application and all the data reside on a server somewhere out on the internet instead of on the local PC, I immediately saw that it had some serious implications for Support as a profession. If all you need to access your applications is a browser and a web connection, then the operating system of the local PC is no longer a significant factor. And since most of the issues flooding into customer support groups all over the industry are about the Windows operating system, the shift to SaaS will mean a substantial drop in the support burden for every on-demand manufacturer.  If/When that category of incoming issues goes away, the staffing requirements in support will be much less.  There are two immediate and vital questions that this scenario poses to the industry. The first concerns the accuracy of the prediction. What if it’s correct? The second is simply: What will happen to those people who are no longer needed for Break/Fix problem solving?

When Break/Fix Goes Away

I have done operational reviews of technical support contact centers for many years. In every engagement, I always analyze incoming case categories and volumes. The “Not Really Our Problem” category of operating system issues is almost never less than 50% of the total when the data is carefully examined. SaaS companies, however, are another story. I recently visited a SaaS manufacturer for some off-the-record conversations with the support executive and their team. Their largest case category was something they called Access Issues — lost passwords, other inability to connect problems, etc. How many of their cases were really operating system issues? None. And as I expected, the size of their organization was noticeably smaller than would have been the case in a traditional-model software manufacturer supporting the same number of customers.

Granted, I’ve only interviewed a few SaaS company contact centers on this point so far, and therefore the accuracy of my premise can’t be deemed proven yet. The consistency of the anecdotal data, however, strongly suggests that this is an issue that support professionals need to be seriously investigating themselves. If — When — the premise does prove true, then the second question I posed will confront every member of the community. What will become of those support professionals who think of themselves in terms of Break/Fix problem-solving when the need for that role sharply drops? The same question will also have to be answered by the companies.

SaaS companies who see only a cost-reduction benefit in the reduced need for contact center headcount are wasting an opportunity for significantly enhanced profitability. Unfortunately, interviews with team managers, support reps and even a few support executives have indicated that Break/Fix thinking is still prevalent even in the SaaS ecosystem. There is no future in Break/Fix as a role for the support group or its members. Those jobs contribute no economic advantage to either company or customer. It’s time to change the nature of the profession into something that makes a contribution and does generate value and profitability.

August 29, 2007