Cost effective technical support Part One

Businesses today purchase computers and peripherals based on the price and application features, in addition to end user demands. As a result, very few companies of any size have one single brand of computer or peripheral within their organization. The challenge for many internal IT departments and

the service community is providing technical support in a cost-effective way in today’s multi-vendor environment.

One solution is to send technicians out for training by the major manufacturers. Not only is this time consuming and expensive, it’s impractical. Companies don’t have the resources available to have every technician trained on every make and model. Another solution is to segment training and to designate teams to work on specific product groups. This solution leads to overstaffing and inflexibility.

As an independent provider of IT products and services in Canada, NexInnovations has adopted a strategy to tries to help businesses and public sector organizations with their infrastructure needs daily. To help support and run an organization’s IT system smoothly, NexInnovations’ strategy is based on vendor-neutral and vendor-specific training and certification. At the foundation level, where laptop, PC, and server technology is basically the same across manufacturers, we institute wide-spread vendor-neutral certification and training. At the upper levels where technology becomes more proprietary, we have smaller groups of talented senior technicians who obtain vendor-specific training, according to the customer’s need. This solution has lowered our overall training costs and resulted in higher productivity and improved flexibility, helping us lead the industry in many areas of customer satisfaction, as measured by Service 800, an independent benchmarking organization. This solution also gives our technicians career path opportunities and builds overall morale. Productivity and motivation are heightened in the staff development process with bonus incentives for earned certifications.

Across Canada, NexInnovations sells, supports, and services computers from many leading vendors such as IBM, HP, and the former Compaq. Although we do not sell products from direct-marketer Dell, we offer support services. Each of these manufacturers demands the highest level of expertise from technicians authorized to service and support their brands. Customers expect us to be experts on everything we sell or service. It truly is a multi-vendor world in terms of IT.

This became very apparent in the mid-1990s when the leading computer manufacturers saw that the demand for quality service was exceeding supply. Independent service organizations were helping to meet customer needs on a local level, but there were no checks and balances on the expertise of the technician performing warranty repairs. In fact, the cost of the repairs in terms of time and number of parts used exceeded projections. The cost in time, energy, and resources to train outside technicians was beyond the reach of any one manufacturer. Something had to be done by the industry to raise the standard of warranty repair and lower overall cost. All the computer manufacturers were in the same bind.

Because of its successful efforts in creating industry standards for warranty repair reporting, the major manufacturers asked the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), the largest computing technology industry association in the world, to organize and develop a program that would certify technicians.

The CompTIA A+ certification, which measures basic knowledge in PC hardware and operating systems, was the outcome of this industry-backed development effort. IBM paid a bonus on warranty repairs if the technician was A+ certified. Other manufacturers soon offered these incentives, too. That stimulated the service organizations to train and certify their people. Today more than 500,000 individuals have earned the A+ certificate. For tens of thousands, A+ certification was and is the entry point to a career in IT. An A+ technician is certified as capable of performing the tasks of an entry level computer service technician who has at least six months of experience in the IT industry.

The key fact, and the reason we are giving this background, is that commonality of base-line hardware and software technology offers a solution for an effective way of implementing a multi-vendor service and support strategy. In other words, find the fewest number of training and certification opportunities that cover the broadest number of makes and models. At the foundation levels, these will be vendor-neutral certifications like CompTIA A+, Network+, Server+, and Security+; at the upper levels, vendor- and company-specific training and certification. As the technician progresses through his or her career, training and certification go from broad-based to ever more specialized. This allows the technician to become well grounded and flexible.

Whether it’s a configuration bench technician, an individual working in a service center, or on-site field personnel, they are A+ trained and certified if they are employed by NexInnovations.

In Part Two of this two part series we will focus on why A+ training and certification is important.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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