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Excellence in software support

Optimizing software base and reducing maintenance costs: a real possibility!

Interview with Jean-Pierre Le-Treut, Director of Bull’s Software Support business

Nowadays, all IT Departments are seeking to reduce on-going operating costs so they can finance their other new projects. Among the recurring costs they have to contend with, there is a significant cost center, representing more than 20% of the average budget that remains extremely complex to manage: software costs. These can be divided into two major areas:
1. Costs linked to user rights (licensing)
2. Recurring costs associated with software support and maintenance.

There are several reasons why IT Departments find it hard to control this cost center:

  • The wide variety and dispersed nature of the data that is intangible in terms of time and space: licenses, tokens...
  • The complexity and heterogeneity that characterize the contractual approach of most software publishers
  • A feeling of powerlessness in the face of their obligation to deliver the required levels of service and security.

It is quite surprising to realize that the services related to software costs, like support, are rarely controlled, measured or even fully used! Not many IT Department dashboards include, for example, indicators for the service quality of the support function. And yet it is precisely in this area that the biggest improvements can be achieved. Logically, applying one simple procedure to manage these costs would be the ideal solution: identifying software that needs to be supported in the CMDB (Configuration Management Data Base), and managing associated maintenance contracts. But in practice, this process is difficult to implement, for various reasons:

  • Inaccurate CMDB databases: Although ITIL has successfully encouraged the management of configurations within single, common repository, in reality most people’s experience is that updating it is a tricky and thankless task that is often restricted just to the hardware used throughout the organization.
  • A significant and dispersed software base: even if you do not count the software running on PCs, the software linked to servers and applications can run into three figures: never mind the numerous versions of these applications that are distributed physically throughout the enterprise?
  • Difficulties identifying which applications have to be maintained: managing software licenses is still seen as part of Purchasing. However, only really efficient communication with operational staff (super users, administrators, operations managers …) can provide this information.
  • Very heterogeneous and rapidly-changing tariffs from software publishers: while ongoing software costs generally cover maintenance (patches and bug-fixes) they don’t necessarily include support, nor the right to get future versions. What is more, these costs may be calculated either on the initial purchasing price or on the current catalogue price; with the purchasing price being based on constantly changing model versions... (processor, ‘core’, virtual server, user, site…).

There are various ways of ensuring that repeated software maintenance operations are both relevant and necessary

We would highlight the following good practices:

  • At the organizational level
    - Centralizing license purchasing and maintenance contracts, reaping the benefits of sharing, and guaranteeing an accurate CMDB
    - Involving procurement staff in the IT purchasing cycle: the impact they can have is significantly enhanced by involving them as early as possible in projects. Some enterprises do have a ‘Software Asset Management’ function.
  • In relationships with software publishers
    - Plan annual renewal negotiations well ahead of time in order to avoid last-minute pressure and support rupture… it’s a win-win practice.
    - Established for each negotiation the current ‘status’, in order to fix the scope of installations covered, and formalize the required levels of services and guarantees.
  • In the management of the installed base
    - An invoice will be much more relevant if it reflects the real services used: Once the installed software base is defined, the useful base should be analyzed: if no support requests for a particular product have been registered over the past year, it is perhaps no longer being used. So involving technical teams in validating which software requires technical support is essential on more than one count.
    - Information about the quality of the software support service is important using precise statistics (number of calls handled, hours in the day when software is most used, service quality...).

These examples show how important it is to set up a suitable way of operating and use the necessary tools to monitor support activity.

Bull’s Multi-Editor Software Service: a professional support service to optimize you software base and substantially reduce software ownership costs
Bull has put together a comprehensive multi-publisher software services offering, covering the numerous problems customers face when they have a large installed base of software from many different publishers and/or communities. There are two main aspects to this high added-value approach:

  • A customized, multi-publisher support service that operates via a single point of contact, to provide guaranteed service levels for handling software ‘incidents’ (call logging, traceability, monitoring, reporting, level 1 and level 2 software support provided by Bull’s experts, level 3 support from software publishers, etc.).
  • A management service for the installed software base and all maintenance contracts, offering the customer all the tools needed to control its software base and the expenditure associated with maintenance contracts: precise management of individual software elements in the installed base, rationalization, and negotiation with suppliers.

Bull’s approach aims to provide a global vision of these activities at the level of the enterprise with a precise software map, to control and reduce the costs associated with application maintenance and support activities, to simplify and optimize the processes involved in the customer/supplier relationship, and to bring valuable information on technological evolutions of the market.

* ITIL: IT Information Library

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