Monthly Archives: November 2007

An Interview with ESRI Premium Support Services

An ice cream cone
Everyone knows about ESRI Support Services, the group of dedicated analysts and managers who, among other things:

  • provide you with phone and email-based support,

  • write many of the technical articles and whitepapers found in our online Knowledge Base, and

  • document and submit bugs to our development teams
But did you know that the ice cream that is ESRI Support also comes in a Premium variety? I recently had the chance to talk with Jacob “Jake” Baca, manager of ESRI’s Premium Support Service. We discussed the advantages and reasons to take advantage of Premium Support Services, as well as some changes that are being made to improve the availability and timliness of the service.

Inside Interview: Jacob “Jake” Baca, Premium Support Services

Jason: Let’s start with some background for readers who might not have heard about this service. Premium Support Services – What is it and how is it different from the support provided by ESRI Support Services?

Jake: I helped ESRI create Premium Support Services back in 2000 because some of our customers wanted a higher, more responsive level of support. That’s what Premium Support Services was designed to provide, in the form of dedicated account managers, guaranteed response times, and other benefits. When you call regular ESRI Support, you might speak with Mike this time, and Annie next time, but Premium Support Services provides a dedicated point-of-contact, and that person is aware of your project’s history, current situation, and end goals. Another valuable benefit of Premium Support Services is a guarantee that a specialist will be assigned within one hour to help you.

Jason: That all sounds great. How does Premium Support’s Services fit together with product maintenance and regular ESRI Support?

Jake: Well, we’re currently in the process of trying to answer that question more clearly than we have in the past. Premium Support Services was created and developed within ESRI’s Educational Services department simply because that’s where I was at the time, working with what used to be called our Technical Support Group. This led to confusion for many customers, as it wasn’t clear that Premium Support is not part of the annual maintenance agreement – Premium Support is above and beyond the regular maintenance costs. And a lot of that confusion was simply because of where we were located in the organization.

Jason: I see. How are you working to clear up that confusion?

Jake: The first step in trying to clear up misunderstandings among the user community has been to move Premium Support Services to where like services were. And at ESRI, that’s the Professional Services Division. We’re in the process of rewriting and creating new marketing materials and brochures, for two reasons: first, we want to clarify our service. Second, we want to do something that we weren’t often able to do before, which is actually market Premium Support Services correctly, to present it to the user community in a way that shows what Premium Support Services is, what it can do to help them become successful in their projects with ESRI Software.

Jason: How has Premium Support Services been presented to the user community in the past?

Jake: We were most often seen working in a “firefighter” role. One of ESRI’s big clients would encounter a critical issue or situation, things would start to spiral out of control, and Premium Support Services would come in, bring order to the chaos, and put the fires out. But as soon as one fire was over, we’d most likely be off to our next fire.

Jason: I see. So rather than being a service that people would sign up for proactively, it sounds like Premium Support Services was being used in a sort of reactive mode.

Jake: Exactly. So essentially we were providing Premium Support Services on a moment-by-moment, situation-by-situation basis. The problem is, though, that the showstopper issues for our enterprise clients are not typically due to simple software issues or user error. More often, we’re talking about workflow issues: Problems that aren’t apparent in the project design, or maybe even in testing, but these problems start to appear in the production system as it begins to feel the pressures of use in the real world, by real end-users. Once in production, a small performance bottleneck can cause a system-wide failure. Databases go down, production systems grind to a halt, and that’s typically when we’re called in to do the firefighting thing.

Jason: Ok, that sounds pretty bad. So how can Premium Support Services function to avoid such failures?

Jake: Again, the idea behind Premium Support Services (and our other enterprise programs, for that matter) is to go in and take a holistic approach, to serve as a guide and not just a firefighter. If we can get to know the customer’s situation and what they’re trying to accomplish with ESRI software, we can help the customer plan how to get there successfully, minimize the chances of fires happening, and be prepared to put them out quickly when they do occur. This holistic approach is the real value of Premium Support Services – we will take a bigger look at what you’re trying to do. And now that we’re part of ESRI Professional Services, this is our chance, not to reinvent ourselves, but to simply state it out loud: This is who we are, this is what we do. We want to make it clear to customers that Premium Support Services (PSS), the ESRI Enterprise Advantage Program (EEAP), and the Business Partner Advantage Program (BPAP) at ESRI are all extended support services. They’re not meant to replace the standard ESRI Support Services that come with your maintenance agreement — that’s not our intent, that’s not our design. ESRI Support Services is designed to provide timely, expert support for all our maintenance users, and it does that job quite well. Our extended support services are for any enterprise customers who want or need services that extend beyond what ESRI Support Services provides. We’ll come in and fill in the gaps, but it’s in no way meant to replace the support customers receive with their regular maintenance.

Jason: It sounds like ESRI Support Services is sort of like a foundation, the core part of the maintenance contract. And then on top of that, customers can choose to add or extend that service through the Premium Support Services or the other programs in Professional Services?

Jake: That’s correct. And that’s the intention. You know, one of the things that we do, that we strive for, is to make sure that when someone’s coming to us and they’re requesting extended services, is to first try and determine whether they really need extended services or not. Often times we find that if we explain what their regular support services and maintenance contract is designed for and what it does, and how to use it properly, and what options are available to them, the customer will realize that they probably don’t need extended service. Now from a business perspective you might say, “Why would you try to show them they don’t need it if they already want to pay for it?” But that’s not the intention of our services: We really want to make sure that we’re giving customers the proper service for their needs. This is an above and beyond cost, so it’s got to be worth it to the customer. If we set up a contract and then the customer doesn’t feel that they’ve gotten their money’s worth, they’re not going to speak positively about ESRI, and we don’t want that. We want them to say, “We had this need, it was filled by these enterprise programs, we’re happy as can be, and we highly recommend that you contact ESRI Professional Services as well, and see if they can help you.” Right?

Jason: “We got what we paid for,” “it was good bang for our buck,” “we got the service that we expected.”

Jake: Right. And we’ve always tried to do this, but our message hasn’t been clear in the past, simply because, again, there wasn’t a clear distinction between Premium Support Services and ESRI Support Services.

Jason: I want to go back to something you mentioned earlier, about a dedicated point-of-contact. Can you tell us more about that?

Jake: Sure. So if someone gets a Premium Support Services contract directly, they are assigned a Premium Support Services Coordinator (PSSC). It’s the Coordinator’s job to make sure that all of their ESRI issues are handled efficiently and effectively, whether it be issues with maintenance, issues with licensing, problems with bugs in our software, technical incidents, whatever. The Coordinator is the customer’s dedicated point of contact into ESRI. The ESRI Enterprise Advantage Program (EEAP) and Business Partner Advantage Program (BPAP) programs work the same way – a Technical Advisor serves as the point-of-contact. These are the people who are going to help you be successful with your projects.

Jason: It sounds like you’re building a relationship. Instead of just a quick visit to the doctor’s office, you’re actually walking along with the customer through the various stages, and working with them and keeping a history of the problems that are being run into, and can see the big picture. I can see how that would be really valuable.

Jake: Right.

Jason: You mentioned earlier that Premium Support Services has often been called upon to be the firefighters. Is Premium Support Services going to no longer be fighting fires?

Jake: For better or worse, Premium Support Services will probably always be called on now and again to help with the fires. However, even when we’re called to fight a fire, we’re going to be making it clear what Premium Support Services are and how we might have helped avoid the fire in the first place. We’ll be doing this from our new home in ESRI Professional Services, using our new informational materials. And the message we’ll be sending is this: We’ll work to put out your three-alarm fires, but what we really want to do is help you avoid them in the first place, and we can do that if you involve us in the early stages of your projects. For example, let’s say that a customer has decided to implement their first enterprise GIS. To avoid costly problems down the road, the project needs to go through a complete development cycle. So they need to buy hardware. They need to set up databases. They need to do all these things that they’ve never done before. Far too often, a customer in this situation will just drive along and hope for the best. Sometimes the customer will hire consultants who don’t understand GIS, and that can actually put them in a worse spot – the consultant might install and configure the database, but it’s configured as you’d want it for, say, accounting, not as it needs to be for an enterprise GIS.

Jason: Let me guess: When it doesn’t work, the consultant says, “I installed the product, what do you mean it doesn’t work?”

Jake: Exactly. And the same goes for the rest of the elements in the GIS: hardware, network, software, and even the ways that humans are going to interact with the thing. The customer starts all these elements up, the elements start trying to work together, and far too often they fail. Our other extended services, such as our ESRI Enterprise Advantage Program (EEAP), can help customers avoid this kind of failure. Our experts go in, take a look at your situation, what you’re trying to accomplish, look at the scale of the project both now and down the road, and from there we can determine what hardware, software, time and human resources are going to be needed. If you need it, we can provide GIS-savvy developers and administrators and programmers to write code, set up the database, configure the network, and so on. If you already have the human resources you need, our experts will share information on best practices. And we’ll also evaluate the need for training — that’s where our Educational Services Division comes in. ESRI is seeking to provide a holistic solution to make our customers successful. Ultimately, the rubber must meet the road. After you’ve put the hardware in place and you’ve set up the systems and best practices and you have your people trained, they must start using the system for what it was intended for. As you know, once you start putting ten, twenty, thirty, sixty, a hundred people onto databases and they start utilizing software, even the best-planned system is going to start exhibiting unexpected issues.

Jason: Without a doubt.

Jake: That’s where Premium Support Services typically comes in again – to put out the fire. But if we’ve been involved from the beginning, we’re better prepared to respond quickly and accurately to any issues that come up. If we haven’t been involved from the beginning, there tends to be more issues that come up, and it takes us longer to address them because it takes time to learn about your situation and understand how your GIS is set up. In either case, we work to keep your production system up and running, and if it goes down, we manage ESRI resources to facilitate getting them back on track. Premium Support Services has access to all the resources at ESRI: senior support analysts, developers, instructors, and all of ESRI Professional Services. Premium Support Services gives you the best of what ESRI has to offer, in terms of resources and expertise. You know, I really want to pause and mention the essential role that ESRI Support Services plays in making sure all of our critical clients, and our fires, are being handled. You see, we occasionally ask their senior support analysts to shift gears and assist on a Premium Support Services issue. The senior analysts then have to work with their management quickly and find a way to respond to the Premium Support Services issue while still keeping their existing customer commitments going. And they’ve done a great job at that, so I want to make sure to give them a shout out: Senior support analysts, your participation in Premium Support is recognized in this company, it’s recognized by the corporate staff. ESRI Support Services, again, is a key part of that foundation that takes us to the ultimate solution. I just wanted to make sure I mentioned that, because I’m certainly appreciative of it.

Jason: That’s great, I’m sure that’s going to make a lot of analysts smile, and as both you and I know from experience, it never hurts to have another reason to smile when you’re a support analyst.

Jake: (laughs) Yeah, not too many feel-good moments, at least until we get to the end and we’ve helped solve the problems.

Jason: That’s right, that’s the feel-good moment right there. Well, that’s a great message to send along to the support analysts, and also to their managers who are working to figure out how to respond when their senior staff’s energy gets redirected into a Premium Support Services issue. Kudos to you all. What about the customers themselves? Is there anything that you’d like to say to the ESRI user community?

Jake: Sure. All of us who’ve been in the GIS industry for some time understand that GIS is a fabulous tool. In all the years I’ve been working with GIS, I’m still amazed by all the novel ways that our users use our software to solve real-world problems. Along with all that novelty comes the challenge: Yes, you can use ESRI software and GIS to solve an infinite number of real-world problems, but that also makes it very difficult to support at times. The message I’d like to send out to the user community is that ESRI is striving to do a better job of presenting you with all the resources needed to support your success. We’re striving to keep the costs of our services reasonable. Allow us to be part of your team, and we’ll help you be successful with ESRI software so you don’t have that three-alarm fire down the road.

Jason: Thank you very much, Jake, for your time today.

Jake: Thank you Jason, for this opportunity to share information with you and the user community.


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Bugs Online: Tips, Tricks and News

Mr. Butterfly says, 'And now for my next trick...'.
This week, we’ve got some tips and news about Bugs Online, the recently-released searchable database of known ESRI software issues.

  • Get logged in. In order to even see Bugs Online in your Support Center Search results, you’ll need to be logged in with you ESRI Global Account. If you use the Login box on the Support Center home page, you can check the “Remember my Username” checkbox to make it easier to log in in the future.

  • Keywords are your friends. Our Search works best with keywords, rather than complete phrases or questions. When your’re searching for known issues in Bugs Online, enter keywords that would be likely to appear in the bug report. You can use quotation marks to indicate words that should appear together, like “virtual server”.

  • Use unique identifiers. If you have been given a bug ID by ESRI Support or on the forums, enter it into the Search box all by itself. Bug IDs begin with 2-3 letters, followed by 6-8 digits, for example: CQ00290073 or NIM010312. If the bug is available for review in Bugs Online, searching on the Bug ID is the best way to find it.

  • Contact Support for more info or to push for a resolution. Bugs Online gives you a one-line synopsis, current status, and other good bits of information. If you need more information about the bug, or want to know if there are any potential workarounds, or have questions about how the bug might affect your project, contact us and our support staff can provide more details. In addition, you can contact us to let us know that a bug is affecting your project — our User Advocacy Group collects that data to help prioritize bugs for our development teams.
And now for the news: we’re planning some improvements to Bugs Online. Nothing’s been written in stone yet, but the ideas we’re looking at include subscriptions, exposing more information, and the ability to filter bugs by Product.

As we get closer to deciding which improvements are feasible, I’ll be posting more info and maybe a survey. If you have other ideas for improving Bugs Online that you’d like considered, please leave a comment!

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Countdown to (Re)Ignition

We have ignition...
The Support Center News blog has been quiet lately, as we’ve been focusing on some internal improvements… but those projects are wrapping up, and this blog is going to start popping again. Here’s what you can expect to see in this space in the coming weeks:

  • Support Center News. (Of course.) We’re getting geared up to make more improvements to the Support Center. Exactly what will change has yet to be decided, but most will probably be small changes designed to make it easier to find content that you use frequently. Some of the changes will be tweaks and improvements to areas we’ve already been working on, like the Search and Bugs Online. And a few of the changes will likely introduce brand-spanking new features onto the Support Center web site. As always, visitors to this blog will get sneak peeks and chances to participate and provide input along the way.

  • Guest Posts and Interviews. Who are all these people? I’ll be posting more bios and announcements from the staff of ESRI Support Services, as well as more full-length interviews. Coming up in the next few weeks: Jake Baca, long-time manager of ESRI’s Premium Support Group, will be telling us about upcoming changes to that program.

  • Surveys and Reader Comments. In other words, chances for you to provide input and feedback as we develop, draft, test and roll out changes to the Support Center web site and related sites.

  • Insider Tips & Tricks. I’ll be sharing notes on how to get the most out of the Support Center, highlighting new and under-utilized features, and answering reader questions.
All this begins next week, so stay tuned — there’s lots in store.

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