By Janne Kokkaret, SSCS Business Development Director – Nordics

What do I mean by “Hybrid Hardware Support?” It’s when your in-warranty IT hardware (servers, storage and networking) are supported by the OEM, during the warranty period. Then, all or a portion of your post-warranty assets are maintained by an independent hardware support provider (also known as Third-Party Maintainer). And, this is hybrid support model is strategically chosen to impact and reduce OpEx (Operational Expenses).

Still researching? Still evaluating? Not ready to open the door to ANY salespersons from an independent support provider? Sure, I understand. But, perhaps you now need to be able to quantify the potential financial impact for a hybrid support strategy. Will further research be worthy of your time? Will the value outweigh the opportunity cost of making a change? It’s hard to know that without a tangible quantification.

You will never get an answer from the OEM on this subject; they don’t want to lose any revenue.

Need a formula to quantify the value and do so simply? Here it is:

• If 20% of your enterprise hardware assets are post-warranty, by using TPM for those assets, you’ll see a 10-12% total reduction in your Total Hardware OpEx budget.

• If 18% of your enterprise hardware assets are post-warranty, by using TPM for those assets, you’ll see a 9-10% total reduction in your Total Hardware OpEx budget.

Get the picture? It’s very easy to use this formula and carry into your own environment, right? In both instances, I should explain that we are referring to the annual Operating Expenses of servers, storage and networking assets. Also, we are intentionally excluding (EUC) End-User Compute hardware, for the sake of simplicity. Lastly, this formula is rooted in global averages (not averages by geography, or an industry vertical).

What were the origins of this formula? How can you be sure of its validity? After reviewing the financial impacts we’ve already made for our clients across these last 30 years, we have validated our estimates with key Gartner analysts, and they readily agreed. As a matter of fact, Gartner and SSCS executives agreed these estimates were fair, but also somewhat conservative.

Both Gartner and IDC estimate that the typical data center contains 20-22% post-warranty hardware assets. This is likely an increase from 15-20 years ago. But, since such a sizable percentage of assets need not be under expensive OEM maintenance, why wouldn’t the modern data center decision maker be curious about alternative support models?

Want to know more details about the financial impacts of a hybrid support model? Click here to download this helpful SSCS white paper. Or, click here to read a white paper that can help you better evaluate these independent hardware support marketplace.

Once your research helps convince you of the fiscal impact of hybrid support, be sure to check out our blog history to understand how best to differentiate one independent provider from the other. This information is critical to value, as well as Service Quality.


By Janne Kokkaret, SSCS Business Development Director – Nordics

Janne joined SSCS in 2014 as Service Delivery Manager for the Nordic region, but has 14 years of experience in IT support roles, support team management and sales. His background includes EUC (End-User Compute) assets, as well as data center servers, storage and networking hardware support. Janne now leads business development activities throughout his region, working with clients to meet the unique needs of each.

From his home near Helsinki, Janne enjoys spending time with his wife and children, any outdoor activities and is a member of a unique club of Tesla owners. This club meets regularly to test the limits of their Tesla, while proving to the world that performance is not sacrificed by choosing a Tesla automobile.

By Glen Stevens, Senior Sales Executive, SSCS North America

Are your actions and choices enabling a playground, or are you demanding a multi-dimensional resource?

You’re likely reading this because the title indicated that this might be something more than the traditional “LinkedIn is Not Facebook” post. You’re right and I hope to provide content that lives up to your expectations. In fact, this article is a “call to action” to lead by example and refrain from enabling this venue to become reduced to a venue for unhelpful noise.

Think about why you visit LinkedIn: what is your purpose? Is it to relax, to feel good or be inspired? Is it to push a very personal agenda, perhaps across politics or religion? If any of these are valid for you, please read on to understand that the original purpose of LinkedIn was not any of these. And not appreciated by the majority of LI users today – especially not for the IT professional!

Many new users of LinkedIn grew up with Facebook, Instagram and others and are applying the very same principles and techniques to LinkedIn – and this is erroneous logic. I call this the Facebook-ification of LinkedIn. Additionally, for many new users, their employer hasn’t yet understood LinkedIn’s value/purpose and inadvertently enabled a daily tactic that bypasses an objective, a strategy and protocols for behavior, with regular activity audits.

The original purpose of LinkedIn was to establish an incredible resource – one that started with networking, but would grow to include very helpful content. Very simply put, it was intended as an incredible and multi-dimensional resource – one that would continue to evolve in a positive way. For any senior executives reading this blog, this message is for you: LinkedIn is NOT just a place to find a job!

Many users, especially the modern IT professional, visits LinkedIn almost daily for: (1.) a place to learn more about their job or their industry, (2.) industry news, (3.) industry trends and even (4.) role-related best practices. It is a place where one goes to better themselves with content significantly meatier than motivational poster content or a heart-warming picture of a cute kitten sleeping beneath a vase of roses. Some will visit LinkedIn for news beyond their industry, by following Groups or news organizations’ company profiles. Even a few of my peers no longer watch the news or read the newspaper, but prefer the “bite-sized” information share of LinkedIn. It’s fast. It’s easy to find information or discover something new. If used properly, LinkedIn can become the most important professional development tool available to the IT professional, his/her team and the executive team.

It is absolutely up to users to drive the continued value of LinkedIn, as well as its evolution as an amazing resource. My good friend, Shane Perry, recently said to me, “Libraries and schools are no longer the keepers of all knowledge.” Think about that for a moment and about how powerful a statement that is in 2018. Here’s an addition from my friend, Brent, “The traditional resources for knowledge will continue to set a base for the principles of learning; however, the potential of LinkedIn is that it can help build a much-needed agility in learning for the modern business person. But, much more than evolving our abilities to learn quickly, LinkedIn must continue to be a multi-dimensional resource/conduit for the employee to glean much more than has previously been possible!”

From my own perspective, Facebook will continue to be a hotbed for, and an enabler of narcissism. Alternatively, LinkedIn users must be accountable for LinkedIn’s value by enabling business-appropriate utilitarianism, creating/distributing only content of educational value and ensuring that any comment/share/like is appropriate to/for their current employer and the user’s professional network.

Build a Better LinkedIn Resource for Yourself, the IT Pro:

  • Begin to “unfollow” (softer than a disconnect) those connections that fill your homepage feed with junk. Take immediate action on those users that are frequent abusers of information and content distribution. Here’s something to consider: Does your LinkedIn feed need to provide you the daily specials promoted by your auto-mechanic or do you need to see multiple human-interest stories shared/liked by your favorite niece? Or, do you want to see information that helps you do your job?
  • Think about your title/role. Look for LinkedIn “Groups” that are full of your peers and join these Groups. Then, watch to make sure the content shared is consistent to your role and simply leave the group if the content does not help you do your job.
  • Unfollow companies (or alma maters or sports teams) that do not enrich your feed or help your agility in your role. Seek out companies or groups or associations that challenge you and logic that is comfortable to you!
  • Turn off those auto-playing videos within your LinkedIn preferences. If you don’t, you’re simply enabling a distraction. Some videos are quite helpful, but so MANY of them are just poorly labelled/titled and are unclear about the content, value or intended audience. The auto-play feature is senseless.
  • Turn off and tune out the noise in LinkedIn that doesn’t help you!

Build a Better LinkedIn for all IT Professionals:

  • When you discover content that is appropriate to others in your company, there is no need to share it across your entire network. Instead, you can forward a link via InMail, or send an article to read via traditional email. You can also share role-appropriate content with peers inside a role-centric group or via InMail. Avoid being a “noise maker” to others in your network.
  • When you see human interest content, political rants or overtly religious content that could segregate, don’t engage. Don’t read, don’t comment, don’t engage. When their readership is eliminated, many who make this mistake will turn to other social media venues. Think about it, do any of these posts help you do your job or provide you or your employer any competitive edge?
  • Give kind, helpful and respectful feedback (even constructive criticism) to vendors/partners/individuals you follow when their content is unhelpful. This includes me, and my employer!

A Code of Conduct to Build for Yourself:

  • Build for yourself a purpose for using LinkedIn during office hours. Yet, be sure to consider yourself as a representative of your employer during off-hours and weekends.
  • Connect with those that might help you. Connect with those you may be able to help.
  • Help others, help others, help others. As long as you’re not being taken advantage of, be unconditional in your actions.
  • Build only content that is helpful to others. Write about what you know and let others write about what you do not.
  • Distribute content appropriate for all to your entire network, which is likely to include many kinds of people in many kinds of roles. For specific content, build as much “labelling content (titles)” as possible to help the reader triage themselves away from your content when it does not apply to their role.
  • Have a self-developed promise you create for your network, which would even help you choose who to retain in your network (see my promise below).

My Promise to My LinkedIn Network:

I promise to help friends and family build networks appropriate to them, but will avoid inconveniencing my professional business network of IT professionals to do so. I will refrain from distributing narcissistic content or content with an underlying political or religious agenda out of respect for my professional network. I will seek to help in all I do, yet I will insist that my LinkedIn homepage feed makes me a more knowledgeable IT professional, and an agile salesperson for my clients and new prospects. I will insist that my employer continue to produce relevant and helpful information for my professional network, just as I insist that very same standard for myself.

As you might imagine, I do welcome professional connections. Let’s help one another!


Glen Stevens, Senior Sales Executive, SSCS North America

Based out of Austin, Texas, this will be Glen’s sixth year with SSCS, and 19th year in leadership/sales roles after departing a respectable 12-year career in the U.S. Army. After leaving the army, Glen began his business career as a regional sales manager for Lipman USA and later founded and ran Smart Card Systems, out of Arlington, Texas. Several years later, he founded and ran another start-up called, Scope Dope. Aside from his naturally entrepreneurial nature, he also held sales leadership positions at Canadian Payments and iWave Information Systems, a unique subscription-based data-mining service for non-profits. Glen enjoys music, playing guitar, traditional outdoorsman activities and seeing his 21-year-old son playing music gigs throughout the Austin area. His 18-year-old daughter will be attending Texas Tech in the fall of 2018 and will be pursuing a concentration in Media & Communications.

By Steven Foss, Senior Sales Executive, SSCS North America

Many companies and/or industries going through marketplace disruption now have mandates to cut operational expenses, when and where possible – especially when doing so does not impact the client experience. Industries, such as Oil & Gas, are now seeing reduced profits and executive teams are pushing cost containment throughout the organization. Retailers, too, are experiencing disruptions from consumer preferences to spend less time in a store and doing their buying online.

Executive mandates to contain costs are also now impacting the IT department. The CIO/CTO is actively looking for fresh ideas or pockets where costs can be cut, without sacrifice to client experience. Are you in data center operations or an IT procurement professional that has received similar mandates? If so, read on, please.

Are you familiar with third-party hardware maintenance, what we prefer to call independent hardware support? Are you aware that Third-Party Maintainers can significantly reduce operational expense (OpEx) by 50-60% from OEM costs, on servers, storage and networking gear? Did you know that if greater than 10% of your hardware infrastructure is post-warranty, or even End of Support (EoS), the cost savings can be stunning?

Did you know that Gartner ran a study in the last few years and have reported:

• 71% of Fortune 100 companies are using Third-Party Maintainers for a portion of their assets, and
• 59% of Fortune 500 companies are using Third-Party Maintainers for a portion of their assets.

Are you one of the 29% of Fortune 100s or one of the 41% of the Fortune 500s that are not using Third-Party Maintenance as an effective means of containing costs? Or, are you simply a smaller company needing to find greater cost efficiencies, but have not yet tried Third Party Maintenance?

Perhaps you should consider these points:

From Gartner:

• In March 2016, Gartner’s Christine Tenneson, Research Director, Hardware & Software Support, published the following statement. “End-user interest and demand for alternatives to OEM support for data center and network maintenance are increasing, fueled by a need for cost optimization.” Gartner [Doc. ID G00294372] In the same published research, Tenneson also stated, “Hardware maintenance is increasingly being considered as a “nonstrategic IT” spending and procurement, with the result being that IT professionals are seeking low-cost alternatives to expensive OEM contracts.”

• In March 2017, Gartner’s Stanley Zaffos published a report named, “Lower Both Storage Acquisition and Ownership Costs by Using Third-Party Maintenance.” He stated, “Many third-party maintenance (TPM) providers are delivering quality storage array break/fix support to stable storage systems with savings typically in the 40% to 70% range.” In the same document, he also offered, “The useful service life of storage arrays, which is seven to eight years in clean data centers, is almost always greater than their planned service lives.” He also stated, “TPM represents a significant opportunity to reduce costs, negotiate lower rates from vendors and/or extend the useful service life of installed storage arrays.” Gartner [Doc. ID G00324284]

From IDC:

• In September 2015, IDC analyst, Rob Brothers, published a report named, “Third-Party Maintainers and the Enterprise Datacenter: Still Gaining Ground” [Doc # 258887]. In the article summary, “Enterprise customers have made it very clear they will utilize third-party maintainers and not just for cost savings,” says Rob Brothers, VP, Software and Hardware Support Services at IDC. “The easy-to-do-business aspect they have eluded to in the survey is surely a compelling differentiator.”

With valid points, such as these, are made by industry experts illustrating the trends of your peers, you might want to consider the following questions more closely: (1.) Do we have valid rationale for not exploring a cost-reduction option that is becoming more commonplace with our industry peers or competition? (2.) Have we hesitated because of trust issues or issues relating to security or reliability?

Regardless of your answer to either of these last two questions, we would highly suggest an open discussion with an unbiased industry analyst at Gartner. In our opinion, the most knowledgeable about this industry niche is Christine Tenneson at Gartner. Alternatively, I’d welcome a call to schedule an appointment with key members of our team that can and will fairly address what you now deem as risks. In fact, you might even be delighted to hear about our perspective on “Service Quality” and the education potential that surrounds this important subject. We’re here to help!


Steven Foss, Senior Sales Executive, SSCS North America

Based out of Minnesota, this is Steve’s fifth year with SSCS, yet joined the organization with several decades of experience in IT sales and building solutions for the data center professional, as well as IT procurement. In his early career, Steve spent 24 years with DecisionOne, then created additional client value with roles at Northrop Grumman, StorageTek and Sun Microsystems. Before landing at SSCS, he sold to a tight geography for two small Third-Party Maintainers, which were based in Minnesota. In addition to building value for his clients, Steve is passionate about fitness and visits the health club 6-7 times each week, rides bicycle and water skis in the summer months, cross-country and downhill skis in the winter months. Every day, over the lunch hour, Steve takes a 3-mile walk to enjoy the fresh air, but wanted all to understand his smartphone goes with him.

By John Kolkmeier, Director, Global Service Delivery, SSCS

In my last blog, I wrote about a few ways in which IT procurement could better vet hardware support vendors by drilling with questions about Communications & Tools. Before that, Mark Havens shared one with the same purpose, but focused on questions that forced transparency around Parts & Logistics. Within this blog, I really want to help readers (IT procurement and Data Center decision makers) understand how to get the Technical Expertise they deserve from a hardware support vendor – especially a Third-Party Maintainer.

I also want to feature the importance of looking at “style” of these vendors. When you ask great questions, the responses you receive should help you discern whether (or not) the vendor is committed to a level of transparency that best serves your interests. Most would agree that it’s not likely you’ll see the style trait of transparency from an OEM. But, this market of independent support providers should be hard-wired to be different from the OEM – always providing a level of transparency that serves you and furthers a partnership.

Permit me to return to Technical Expertise for a few paragraphs.

As I write this, I recall a story from a co-worker, someone who joined our company, coming from a competitor in the last few years. Although his previous employer had built a fairly respectable training program, there were numerous incidents of unforgivable Service Quality. His past employer had been awarded a large contract from a globally-respected banking institution, comprised of multiple data center sites throughout North America. Although this co-worker was not in a field support role, he had technical knowledge and was to join each FE team during onboarding, helping the transition and providing process-specific support where needed.

Disappointingly, he learned that the regional technical supervisor for each location had intentionally chosen to mislead the client with sub-par field engineers to each account. At each site, there were engineers assigned that had not yet touched (or received even basic training) for over 50% of the assets under the support agreement. The supervisors’ excuse? Sales had been so eager to close the deal, that they ignored a short on-boarding window and field operations did not have time to deploy basic training for each engineer at each site.

This co-worker friend winces in disgust when he tells about the field engineer that said aloud, in front of the client contact, “I’ve never seen or touched a pSeries server. Which ones are those?”

Up until recently, these sorts of stories were unheard of within this industry of independent break/fix support. But, I am sad to report, there are some trends impacting the Service Quality this industry has become known for, and from which all third-party maintainers (TPMs) have earned respect.

All that said, dear readers, you need not recoil in fear or hesitation for this entire industry. Why punish all when you really can minimize your OpEx AND get remarkable Service Quality. Instead, you just need to know what questions to ask during vendor vetting. Before I help by providing questions that should really help, I’d like to share several facts to give you a sound basis of knowledge for hardware break/fix best practices:

• Level III and Level IV technical expertise is needed across each OEM/platform, to provide support to (and training) for the onsite field engineer, who will often be Level 1 or Level II in skills.

• In addition, global providers MUST have this Level III/IV support existing and available in multiple continents, sun-up to sundown – no matter the geography of the client. Top-level backline support can have no holes, or the client (and local field support team) are at risk. I’d call that, “Unacceptable Risk.”

• OEM or platform-specific training need not come from the OEM. In fact, troubleshooting logic is often impaired by OEM training and OEM process. Not always, but often. I’d rather find someone skilled it problem determination across simpler and unrelated systems. Then, maximize their ability to blend logic with client-focused innovation.

• But, any TPM must have a sound training program that is documented and built by Level III and Level IV experts. In recent years, we’ve heard too many stories of FEs sent onsite that did not know how to access the system interface, or even open a door.

I have been highly tempted to limit this blog to focus on field expertise and backline support. But, in recent days have convinced myself it is important to go at least one step beyond, when discussing “Technical Expertise.” The next few statements are where I tie technical expertise back into the character trait of “Transparency.”

Not all post-warranty assets should be moved to independent support. You need to find the independent hardware support provider that will:

• Help identify which assets should remain under OEM support (OS patches, stability, etc.)

• Help identify which assets are absolutely 100% eligible for independent support (zero risk)

• Help identify which assets have some risk. Then, have the technical ability to articulate the risk for each so the decision is 100% yours.

Be cautious of the independent hardware support provider that only seeks an asset list, then gives you their price for those assets. Instead, seek those providers that will generously share their expertise, helping you minimize risk, maximize resiliency and reduce costs where and when it makes sense to do so.

There are, among our competitors, those who would sell an expensive Hummer (with a “Hemi”) to your 86-year old grandma, who has been diagnosed with macular degeneration.

Once you’ve chosen a strategy to extend asset lifecycles and reduce costs by using the independent support industry, you should be less enamored with cost-savings and seek out independent vendors that will help you balance acceptable risk-to-reward ratios with a genuine level of transparency. You see, it takes technical expertise AND transparency to help you get what you need.

Finding Technical Expertise; Revealing the Transparency Trait

Here are a few questions to help you find vendors with both technical expertise and transparency:

1. Will the field engineers assigned to my account be Level I or Level II engineers? Can you document their training on asset families in my environment? Would you provide a course synopsis for any platform family I request, and do so within 24 hours? Do these field engineers have regularly updated resumes/bios or a LinkedIn profile? Would you provide those to me within 24 hours of my request?

2. Can you document the Level III and Level IV coverage, with back-ups (for illness/vacation) for the geographies represented in my RFQ? Will you provide resumes/bios or LinkedIn profiles?

3. Would you permit our team an oral exam for any engineers you intend to designate for my site(s), before we sign an agreement? If any FE replacement were necessary for our site(s), would you permit our team to be included in second/third interviews – and be the final determining factor?

4. After I give you an asset list, what happens?

5. What kinds of experts are included in review of our asset list? What is their background?

6. Does your review of our proposed assets include direct consultation about the level of risk for each asset category or platform family? How does this work? What will we learn? How do you transfer that knowledge so we have that data in our asset management programs?

We directly correlate expertise and transparency with Service Quality. More of our competitors used to do the same, but are now diluting what had once been industry standards. If trust is to be earned, you must know what factors to observe and questions to ask. If grandma can’t climb into that Hummer, or see over the dashboard, she shouldn’t be sold one. No exceptions!


John “JK” Kolkmeier, Director, Global Service Delivery, SSCS

This year will be John’s 29th year with SSCS Global IT Services. A graduate of University of Houston, Clear Lake, most of John’s field service career has been with SSCS. Having several years of experience in direct field service and break/fix maintenance for multiple OEMs and platforms, John was promoted to Global Service Director eight years ago. All global field support and OEM subject matter expertise reports up to him.

In addition to his deep levels of interest in data center support best practices, John is an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, committed to non-profit groups dedicated to habitat protections and enhancement. He is also an avid fan of all sports, with a great appreciation for golf.

Darryl Helms, SSCS Service Delivery Manager, Midwestern U.S. & Latin America

While this is my 27th year with SSCS, and across those many years of hardware support and troubleshooting, I must admit this is my very first blog. I was asked to answer this question: “What’s it like to work with an independent hardware support provider?”

  • First, it just doesn’t have to feel like what you’ve experienced with the OEMs. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by the flexibility of an independent provider. But, I expect you’ll be delighted that the independent provider’s support strategies will align with your strategies for stability and resiliency. NO ONE at the independent provider is pushing you for an equipment refresh.
  • Second, the really good independent provider will consistently demonstrate both their commitment and transparency.

In November of 2017, our company made some updates to its brand and its brand standards. Although our new brand values feel the same as the standards that have led to our success these 30 years, the new verbiage better articulates the root cause of our success:

  • Integrity – We absolutely do what we say
  • Commitment – Accountability is essential to teams and to individuals
  • Passion – An inner drive to solve; a contagious vision for the future
  • Transparency – Humble openness leads to better solutions and lasting relationships

From the perspective of a client, I think that Commitment and Transparency are most important. These are items that you can look for, even during the vendor vetting process. While both of these values used to be readily found in the independent hardware support industry (sometimes called, “Third Party Maintenance”), industry trends are severely diluting those traits among several of the best known independent providers.

But, these two values are critical to experiencing Service Quality – as it should be. You should no longer “expect” these values, but instead demand them. Certainly, Transparency is one of the easiest to spot and “red flag.” In your mission critical environment, or even for non-production systems, you don’t need to feel like you did when you worked with the OEM for these assets. Transparency and/or openness are essential to the stability and resiliency you’re looking for in a support agreement.

  • Has the vetting process caused you to feel like the provider does not want to give you specifics about the field engineer (or FE team) that will be assigned to your account?
  • Are they vague in response to questions about backline support for the onsite field engineer?
  • Does it seem like they’re avoiding questions about the exact location of the most commonly used back-up parts necessary for the specific assets in your agreement?

Trust your gut. If transparency seems to be an issue, the provider is likely hiding something that may reduce your confidence in their solution – especially when/if their pricing is significantly lower than the other providers. If truly transparent, responses should feel as though their answers are focused on your best interests.

Will you be able to easily able to spot those vendors lacking in Commitment or avoiding Transparency? I’m confident you will be able to build great questions as long as you know to look for these two traits or values in your hardware support vendor relationships.


Darryl Helms, SSCS Service Delivery Manager, Midwestern U.S. & Latin America

This spring marks Darryl’s 27th year with SSCS. His career started with a 4.5 years stint in the U.S. Navy, where he completed multiple programs within the Navy’s renowned School of Electronics. After the Navy, Darryl joined Intergraph (Huntsville, Alabama) for nine years, where he worked on GIS systems, as well as CAD/CAM equipment. Following Intergraph, he joined SSCS in its early years and has remained with the organization ever since. Darryl and his wife enjoy camping together, some canoeing and recreational fishing. He also relishes the opportunity to spend time with their eight grandkids, along with short road trips to see the countryside and visit the occasional antique store.

 

Janne Kokkaret, SSCS Service Delivery Manager, Nordic Countries

When I consider the top three most important elements of Service Quality (Technical Expertise, Communications & Tools, Parts & Logistics), I suspect that hardware support buyers most often feel their chosen vendors are under-delivering in Technical Expertise. And, when there is buyer’s remorse, that dissatisfaction is less about the onsite field engineers and more concern for the support network in place to help those onsite engineers.

Although it is important to have field technicians that are cross-platform and multi-OEM trained, I believe many independent hardware support providers have respectable onsite technicians. And, the techs from these independent providers do not have the shortcomings of the techs from the OEM. Instead, independent technicians are free thinking and holistic in their approach to troubleshooting. The OEM techs are constrained by protocol in 2018 and less permitted to think. In my opinion, I believe the best field engineers/technicians are working in this field of independent hardware support (also called Third Party Maintenance).

But, now let’s consider the technical teams that are supposed to be in place to support that onsite engineer. Not every independent support provider has Level III or Level IV experts available around the clock, or designed for a global client base. This is even true for several of the largest TPMs that have their senior-level engineers based in only one country. In these instances, your onsite engineer is supported by a back-up, who is usually not higher than Level II. That creates a level of risk that may not be acceptable to you. So, please be sure your vendor vetting questions cover important subjects, such as this.

It is possible that your hardware support provider (even OEMs will do this) has hired another company for backline support. Has your support provider been transparent about the partner’s existence? Are you familiar with the technical depth of that backline support provider? How does that backline support relationship prioritize the attention necessary for your account? Or, do they handle critical situations at their own accounts, first?

How do you choose a vendor to trust? I strongly agree with our other SSCS bloggers that the decision is weighted too heavily these days in “lowest price.” This is really short-sighted, yet too many in IT procurement seem to be disassociated with what are acceptable risk levels and incented too much by saving money.

If hardware support decision makers want to improve MTTR (Mean Time to Repair) and mitigate risk levels, you should be looking for vendors that are committed to obvious transparency, yet have also built the infrastructure of technical expertise necessary to meet your unique requirements. The best support providers, those least likely to cause buyer’s remorse, will be obviously transparent in their discussions with you.


Janne Kokkaret, SSCS Service Delivery Manager, Nordic Countries

Janne joined SSCS in 2014 as Service Delivery Manager for the Nordic region, but has 14 years of experience in IT support roles and support team management. His background includes EUC (End-User Compute) assets, as well as data center servers, storage and networking hardware support. In addition to his technical role, Janne also leads business development activities throughout his region, working with clients to meet the unique needs of each.

From his home near Helsinki, Janne enjoys spending time with his wife and children, any outdoor activities and is a member of a unique club of Tesla owners. This club meets regularly to test the limits of their Tesla, while proving to the world that performance is not sacrificed by choosing a Tesla automobile.

Chris Atkins, SSCS Service Delivery Manager, U.S. & APAC

In recent weeks, both Mark Havens (VP, Sales & Marketing) and John Kolkmeier (Director, Global Service Deliver) have shared blogs directly addressing “Service Quality” as a differentiator from the current market of Third-Party Maintainers, which many of us prefer to call Independent Hardware Support.

Both of these fine gentlemen explain that the most critical elements making up Service Quality include:

• Parts & Logistics (Mark’s blog), and
• Communications & Tools (John’s blog)
• Technical Expertise (soon to be published)

In addition to what they’ve already shared with our readers, for me it boils down to three simple “service style” traits that you want to be look for in an independent support provider:

• Collaboration
• An incredible sense of urgency about responsiveness
• A humble willingness to loop in the right parties to find the best solution, ASAP

Imagine the scenario you’ve likely witnessed when the software tech argues that the issue resides within the hardware. Simultaneously, the hardware tech argues that the issue is not the hardware, but instead the software is the root cause of the problem. Even though you’ve likely seen this and have some disdain for the memories, it is abundantly clear that neither party had the appropriate level of urgency, nor were they approaching the issue with the correct levels of humility. Real collaboration should never be permitted to reach an impasse.

The very best experts in hardware troubleshooting are not quick to find blame, or point too soon to that which is not their responsibility. Instead, they remain committed to collaboration, seeking new information or supplemental expertise, and then ensuring that information is shared quickly.

No one field engineer can be all-knowing. Nor, is it likely that backline support (Level III or Level IV engineers) can be all-knowing. Humble willingness to involve the expertise of others is critical to establish the urgency needed. From my perspective, whether a CE from the OEM, or an FE from an independent provider, you’ll see two extreme ends of the spectrum: An over-confident FE, or a CE that won’t even bother to think without involving the expertise of others and/or following established protocols/routines. Both extremes have a negative impact to your mean-time-to-repair and represent no sense of urgency to you and your team.

The only way to know whether you’re going to experience these style traits is to make some slight adjustments to your vendor vetting. Ask to interview the field engineers and their managers prior to signing the support contract.


Chris Atkins, SSCS Service Delivery Manager, U.S. & APAC

Chris has been directly involved in hardware break/fix support since 1981, and during the last 20 years working specifically in the independent hardware support industry (also known as Third Party Maintenance or “TPM”). This is his 12th year with SSCS and moved up from field engineering responsibilities to the SDM role about 7 years ago. In the early days of his career, he worked for Burroughs Corporation, one of the few manufacturers building and selling mainframes. Today, Chris oversees Service Quality standards and response management throughout the U.S. and is back-up for service delivery management in the APAC region.

By Darren Booth, EMEA Service Delivery Manager, SSCS

As a relatively new team member of SSCS, but not so new to the hardware support industry, I can honestly say that there is something very special about this company’s culture – it really is our differentiator. That “something” equates to great benefits for the employees and also for the clients of this independent hardware support provider (also known as “Third-Party Maintainer” or “TPM”).

It sounds simple – “One Team”.

It sounds simple in all aspects. Simple to have. Simple to request and simple to build. Even simple to maintain. But, I assure you it is not and I’ve never experienced anything quite like this “One Team” at any previous employer. Before I explain the benefits our client base experience, I think it’s only fair to better define for the reader what “One Team” really means:

  1. 24×7, a team of trusted peers are unrelenting about their availability to help by answering questions or offering advice. I have found this to be quite rare among company executives, often it is promised but not delivered, so it is inspirational when executives demonstrate enthusiasm for truly behaving as leaders.
  2. Requests and/or questions are responded to in a very timely fashion, from absolutely everyone in the organisation. Not only are these responses timely, the author took the extra time to be conscientious in their response – truly helpful. At this company, everyone responds as though they are on your team and their help is integral to your success. There is a personal level of accountability that crosses all teams, to every employee and the mutual respect is apparent.
  3. The first five words of the company’s internal Vision Statement are, “Behaving as a close family”. Never were such words so true – the culture, employee satisfaction and level of work enjoyment is clear to see. This sets the tone of how all employees work together and with clients backed up by established and solid hiring practices. The gentle workplace reminders and job well done emails go a long way!

How does such a unique culture translate into benefit for the typical client:

  1. A patient and caring approach, are traits throughout the organisation, extending into the daily service provided by every member of the technical support team. You have positive and upbeat field engineers arriving onsite and treating your team members with the same care and respect they receive every day.
  2. Field engineers, as well as their backline support, are clear-headed and optimistic, making them more efficient in problem determination and resolution. This also translates into patient explanation for key members of your team, often leading to open and helpful discussions of best practices.
  3. A happy member of a “One Team” culture is welcoming to others, even clients or your other vendors. There is no “Us vs. Them.”

Does this sound anything like your OEM hardware support providers? If you’re already using an independent provider for post-warranty hardware assets, does it sound like them? How might you enjoy a “one team” approach for your mission critical hardware environment?


Darren Booth, EMEA Service Delivery Manager, SSCS

While this is Darren’s first year with SSCS, he has been in technical support for 26 years, including 14 years in break/fix of data centre hardware (servers, storage and networking hardware). In his early career, he discovered his passion for troubleshooting and fault finding while he was a helicopter mechanic for the Royal Air Force (RAF). As the Service Delivery Manager (SDM) for EMEA, he is responsible for maintaining service quality standards for all clients throughout the region.

Darren enjoys mountain biking, running, movies and DIY (Do It Yourself) including the planning, design and construction of a major extension he has underway right now at his home.