SUPPORT

This section includes a discussion of support issues and topics to be considered when purchasing an application. These include ongoing maintenance and support, sustainability, continuity of operation and training.

Ongoing Maintenance and Support.

The effective administration of an application infrastructure is critical to its performance and integrity. Having successfully implemented an application, many organizations lack the skill and experience to ensure appropriate performance and security are maintained. Experience in planning, establishing, and supporting the application╠s environment is vital. Basic maintenance and support issues include responsibility for implementation, security, and the day-to-day support of the system. Once the application environment has been established, vendors can provide experienced administrators to ensure that performance and security of the infrastructure are maintained.

Software vendors continuously improve the functionality and ease-of-use of their software. Clients benefit from ongoing maintenance, which is usually bundled into the vendor╠s service offering. Most software maintenance packages include periodic software updates and direct access to IT professionals. Maintenance and support, which provides technical support and software enhancement, is sometimes included in the service. Technical support team members are available to assist with software installation, technical support, and related issues. Software enhancements are improvements in ease-of-use and functionality of the software, including additional modules that extend the software╠s value.

Many vendors provide additional services beyond software maintenance and support. These services may include: additional training sessions for clients, more advanced train-the-trainer courses, technical support for system enhancements, onsite personnel to provide ongoing support to maintain and enhance your production system, presentations to senior executives, and all activities from technical, functional, and project management to completely support your enterprise application.

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Sustainability.

Sustainability is the ability of the software to be maintained and augmented, and to function in anticipated future operating environments (i.e., new versions of Windows, new hardware developments).  The key is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future.

Planning and management of software sustainability is impaired by a lack of consistently applied, practical measures. Without these measures, it is impossible to determine the effect of efforts to improve sustainability practices. The difference between development and sustainability activities can be difficult to distinguish.  Sustainability activities are usually of a smaller scale than development activities and recorded and tracked outside of the requirements process.  Actual sustainability practices vary widely.  At one extreme, some organizations only track and manage defects with no known ¤workaroundsË through the change management system and every other request is treated as a new requirement.  At the other extreme, some organizations may track all post-deployment changes of any magnitude through a change management system.  Both of these models are acceptable practices that are often driven more by business needs than any technical consideration.

Both users and software producers know there is a cost related to improved security and reliability. A ¤trade-off investment triangleË exists. The three sides of the triangle include software features, time-to-market, and software sustainability, which encompasses reliability, dependability, and security. Sustainability is sacrificed if software features and time-to-market are priorities. Trade-offs are made to get products out with as many features and as quickly as possible.

Software vendors are striving to increase sustainability by improving software quality. Quality, security, and reliability are becoming features in themselves and something companies and individuals are demanding as part of any software package.  Measuring software sustainability provides a basis for measured improvement.  A sustainability assessment can be completed and results in data analysis reports, comparative data, and a guide to interpreting the results.  The goal of defining sustainability measures is to provide a standard for measuring system sustainability that can be used as a baseline against which the overall effects of process, technological, and organizational change can be measured.  These measures provide a benchmark against which the success of a process improvement effort can be assessed.

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Continuity of Operation

This subsection discusses how to ensure continuity of operation while deploying and operating the application.  This includes procedural issues, contingency plans (i.e., loss of power), and backup capabilities.  Procedural issues for application deployment and operation need to be established before an application goes into production.  Contingency plans and backup capabilities will also be discussed for production systems.

Application deployment is an important issue that should be discussed at length with software vendors. Some applications lend well to distribution tools while others are web-based and do not require as much software distribution to actual desktops. Decision-makers must understand the value of software packaging and assign dedicated resources to this task. The standard packaging process must be documented and well understood. Formal quality assurance procedures that include documented test plans executed by someone not involved in the packaging should be implemented. This helps eliminate any bias on the part of the people responsible for creating the package.

When developing a contingency plan, management must decide what is at risk and why.   Questions that may need to be addressed include:

  • What is your area of responsibility?
  • What are the mission-critical business functions? What are the processes that must continue to operate?
  • What equipment/computer systems are critical to your operations? Which of these are at greatest risk? How seriously will your operations be affected if these systems are no longer available?
  • Do you have any other outside departments or agencies upon whom you are critically dependent? If these departments are affected by equipment/computer system failures, how will this affect your operations?
Backup capabilities for computer systems should be included in a disaster recovery plan. Backup capabilities will differ for each computer system, and must be outlined and tested before going into production. Integrity checking is also an important part of backup capabilities. This will help ensure that backups are valid and will be available in the event of an emergency. The disaster recovery plan also will include the roles and responsibilities during a disaster.  In the event of a disaster, the planning coordinator should be contacted. Business recovery operations should not begin until the coordinator has designated the plan of operation.

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Training

This subsection discusses the types of training necessary for the new application, including Computer-Based Training and classroom training, as well as trade-offs between various types of training. User documentation (i.e., user guide, online help), technical manuals, and administrative guides will also be discussed.

Training refers to any means of delivering information to people so they can do their jobs better. Computer-based training is delivered using computer tutorials in place of live instructors in a classroom format or videotaped instruction. Computer-based training is usually interactive, self-paced, learner-directed, and offers immediate feedback to learners. The various forms of computer-based training currently available include interactive CD-ROM tutorials, multimedia simulations, and most recently, internet and intranet-based programs. Make sure to discuss types of training, training availability, and training prices with all software vendors. Some software vendors include some amount of training as part of their purchase price.

Computer-based training provides more learner control than other forms of training because it allows the learner to select the appropriate time to engage in learning and which topics will be covered.  Computer-based training is attractive to decision-makers because it costs, on average, 50% less than instructor-led training. Many major corporations have turned to computer-based training for teaching employees everything from company regulations to compliance to factory operations.  Employees can be trained at their desktops no matter where they are based. Cost and productivity savings are realized because travel, hotel, and meal costs are avoided.

Traditional training (also known as live instruction) is beneficial to some learners but also has disadvantages. First, normal company operations are delayed because many employees can be receiving training at the same time. Second, because people learn at different levels and rates, an  instructor may have trouble reaching all students. The instructor may vary the information when it is presented at different times to different training classes, and the information may be slightly different from one training seminar to the next. Conversely, computer-based training can be done at the learner╠s convenience. Employees can receive the training anywhere, at any time, and at their own pace. The teacher does not have to be present, and the same information is given to each employee.

When purchasing or evaluating any type of software, documentation needs to be taken into account. Most software packages include basic user documentation, technical manuals, and administrative guides. This documentation should be available for inspection prior to making a decision regarding a software package. Documentation is extremely useful in answering basic questions so that users will not need to contact the vendor for technical assistance. In some web-based systems, documentation may be accessible from the software itself. Online help is also available in many software packages and should be discussed with vendors.

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