The next BriefingsDirect Voice of Innovation discussion explores how services and support for enterprise IT have entered a new era.
For IT technology providers, the timing of the news couldn’t be better. That’s because those now consuming tech support are demanding higher-order value — such as improved worker productivity from hybrid services delivered across many remote locations.
At the same time, the underlying technologies and intelligence to enhance traditional help desk support are blossoming to deliver proactive — and even consultative — enhancements.
Stay with us here to examine how Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Pointnext Services has developed new solutions to satisfy those enhanced expectations for the next era of IT support. HPE’s new generation of readily-at-hand IT expertise, augmented remote services, and ongoing product-use guidance together propel businesses to exploit their digital domains — better than ever.
Here to share the Pointnext vision for the future of advanced IT operational services are Gerry Nolan, Director of Operational Services Portfolio at HPE Pointnext Services, and Rob Brothers, Program Vice President, Datacenter and Support Services, at IDC. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Rob, what are enterprise IT leaders and their consumers demanding of tech support in early 2021? How are their expectations different from just a year or two ago?
Brothers: It’s a great question, Dana. I want to jump back a little bit further than just a year or so ago. That’s because support has really evolved so much over the past five, six, or seven years.
If you think about product support and support in general back in the day, it was just that. It was an add-on. It was great for fix services. It was about being able to place a phone call to get something fixed.
But that evolved over the past few years due to the fact that we have more intelligent devices and customers are looking for more proactive, predictive capabilities, with direct access to experts and technicians. And now that all has taken a fast-track trajectory during the pandemic as we talk about digital transformation.
During COVID-19, customers need new ways to work with tech-support organizations. They need even more technical assistance. So, we see that a plethora of secure, remote-support capabilities have come out. We see more connected devices. We see that customers look for expertise over the phone — as well as via chat or via augmented reality. Whatever the channel, we see a trajectory and growth that has spurred on a lot of innovation — and not just the innovation itself, but the consumption of that innovation.
Those are a couple of the big differences I’ve seen in just the past couple of years. It’s about the need for newer support models, and a different way of receiving support. It’s also about using a lot of the new, proactive, and predictive capabilities built inside of these newer systems — and really getting connected back to the vendor.
Those enterprises that connect back to their vendors are getting that improved experience and can then therefore pass that better experience to their customers. That’s the important part of the whole equation.
Those enterprises that connect back to their vendors are getting that improved experience and can then therefore pass that better experience to their customers. That’s the important part of the whole equation — making sure that better IT experiences translate to those enterprise customers. It’s a very interesting time.
Gardner: I sense this is also about more collective knowledge. When we can gather and share how IT systems are operating, it just builds on itself. And now we have the tools in place to connect and collaborate better. So this is an auspicious time — just as the demand for these services has skyrocketed.
Brothers: Yes, without a doubt. I find the increased use of augmented reality (AR) to deliver support extremely interesting, too, and a great use case during a pandemic.
If you can’t send an engineer to a facility in-person, maybe you can give that engineer access to the IT department using Google Glass or some other remote-access technology. Maybe you can walk them through something that they may not have been able to do otherwise. With all of the data and information the vendor collects, they can more easily walk them through more issues. So that’s just one really cool use case during this pandemic.
Gardner: Gerry, do you agree that there’s been auspicious timing when it comes to the need for these innovative support services and the capability to deliver them technically?
Pandemic accelerates remote services
Nolan: Yes, there’s no question. I totally agree with Rob. We saw a massive spike with the pandemic in terms of driving to remote access. We already had significant remote capabilities, but many of our customers all of a sudden have a huge remote workforce that they have to deal with.
They have to keep their IT running with minimal on-site presence, and so you have to start quickly innovating and delivering things such as AR and virtual reality (VR), which is what we did. We already have that solution.
But it’s amazing how something like a pandemic can elevate that use to our thousands and thousands of technical engineers around the world who are now using that technology and solution to virtually join customer sites and help them triage, diagnose, and even do installations. It’s allowing them to keep their systems and their businesses running during a very tough period.
Another insight is we’ve seen customers struggling, even before the pandemic, with having enough technical personnel bandwidth. You know, how they need more people resources and skills as more new technologies hit the streets.
To Rob’s point, it’s difficult for customers to keep pace with the speed of change in IT. There’s more hunger for partners who can go deep on expertise across a wide plethora of technologies. So, there’s a variety of new support activities going on.
Brothers: Yes, around those technical capabilities, one of the biggest things I hear from enterprises is just trying to find that talent pool. You need to get employees to do some of the technical pieces of the equation on a lot of these new IT assets. And they’re just not out there, right?
They need programmers and big data data scientists. Getting folks to come in to assist on that level is more and more difficult. Hence, working with the vendor for a lot of these needs and that technical expertise really comes in handy now.
Gardner: Right, when you can outsource — people do outsource. That’s been a trend for 10 or 15 years now.
What are the challenges enterprises — as the IT vendors and providers — have in closing that skills gap?
DX demands collaboration
Brothers: I actually did a big study around digital transformation. One of the big issues I’ve seen within enterprises is a lot of siloed structures. The networking team is not talking to the storage team, or not talking to the server team, and protecting their turf.
As an alternative, you can have the vendor come in and say, “Look, we can do this for you in a simpler fashion. We can do it a little bit faster, too, and we can keep downtime out of your environment.”
But trying to get the enterprise convinced [on the outsourcing] can sometimes be tricky and difficult. So I see that as one of the inhibitors to getting some of these great tech services that the vendors have into these environments.
A lot of these legacy systems are mixed in with the newer systems. This is where you see a struggle within enterprises. It’s still the stovepipe silos in enterprises that can make transitions very difficult.
A second big challenge I see is around the big, legacy IT environments. This goes back to that connectedness piece I talked about. A lot of these legacy systems are mixed in with the newer systems. This is where you see a struggle within enterprises. They are asking, “Okay, well, how do I support this older equipment and still migrate to this new platform that I want to do a lot of cloud-based computing with and become more operationally efficient?” The vendors can assist with that, but it’s still the stovepipe silos you sometimes see in enterprises that can make transitions very difficult.
Gardner: Right. The fact is we have hybrid everything, and now we have to adjust our support and services to that as well.
Gerry, around these challenges, it seems we also have some older thinking around how you buy these tech services. Perhaps it has been through a warranty or a bolt-on support plan. Do we need to change the way we think about acquiring these services?
Customer experience choice
Nolan: Yes, customers are all about experiences these days. Think about pretty much every part of your life — whether you’re going to the bank, booking a vacation, or even buying an electric car. They’ve totally transformed the experience in each of those areas.
IT is no different. Customers are trying to move beyond, as Rob was saying, that legacy IT thinking. Even if it’s contacting a support provider for a break-fix issue, they want the solution to come with an end-to-end experience that’s compelling, engaging, and in a way that they don’t need to think about all the various bits and pieces. The fewer decisions a customer has to make and the more they can just aim for a particular outcome, the more successful we’re going to be.
Brothers: Yes, when a customer invested $1 million in a solution set, the old mindset was that after three or four years it would be retired and they would buy a new one — but that’s completely changed.
Now, you’re looking at this technology for a longer term within your environment. You want to make sure you’re getting all the value out of it, so that support experience becomes extremely important. What does the system look like from a performance perspective? Did I get the full dollar value out of it?
That kind of experience is not just between the vendor and with my own internal IT department, but also in how that experience correlates out to my end-user customer. It becomes about bringing that whole experience circle around. It’s really about the experience for everybody in the environment — not just for the vendor and not just for the enterprise. But it’s for the enterprise’s customers.
Gardner: Rob, I think it behooves the seller of the IT goods if they’ve moved from a CapEx to an OpEx model so that they can make those services as valuable as possible and therefore also apply the right and best level of support over time. It locks the customer in on a value basis, rather than a physical basis.
Brothers: Yes, that’s one great mindset change I’ve seen over the past five years. I did a study about six years ago, and I asked customers how they bought support. Overwhelmingly they said they just bought a blanket support contract. It was the same contract for all of the assets within the environment.
But just recently, in the past couple of years, that’s completely changed. They are now looking at the workloads. They’re looking at the systems that run those workloads and making better decisions as to the best type of support contract on that system. Now they can buy that in an OpEx- or CapEx-type manner, versus that blanket contract they used to put on it.
It’s really great to see how customers have evolved to look at their environments and say, “I need different types of support on the different assets I have, and which provide me different experiences.” That’s been a major change in just the past couple of years.
Nolan: We’re also seeing customers seek the capability to evolve and move from one support model to another. You might have a customer environment where they have some legacy products where they need help. And they’re implementing some new technologies and new solutions, and they’re developing new apps.
It’s really helpful for that customer if they can work with a single vendor — even if they have multiple, different IT models. That way they can get support for their legacy, deploy new on-premises technologies, and integrate that together with their legacy. And then, of course, having that consumption-as-a-service model that Rob just talked about, they also have a nice easy way of transitioning workloads over to hybrid models where appropriate.
I think that’s a big benefit, and it’s what the customers seem to be looking for more and more these days.
Gardner: Gerry, what’s the vision now behind HPE to deliver on that? What’s Pointnext Services doing to provide a new generation of tech support that accommodates these new and often hybrid environments?
Tech Care’s five steps toward support
Nolan: We’re very excited to launch a new support experience called HPE Pointnext Tech Care. It’s all about delivering on much of what’s just been said in terms of moving beyond a product break-fix experience to helping customers get the most out of that product — all the way from purchasing through its lifecycle to end-of-life.
Our main goal for HPE Pointnext Tech Care is to help customers maximize and expose all the value from that product. We’re going to do that with HPE Pointnext Tech Care through five key elements.
Products are going to be embedded with a support experience called HPE Pointnext Tech Care. It’s a very simple experience. It has some choices on the SLA side, but it’s going to dramatically simplify the buying and owing experience at HPE.
The first is to make it a very simple experience. Today, we have four different choices when you’re buying a product as to which experience you want to go with. Now with HPE Pointnext, products are going to be sold embedded with a support experience called HPE Pointnext Tech Care. It’s a very simple experience. It has some choices on the service-level-agreement (SLA) side, but it’s going to dramatically simplify the buying and owning experience for our HPE customers.
The second aspect is the digital-transformation component that we see everywhere in life. That means we’re embedding a lot of data telemetry into the products. We have a product called HPE InfoSight that’s now embedded in our technology being deployed.
InfoSight collects all that data and sends it back to the mother ship, which allows our support experts to gain all of those insights and provide help with the customer in mitigating, predicting, planning capacity, and helping to keep that system running and optimized at all times. So, that’s one element of the digital component.
The other aspect is a very rich support portal, a customer engagement platform. We’ve already redone our support center on hpe.com and customers will see it’s completely changed. It has a new look and feel. Over the coming quarters, there will be more and more new capabilities and functionality added. Customers will be able to see dashboards, personalized views of their environments, and their products. They’ll get omni-channel access to our experts, which is the third element we are providing.
We have all this great expertise. Traditionally, you would connect with them over the telephone. But going forward, you’re going to have the capability, as Rob mentioned, for customers to do chat. They may also want to watch videos of the experts. They may want to talk to their peers. So we have a moderated forum area where customers can communicate with each other and with our experts. There’s also a whole plethora of white papers and Tech Tip videos. It’s a very rich environment.
Then the fourth HPE Pointnext Tech Care element touches on a key trend that Rob mentioned, which goes beyond break-fix. With HPE Pointnext Tech Care, you’ll have the capability to communicate with experts beyond just talking about a broken part of your system. This will allow you to contact us and talk about things such as using the product, or capacity planning, or configuration information that you may have questions about. This general tech guidance feature of HPE Pointnext Tech Care, we believe, is going to be very exciting for customers, and they’re going to really benefit from it.
And lastly, the fifth component is about a broader spectrum of full lifecycle help that our customers want. They don’t just want a support experience around buying the product, they want it all the way through its lifetime. The customer may need help with migration, for example, or they may need help with performance, training their people, security, and maybe even retiring or sanitizing that asset.
With HPE Pointnext Tech Care, they will have a nice, easy mechanism where you have a very robust, warm-blanket-type of support that comes with the product and can easily be augmented with other menu choices. We’re very excited about launch of HPE Pointnext Tech Care and it comes with those five key elements. It’s going to transform the support experience and help customers get the most from their HPE products.
Gardner: Rob, how much of a departure do you sense the HPE Pointnext Tech Care approach is from earlier HPE offerings, such as HPE Foundation Care? Is this a sea change or a moderate change? How big of a deal is this?
Proactive, predictive capabilities
Brothers: In my opinion, it’s a pretty significant change. You’re going to get proactive, predictive capabilities at the base level of the HPE Pointnext Tech Care service that a lot of other vendors charge a real premium for.
I can’t stress enough how important it is for those proactive, predictive capabilities to come with environments. A survey that I did not long ago supported a cost-downtime study. In that study, customers saw approximately 700 or so hours of downtime per year across their environments. These are servers, storage, networking, and security, and take human error into account. If customers enabled proactive, predictive capabilities, they saw approximately 200 hours of saved downtime. That’s because of what those corrective, predictive capabilities can do at that base layer. They allow you to do the one big thing that prevents downtime — and that’s patch management and patch planning.
Now, those technical experts that Gerry talked about can access all of this beautiful, feature-rich information and data. They can feed it back to the customer and say, “Look, here’s how your environment looks. Here’s where we see some areas that you can make improvements, and here’s a patch plan that you can put in place.”
Now technical experts can access all of this beautiful, feature-rich information and data. They can feed it back to the customer to make improvements. That’s precious information and data.
Then all of the data comes back from enterprises, saying, “If I do a better job of that patching and patch planning that just saves a copious amount of unplanned and planned downtime out of my environment because I now do a better job of that.” That’s precious information and data.
That’s the big fundamental change. They’re showing the real value to the customer so they don’t have to buy some of those premium levels. They can get that kind of value in the base level, which is extremely important and provides that higher-order experience to end-user customers. So I do think that’s a huge fundamental shift, and definitely a new value for the customers.
Gardner: Rob, correct me if I’m wrong, but having this level of proactive, baked-in-from-the-start support comes at an auspicious time, too, because people are also trying to do more automation with their security operations. It seems to me that we’re dovetailing the right approaches for patching and proactive maintenance along with what’s needed for security. So, there’s a security benefit here as well?
Brothers: Oh, massive. Especially if you look at this day-and-age with a lot of the security breaches we just had just over the past year due to new security remote access to a lot of systems. Yes, it definitely plays a major factor in how enterprises should be thinking about how they’re patching and patch planning.
Gardner: Gerry, just to pull on that thread again about data and knowledge sharing, the more you get the relationship that you’re describing with HPE Pointnext Tech Care — the more back and forth of the data and learning what the systems are doing — and you have a virtuous cycle. Tell us how the machine learning (ML) and data gathering works in aggregate and why that’s an auspicious virtuous cycle.
Nolan: That’s an excellent question and, of course, you’re spot-on. The combination is of the telemetry built into the actual products through HPE InfoSight, our back-end experts, and the detailed knowledge management processes. We also have our experts who are watching, listening, and talking to customers as they deal with issues.
That means you have two things going on. You have the software learning over time and we have rules being built in there so that when it spots an issue it can go and look for all the other similar environments and then help those customers mitigate and predict ahead of time.
Secondly our experts can engage better because they’re also dealing with and seeing various challenges happening around the world in various environments. The combined knowledge management process means we’re constantly building more and more content, more and more knowledge, and we’re immediately making that available through the new digital customer platforms.
That means that customers will immediately get the benefit of all of this knowledge. It might be a Tech Tip video. It might be a white paper. It might be an item or an article in a moderated forum. There’s this rich back-and-forth between what’s available in the portal and what’s available in the knowledge that the software will build over time. And all of this just comes to bear in a richer experience for the customer, where they can help either self-solve or self-serve. But if they want to engage with our experts, they’re available in multiple different channels and in multiple different ways.
Gardner: Rob, another area where 2+2=5 is when we can take those ML and data-driven insights that Gerry described across a larger addressable market of installed devices. And then, we can augment that with MyRoom-type technologies and the VR and AR capabilities that you described earlier.
What’s the new sum value when we can combine these insights with the capability to then deliver the knowledge remotely and richly?
Autonomous IT reduces human error
Brothers: That’s a really great point. The whole idea is to attain what we call autonomous IT. That means to have IT systems that are more on the self-repair side, and that have product pieces shipped prior to things going wrong.
One of the biggest and most-costly pieces of downtime is from human error. If we can pull the human touch and human interaction out of the IT environment, we save each company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. That’s what all this data and information will provide to the IT vendors. They can then say, “Look, let’s take the human interactions out of it. We know that’s one of the most-costly sides of the equation.”
If we can pull the human touch and interaction out of the IT environment we save money and reduce human error. We can optimize systems. It gets to the point where we’re relying on the intelligence of the systems to do more. That’s the direction we’re heading in.
If we can do that in an autonomous fashion — where we’re optimizing systems on a regular basis, equipment is being shipped to the facility prior to anything breaking, we can schedule any downtime during quiet times, and make sure that workloads are moved properly — then that’s the endgame. It gets to the point where the human factor gets more removed and we’re relying more on the intelligence of the systems to do more.
That’s definitely the direction we’re moving in, and what we’re seeing here is definitely heading in that direction.
Gardner: Yes, and in that case, you’re not necessarily buying IT support, your buying IT insurance.
Brothers: Yes, exactly. That gets back to the consumption models. HPE is one of the leaders in that space with HPE GreenLake. They were one of the pioneers to come up with a solution such as that, which takes the whole IT burden off of IT’s plate and puts it back on the vendor.
Nolan: We have a term for that concept that one of my colleagues uses. They call it invisible IT. That’s really what a lot of customers are looking for. As Rob said, we’re still some ways from that. But it’s a noble goal, and we’re all in to try and achieve it.
Gardner: So we know what the end-goal is, but we’re still in the progression to it. But in the meantime, it’s important to demonstrate to people value and return on investment (ROI).
Do we have any HPE Pointnext Tech Care examples, Gerry? Rob already mentioned a few of his studies that show dramatic improvements. But do we have use cases and/or early-adoption patterns? How do we measure when you do this well and you get?
Benefits already abound
Nolan: There are a ton of benefits. For example, we already have extensive Tech Tip video libraries. We have chat implemented. We have the moderated forums up and running. We have lots of different elements of the experience already live in certain product areas, especially in storage.
Of course, many HPE products are already connected through HPE InfoSight or other tools, which means those systems are being monitored on a 24 x 7 basis. The software already monitors, predicts, and mitigates issues before they occur, as well as provides all sorts of insights and recommendations. This allows both the customer and our support experts to engage and take remediation action before anything bad happens.
Customers seem to love this more-rich experience approach. Yes, there’s a lot more data and a lot more insights. But to have those experts on-hand, to be able to gain or build an action plan from all of that data, is really important.
Now, in terms of some of the benefits that we’re seeing in the storage space, those customers that are connected are seeing 73 percent fewer trouble tickets and 69 percent faster time-to-resolution. To date, since InfoSight was first deployed in that storage environment alone, we’ve measured about 1.5 million hours of saved productivity time.
So there are real benefits when you combine being connected with ML tools such as InfoSight. When the rich value available in HPE Pointnext Tech Carecomes together, it further reduces downtime, improves performance, and helps reach the end-goal that Rob talked about, the autonomous IT or invisible IT.
Gardner: Rob, we started our conversation about what’s changed in tech support. What’s changed when it comes to the key performance indicators (KPIs) for evaluating tech support and services?
Brothers: The big, new KPIs that we’re seeing do not just evaluate the experience that the enterprise has with the IT vendors. Although that’s obviously extremely important, it’s also about how does that correlate to the experiences my end-users are receiving?
You’re beginning to see those measurements come to the fore. An enterprise has its own SLAs and KPIs with its end-users. How is that matching to the KPIs and SLAs I have back to my IT vendors? You’re beginning to see those merge and come together. You’re beginning to see new matrices put in place where you can evaluate the vendor through how well you’re delivering user experiences to your own end-users.
It takes a bit of time and energy to align that because it’s a fairly complex measurement to put in place. But we’re beginning to see that from enterprises, to seek that level of value from the vendors. And the vendors are stepping up, right? They’re beginning to show these dashboards back to the enterprise that say, “Hey, here’s the SLA, here are the KPIs, here are the performance matrices that we’re collecting and that should correlate fairly well to what you’re providing to your end-user customers.”
Gardner: Gerry, if we properly align these values, it better fits with digital transformation because people have to perceive the underlying digital technologies as an enabler, not as a hurdle. Is HPE Pointnext Tech Care an essential part of digital transformation when we think about that change of perception?
Incident management transforms
Nolan: It totally is. One of our early Pointnext customers is a large, US retailer. They’ve gone through a situation where they had a bunch of technology. Each one had its own individual support contract. And they’ve moved to a more centralized and simpler approach where they have one support experience, which we actually deliver across each of their different products — and they’re seeing huge benefits.
They’ve gone from firefighting and having their small IT team predominantly focused on dealing with issues and support calls regarding hardware- and update-type issues and all of a sudden, they were measuring themselves on incidents — how many incidents — and they were trying to keep that at a manageable level.
One large, US retailer has moved to a more centralized and simpler approach where they have one support experience — and they’re seeing huge benefits.
Well, now, they’ve totally changed. The incidents have almost disappeared — and now they’re focused on innovation. How fast can they get new applications to their business? How fast can they get new projects to market in support of the business?
They’re just one customer who has gone through this transformation where they’re using all of the things we just talked about and it’s delivering significant benefits to them and to their IT group. And the IT group, in turn, are now heroes to their business partners around the US.
Gardner: I want to close with some insights into how organization should prepare themselves. Rob, if you want to gain this new level of capability across your IT organization, you want the consumers of IT in your enterprise to look to IT for solutions and innovation, what should you be thinking about now? What should you put in place to take advantage of the offerings that organizations such as HPE are providing with HPE Pointnext Tech Care?
Evaluating vendor experiences
Brothers: It all starts with the deployment process. When you’re looking and evaluating vendors, it’s not just, “Hey, how is the product? Is the product going to perform and do its task?”
Some 99 percent of the time, the stand-alone IT system you’re procuring is going to solve the issue you’re looking to solve. The key is how well is that vendor going to get that system up and running in your environment, connected to everything it needs to be connected to, and then supports it optimizes it for the long run.
It’s really more about that life cycle experience. So, as an enterprise, you need to think differently on how you want to engage with your IT vendor. You need to think about all the different performance KPIs, and match that back to your end-user customer.
The thought process of evaluating vendors, in my opinion, is shifting. It’s more about the type of experience I get with this vendor versus the product and its job. That’s one of the big transitional phases I’m seeing right now. Enterprises are thinking about more the experience they have with their partners, more so then if the product is doing the job.
Gardner: Gerry, what do you recommend people do in order to get prepared to take advantage of such offerings as HPE Pointnext Tech Care?
Nolan: Following on from what Rob said, customers can already decide what experience they would like. HPE Pointnext Tech Care will be the embedded support experience that comes with their HPE products. It’s going to be very easy to buy because it’s going to be right there embedded with the product when the product is being configured and when the quote is being put together.
HPE Pointnext Tech Care is a very simple, easy, and fully integrated experience. They’re buying a full product experience, not a product — and then choose their support experience on the side. If they want something broader than just a product experience — what I call the warm blanket around their whole enterprise environment — we have another experience called Datacenter Care that provides that.
We also have other experiences. We can, for example, manage the environment for them using our management capabilities. And then, of course, we have our HPE GreenLake as-a-service on-premises experience. We’ve designed each of these experiences so they can totally live together and work together. You can also move and evolve from one to the other. You can buy products that come with HPE Pointnext Tech Care and then easily move to a broader Datacenter Care to cover the whole environment.
We can take on and manage some of that environment and then we can transition workloads to the as-a-service model. We’re trying to make it as easy and as fast as possible for customers to onboard through any and all of these experiences.