Hi Ran, I think the growth is there in this segment, only because it's replacing stand-alone (usually home-grown) systems with integrated solution suites that actually work. The potential market is huge (I don't have my Gartner Group data handy, but it's big), ao it will be a while to saturation.|
Regarding new innovative stuff. I consult in the Technical/Customer Support area, and my impression is that all the Problem Management Software (PMS?) that's out there basically speeds up current ways of doing things, rather than providing quantum leaps in ways of doing business. I think the next big thing in this area is going to be automated problem correction, smarter wizards, and more standardization of error and diagnostic messages. It remains to be seen how well vendors will handle this (and let's not re-open the McAfee discussion).
Regarding promises etc. No vendor I have ever talked to gives a realistic picture of the time and effort required to implement and deploy support automation. It's great for me, because that's where I make my living (or at least part of it). For example, a vendor may tell you that you can have a system with all the bells and whistles for say $2,000 per seat. Sure, that's the cost of the software only. Then you factor in the supporting platform, platform software, database engine. Then, you need a DBA (for anything but the most trivial applications, you really need a full-time person). Have you tried to hire a Sybase or Oracle or Informix DBA lately? Then, you need to spend (a lot of) time on thinking through your business processes, and mapping them to the software's constraits. Then you have to customize the software. Then you have to pilot, then train, then deploy. And on-going costs just add up. So the $2,000 pretty soon becomes $10,000/seat or more over a three-year period.
The second major promise that most vendors will make is about the expected productivity increase. This may come as a shocking surprise (:-)), but it's not often you realize a huge productivity increase, at least in the short term. The biggest selling point for automation is that you can save on labor (often the biggest cost element in a support center) by hiring fewer people with a lower skill level to handle the "duplicate" calls i.e. calls on those issues that have been reported before. In some areas, this works quite well. For example, in a Help Desk situation you can purchase "knowledge-packs" that contain a problem/solution database for a lot of consumer products (MS Office, Lotus, Novell etc.). This does not work well when the knowledgebase does not exist (because it takes a while to build up the knowledgebase), or when the support requests that come in are on products that do not lend themselves to a lot of repeat occurences. For example, in complex client-server environments with custom software, it's not often (at least not as often as on consumer software) that two calls are on the same issue. Even if they are, in these environments a lot of time is spent on actually clarifying and defining the issue, and then it is relatively trivial to conduct a search against known problems. Framing the problem requires special skills, so you can't really hire cheaper labor.
All that leaves then is productivity increases realized from using computers instead of paper. In a well-designed system, this can be quite a lot. For example, automated customer validation, screen pop etc. On the other hand, a lot of support managers go ga-ga with the technology, and end up wanting to capture every possible nugget of information on support requests. By the time the hapless support rep is done, all your labor savings are gone. And guess what: all that wonderful information? Nobody has time to look at it.
Does this make sense? I don't mean to paint a negative picture, but rather a realistic one. A lot of the first generation of customers of PMS are beginning to realize that they were somewhat optimistic on the benefits. Word is getting out, and future generations of customers will be more cautious. I think this will make the vendors more honest, and also help them produce better product.