Dear Brad Feld.
I wanted to take some time to address your assertion that Google does not take enterprise support seriously. Google’s approach to support is very similar to IBM, EMC, and Microsoft, among others. Google has chosen to build and nurture their own value added reseller channel in order to help them round-out and scale their support offerings.
As we all know, Google is the master of scale and given the fact that most enterprise support services are built more for service and less for scale, I believe Google’s approach is very mature and forthright. In fact, during a recent intensive training on the Mountain View campus, Google made this fact very clear. I’m paraphrasing, but through multiple conversations with product, engineering, training and management I came to understand the following:
...if the customer requires solution oriented support, these options will be exclusively provided by the value added reseller channel. Google has no plans to offer such services directly and will neither build a professional services practice nor non-critical help desks operations... this is exclusively the purview of and best delivered by resellers.
But don’t take this wrong, this statement doesn’t mean that Google isn’t serious, it just means they don’t provide ALL of the service offerings directly.
Through a mix of direct and indirect reseller offerings, Google provides at least three distinct and highly robust options. As I’ll cover below, these options range from online reference guides and FAQs to touch and hold help desk and change management offerings.
Super rich and robust online resources:
When you know what to ask and how to ask it, Google’s own online FAQs and discussion lists are an amazing resource. Built with embedded search, community and reference resources, the Google Apps Help Forum is the go-to service for common questions.
Simply ask your question (after searching for it first) and gain answers from experts ranging from employees, to partners to power users. Here you’ll find the definitive answers, workaround options and yes the occasional no answer (which is an answer into itself). In the first case, these online forums beat just about any online resource that I’ve had access to in my career. In the later two cases, these answers act as the jumping off point to other resources and support options.
One complementary option to Google’s online resources is via access to an Authorized Reseller’s resources (proprietary FAQs, step-by-step guides, video tutorials, and other online resources). To support these service offerings, Google has built exclusive reseller and enterprise reseller support portals that are specifically dedicated to support their channel partners and their efforts to build and evolve additional support tools.
In this case, resellers gain access to more sophisticated and technically oriented FAQs, guides, and discussion forums that are supported by top channel admins, system engineers, trainers and developers, along with dedicated channel support resources from Google. Although not end-user/customer friendly, these forums are a rich resource which will help resellers to deliver higher standards of online or touch and hold support options discussed below in further detail.
Touch and Hold Support Options:
“Touch and hold” refers to a support service level agreement (SLA), which guarantees that your question/support needs will be assigned a case number and the answer (or resolution) of the case will be handled through a standard process. This framework covers cases ranging from operational emergencies to unintended, non critical behaviors. Here Google provides both direct and indirect support options to customers.
In the case of direct support, Google provides both email and phone support with a 24/7 SLA for “critical issues”. In cases other than critical, Google does not provide an SLA, but does offer a “best effort” SLA. Understandably, some customers would prefer a more definitive SLA commitment even for cases that are non-critical. For these customers the options are wide and varied, but all come from the indirect, reseller channel.
These more consultative or hands-on options commonly include email and phone support, where the customer expects (and typically pay for) a person to answer promptly and reliably. Good indirect support service providers will include quick access to experienced and credentialed personnel that have the where with all to answer (or at least escalate your question to the most qualified resource).
If you browse through the Google Apps Marketplace, you’ll find quite a few providers advertising such offerings. Some of these providers are great and admittedly, some are not. Similar to the Android Marketplace, the biggest problem at this point is to know who to trust. Recognizing the problem, Google is moving rapidly to solve the issue.
Again, through my interactions with Google’s own reseller management teams, it is clear that Google is in the process of rolling an Enterprise CHANNELS Technical Certification Program. In fact, click the following link to see the job description for folks who will be executing on this initiative. See: Enterprise Channels Technical Training Certification Program Jobs at Google.
Change Management and other Consultative Support Offerings:
Lastly, the most consultative form of enterprise support almost exclusively falls under the change management umbrella. When making the move to the cloud, most forward thinking firms will see this time as an opportunity to implement new shifts in strategy and operations. Not surprisingly, most firms will need the support to redefine their workflows and even deploy new or upgrade applications.
Luckily the Google Apps reseller community is incredibly robust on this front. Ranging from providers that focus more on the training aspects to those who can help build custom applications customers have a wide range of enterprise level support providers. Since change management is a massive subject and varies dramatically in it’s scale and scope, I won’t go into all the detail on the myriad of offerings in the space, but rest assured there is a large ecosystem of highly qualified providers in this space.
Taken All Together, Google’s Enterprise Support Offerings are Entirely Serious.
Although Google does not directly provide all options of enterprise support directly, this does not make them less “serious”. They have the most robust direct service offerings and they have built a robust channel of providers that specialize in every level of support from helpdesk to change management. The have some of the most robust direct service offerings and they have built a channel of providerst hat specializes in every level of support from helpdesk to change management.
Google’s maturity in this space is also rather impressive for a company that has the most profitable business model in modern history. Put simply, I think Google acknowledges that they are not the best direct provider of all things, especially support. Even with their oodles of cash and resources, Google has resolved to building and nurturing the best-of-breed partners and channels to round out their enterprise support offering... and I commend them for that maturity.
As I discussed, there are some elements of the support ecosystem that could be improved upon. Things like certifying partners for their technical prowess and ratings of individual service. Like any support service, it is important for the customer to understand their needs and to appropriately vet the service provider’s capabilities and reliability. Rest assured there is plenty of Enterprise Support options available, it might just take a little bit of digging to pull together an offering that works for you.