I've thought long and hard about this blog post. At the core, some of you may see it as the most insulting thing I've ever put up here and in a certain light I can agree. However, I am really struggling, I do not have a pretty solution and so far none of my advisors / staff / community partners has been able to come up with a good one so instead of seeing it as an insult, read it as a plea for help. If you have any advice please drop me an email.
One of the biggest problems we have at Own Web Now is documentation. Bar none. This isn't exactly an accident – you've seen me write before about how we were trying to source-out the aspect of ExchangeDefender distribution to some of our community friends but for one reason or another, that has never happened.
So now I'm faced with a tough decision when it comes to documenting the solutions we provide because we do not have the kind of support bandwidth required to support the part time paper boy / part time IT guy that seems to be more and more prevalent in todays SMB scene. It's not that those people are inherent idiots by nature, but when you don't understand the basic concepts of how the Internet works the higher up concepts of how the systems interact and operate, as well as troubleshooting, become almost impossible. I am sure every IT department experiences this, I am sure we have been dealing with this for years. But now we have the ability to track it and the numbers look ugly.
Here is the problem – People that are not qualified to support IT systems are going around selling their (managed) IT services but have, at best, just a basic understanding of both management and IT. So they come to us and ask for ___. We explain to them why certain things don't work, we explain to them that certain things are as such by design and behavior, we try to point them to RFCs, we try to help them fix the problems that are holding back the deployment. In the end, we provide better direct support than most companies out there – and in turn become that providers support-bitch. They come to us with all the problems in the world, related and unrelated, and sometimes just "dropped you an email just to see if you have an idea…" – rinse, repeat.
This is your usual 90/10. 90% of our client base knows exactly what its doing, while the other 10% probably shouldn't be allowed near a computer. Now, guess which group causes 90% of the support requests? Right. And half the time, at least according to our stats, they are just trying to pass the bucket and not really come to a solution at all. Unable to use Google. Unable to use Yahoo. Unable to post a question in Microsoft Partner Groups. Etc.
We're a few days from launching the new web sites across our business and I am considering pulling the public documentation sections back. I am scared to death of enabling some of these people to provide our services and I think giving the blueprint to the network infrastructure to someone that just got laid off from a mortgage broker where they were the most technically savvy of the bunch is akin to giving me a pile of bricks and saying "go build that building"
I am asking for advice. How would you discourage someone that shouldn't be messing with cloud services from trying to? Here is what we've considered along with the cons and pros:
Mandatory $500 partnership setup fee, half credit at the end of the year. Pro: eliminates startups and DIYers. Con: might antagonize legitimate IT business.
Mandatory exams. Pro: establishes a baseline. Con: expensive to design, cheating.
Commercial support contract, paid per hour of support. Pro: zero sum game. Con: bitter disputes over what is expected support and what is ad-hoc support.
Higher minimum committments. Pro: keeps startups out. Con: goes against the company spirit, always been startup friendly.
Peer referal requirement. Pro: Establishes a network of people who know/use products. Con: Just passing the problem off to someone else.
Last resort: Purchase a support contract because your technology IQ does not fit the supportable parameters under our standard SLA.
As you can tell, all these "solutions" are ugly and we're getting slaughtered by support requests from a small portion of our customer base that needs help beyond what we can provide. We've collectively thrown our hands up in the air over this one so if you've got some brilliant advice, I'd love to hear it (firstname.lastname@example.org)
P.S. Someone came up with an idea that I should have some sort of a kindergarten system because my articles seem to be written for IT toddlers (their words, not mine; "Who the heck needs a screenshot to find an SMTP Virtual Server in ESM and if they do shouldn't they not have access to it in the first place???"); While I did consider this for a split second, Own Web Now Corp cannot continue as "Vlad's Own Web Now Corp" and I'm a little too accessible to also provide support activities. As a matter of fact, my name will pretty much vanish from the support portal next week.