The chief information officer (CIO) is a relatively new addition to executive teams in the last 20 years. Though it was uncommon to hear the term in the late 1980s, running an enterprise-level operation without a strong knowledge of technology and a strategy for how to deploy it is nearly unheard of today.
That’s because technology plays such a central role in the way that modern businesses—even small ones—operate. Specifically, network technologies lie at the core of many companies’ ability to do business. Maintaining local networks so they work efficiently and securely is crucial for success. It’s a responsibility that both OEMs and third-party contractors can handle. Which option is right for your business? Here are some of the pros and cons of each approach.
OEM: Streamlined Support, Hefty Spending
Who, if not the vendor, is best equipped to service your network? Choosing OEM support seems like an easy call, particularly if your business handles sensitive materials. If money is no object, you certainly have reason to endorse the vendor’s dedicated support team. That team is trained in deploying and maintaining your network solution, and you should receive SLA options that will guarantee you receive support quickly, even in a crisis.
Your internal IT people can expect to receive strong guidance from well-versed experts, and you’ll likely have the benefit of an account representative who can be your advocate if an issue requires escalation.
The Latest and Greatest
OEMs want to make sure you have the most capable version of their product. They can’t risk being responsible for a security failure, which could mean a loss of business. For this reason, you can expect frequent reminders from your OEM when it’s time to upgrade. But you can also expect price increases when that upgrade occurs. OEMs appeal to many companies because they seem reasonably priced at first. Companies that use OEM network support, however, often cite substantial cost increases after a few years owing to system upgrades to a new version.
Upgrading sounds attractive, but you can’t always do so without affecting other systems already in use. Rather than continue to employ a solution that fits your business well, you may have to absorb the costs of upgrading your network’s supporting software.
Customizations are another issue. If aspects of your system are customized to fit your business, an OEM vendor may be unwilling to hold your hand in making sure they are up to date. But if you make such an upgrade without proper preparation, restoring the capabilities you had before an upgrade could require additional spending and work. All of this effort comes at a premium, which makes third-party support begin to look attractive.
Third-Party Support: Adaptable and Cheap, but Is It Robust?
Compared with an OEM that has a vested interest in promoting a given product, a third-party network-support company can offer greater flexibility regarding your hardware and network configuration. Third-party support can be your ticket to network-maintenance freedom, but it can also lead to a dangerous inability to remedy network issues.
Independent network-maintenance companies come in different shapes and sizes. Third-party maintenance providers mostly work in supporting and resale services. If you believe a third-party maintenance provider may be right for your business, it’s important to find the best company.
As the “generic” equivalent to name-brand support from OEM suppliers, independent network-maintenance companies can offer sizable savings relative to their OEM competition. The differentiating factor among third-party operations is their knowledge of hardware and software from a variety of vendors.
Customized to Fit Your Business
This familiarity with various platforms is a major part of how third-party operations allow you to save money. Contacting multiple OEMs to get help, engaging their support and opening cases could result in high costs, and OEMs are likely to withhold support when another vendor’s equipment is involved.
When using a third-party network maintenance provider, that provider is responsible for supporting each solution in your network. Whether you’re confident in a third party to support the hardware you choose is critical to your support choice; third-party providers may advise you to use solutions they’re more familiar with to avoid surprises.
Lack of bias in selecting solutions can be an advantage of third-party providers. Another advantage is that once your custom solution is in place, a quality provider can work with you to scale and advance that solution as your company’s needs expand, and it will be knowledgeable about your network’s configuration.
EOL When You Decide
Unlike with an OEM vendor, a third-party network-maintenance service may be more willing to support you if you employ a solution that isn’t the latest and greatest. Third-party network consultants don’t take the blame the way that an OEM does if your network has problems. Yes, you assume some responsibility, but you knew when you selected a third party that you might not use the OEM’s suggested methods and solutions. It’s a major difference between third-party and OEM network maintenance.
Many businesses run antiquated systems for longer than recommended and save money doing it. That approach might not be great for a cybersecurity vendor, but if you’re operating a screen-printing company with no need to expand right away, waiting to upgrade may pose minimal risk.
Accountability for Service
When you’re in the business of support only, you must answer support calls promptly. Eighty-one percent of OEM users report some level of dissatisfaction with their service. When vendors get large, their sales interests begin to outweigh the need to support customers. That doesn’t mean every OEM fails to support their clients adequately, but it begs the question, do you want to pay more for less support? There is a potential downside to the alternative, however. If third-party support fails, it can fail catastrophically.
The Danger of Failure
Part of the SLAs that OEMs provide is the ability to escalate issues to their engineering department. If something goes wrong under a third-party vendor, you could find yourself in the awkward situation of going back to an OEM to get help.
Many OEM vendors require large fees to reinstate support if you waived the option when you first purchased a solution. In such a situation, you may be on the hook for a large bill to get out of a bad situation and may face additional costs depending on the OEM’s assessment or requirements.
Alternatively, you could jump ship from one third-party service to another. Doing so also carries risks. Will the personnel at the new service company know enough about your solutions to resolve your issues? If so, how much will it cost?
Right-Sizing Your Support
The prospect of building a network-maintenance strategy that’s transparent until you need it is one reason many businesses choose a third party. But you must decide whether paying a premium for OEM support is the best decision for your company.
Network-borne threats are more prevalent than ever, and sometimes the only way to mitigate vulnerabilities as quickly as possible is to be in touch with your OEM. Occasionally, right-sizing your support isn’t the best option. One-size-fits-all approaches have some benefits, if you can afford them.
Making the Right Choice
Neither option is perfect. The additional costs that come with an OEM vendor are considerable. OEMs would tell you that money is going towards quality, and third-party services would say they can offer the same support—or better—for less money by streamlining processes and operating more efficiently.
Only an OEM can fully understand the intricacies of the solutions they’ve developed. If you end up in a one-off situation, your OEM could be your only chance to resolve it. You may never face that situation, or the cost associated with mitigating the problem may be more substantial than the cost of spinning an entirely new solution.
Were this situation not the case, third-party services that allow you to build a custom solution and expand it with your business, on your terms, wouldn’t be on the cutting edge of network support. For many companies, betting against a catastrophic situation has led to considerable savings.
It’s a little like the stock market. Your investment decisions must be informed by your appetite for risk. Most young, healthy companies have a high risk appetite and can go with the third-party solution. A mature company with much more to lose has less appetite for risk, so the higher costs of OEM support become justifiable.
But not every investor is the same, and a given company has no perfect solution. Part of the decision is simply which option makes you more comfortable. Choose wisely; your future depends on it.
About the Author
Kayla Matthews is a technology writer and reporter, contributing to websites like VentureBeat, VICE, MakeUseOf and TechnoBuffalo. Visit ProductivityBytes.com to read more recent posts by Kayla.