When starting a new software project, it is often very easy to get caught up in the exciting world that is development. It is important to ensure you are keeping your eye on the finish line and more importantly, what happens after your project exits development.
In this article, we will explore the world of software support, the different kinds of support available and some of the considerations you should make when budgeting for supporting your custom software development projects. We have previously mentioned the ongoing operational expenses associated with software projects. This article dives deeper into support costs and more specifically, different support models.
The different types of support
Software support, according to the BusinessDictionary, is defined as "after-sales service provided by a software publisher or vendor in solving software conflicts and usability problems, and in supplying updates and patches for bugs and security holes in the software." People can often get confused between that definition and end-user support. End-user support is providing help for customers utilising the application on features of the application. This is an important distinction to make, as it is often easy to get the two confused.
A company like Salesforce, that are both the developer and supplier of their software solution will usually offer both types of support to their customers, as they have the in-house developers for dealing with software support issues and customer service representatives to handle the end-user support. However, in the world of bespoke and custom software development, one organisation will usually provide software support and another company will provide end user support. For example, you build a new learning platform using a custom software development company. That company may provide the technical software support while you provide end-user support for your clients. In this article, we will specifically be referring to software support, not end-user support.
Software support models
Not all support is created equal. Not only are there different support service levels but there are a number of different ways support can be offered.
Fixed cost model
The most common and traditional approach to support is usually referred to as fixed-cost support. It is offered as multiple levels or tiers of support. For example, basic, standard and dedicated are common support tiers. Each level of support may come with its list of features such as; standard response times, service levels, how many requests can be made, access hours and prioritisation classifications.
This type of support mechanism can work well for some organisations, especially those who require high-availability and expect to utilise the support often. Despite this, there are some key drawbacks. The most apparent is the costing structure. This support will usually come in the form of a fixed monthly fee depending on the level of support you are on and can often be quite expensive. There is also the possibility that some months you may never even have to utilise the support, so in effect, are paying a fee for no service.
Pay as you go support
There is another kind of software support offering and is one of the models offered by WorkingMouse. Pay-as-you-go support differs from the traditional approach by drastically lowering the fixed monthly support costs. Instead, clients only pay for when they actually require support.
Using WorkingMouse as an example, we charge a low flat monthly or annual fee and strip away cost prohibitive factors such as response times and service levels but provide you with unlimited 2 hour timeboxes to rectify issues. If the issue can't be resolved in that time, then you have the option to have the support team continue work on a time and materials basis. This creates a more flexible and scalable support solution that puts you in full control over your usage of support and budget.
Budgeting for software support
So you've decided which support model is right for you but now comes the task of budgeting for supporting your software. Regardless of which model you have decided works best for you, our experience in software development and the research on software application maintenance has taught us at a minimum, you should allocate 15-20% of the cost of your software solution to operational support each year.
For example, if you spend $100,000 on building a custom software solution, as part of your budgeting, you should set aside $20,000 per annum to support the application. If you were to use the pay-as-you-go support model, this doesn't necessarily mean you will be spending $20,000 for support as there is no large fixed-cost, but that should be budgeted to use on time and materials tickets as required.