Legal matters may not matter for volunteers
Manufacturing Options for a 3000 Future

Support firm hires engineers off HP's rolls

Print-Exclusive The countdown to an HP-free 3000 environment came and went on Dec. 31 with little anxiety among customers compared to the Y2K deadline. The calm transition took place because many customers have already moved to independent support, taking a cue from HP's own exit of US support facilities and engineering staffers.

    The independents are marking wins in the sector, according to Raul Guerra, VP of marketing at provider SourceDirect. 3000 customers are moving, Guerra reports, even while HP is trying to retain sites for support around the country.

    "We encourage customers to take a look at what they're getting for what they're paying," he said. "The underlying fact of the matter is that the equipment is so robust. With very low-level maintenance, they start assessing what they're paying. They're looking for alternatives."

    In a field that seems to get busier by the month, suppliers are trying to find ways to stand out. SourceDirect, based in Dallas with offices around the US, likes to point to parts availability. Its marketing VP Raul Guerra says that local sourcing makes a difference in response time.

    But even as the company works to make itself unique, its aim is to emulate HP service -- of the classic years. Not the current levels of support, which Guerra describes as delivered by "people whose heart are in the right place, trying to do the right thing by the customer — but find the obstacles insurmountable at this point." Contract administration, offshore diagnosis of problems before dispatch of HP technicians, each is contributing to the marked decline in customer satisfaction, he adds. 

   SourceDirect says it counts on about 20 percent of its HP business coming from the 3000 market, accounts it services with "100 percent former HP employees." When HP closed down its West Coast call center, SourceDirect hired from that pool, Guerra says, adding employees with 20 years experience and more to its staff. These engineers are what he called "lightly loaded, with no more than 12-15 accounts per engineer." That's a different mindset, he says, than HP's load on support engineers.

    There's also an assessment of complexity in the customer's shop. Some are candidates for what SourceDirect calls in-house services, covering commands, backup help, and standard operations. The more complex installations get access to another tier of support partners working with SourceDirect, such as Paul Edwards & Associates or Beechglen. "We can backfill with a partner after first- or second-level calls, to get to that level of expertise," Guerra says. Independents of all stripes, he adds, "are on the streets now who know as much or more as anyone left in HP anymore."

    "We maintain 100 percent local parts stocking, just to make sure that if a ribbon cable or backplane should fail they're not going to have to wait days for a part to come in." CPU boards would be the most sensitive of parts to stock, and the company uses local HP services to flash a board with fresh HPSUSAN numbers when a replacement is necessary. 

   These services are impacted by HP's Time & Materials costs for its engineering, but that's a constant that the market's support companies face in equal measure — at least those that use HP for the CPU work. Guerra adds that the increases in T&M costs have been incremental and fairly small over recent years. 

   Robust equipment at 3000 sites makes entry-level support costs a fraction of HP's. "When I was an HP SE I used to visit accounts where they hadn't rebooted the system in 4, 5, even 7 years," Guerra said.

    HP was once in the preventative maintenance business, but that former offering is still in the SourceDirect stable. Customers can sign on for a regular on-site visit to check the health of the 3000's robust hardware. Errors in memory, disk or IO errors get checked, along with system logs. Guerra adds that the engineers are sometimes "literally on hands and knees, vacuuming out cabinets."

    The pattern that's serving SourceDirect, the VP adds, is to put these experts on-site instead of passing the "feet on the street" knowledge from a hub engineer out to spokes of less-experienced technicians. "They're looking for anything on a proactive basis."

    It's a good time to point out the differences between HP's former support levels and its current staffing, especially in the 3000 practice. A former Atlanta-based call center is now staffed out of Costa Rica, Guerra says, and he adds that HP's support teams which once practiced in California out of the old Mayfield Mall have been moved out of the US, too.