How To Support Cloud Applications

Support organizations and Internal help desks have been supporting user applications for decades. But cloud apps make for some new twists, here are some best practices that are the cornerstones of cloud system support.

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Get really good at deployment. As the world of cloud computing is relatively new, industrial-strength infrastructure is still on the way. Deployment is a combination of hand-crafted scripts and checklists, with details that seem to be always be evolving. Whether it's a bug patch or an Agile release cycle, the process needs to be repeatable, reliable, and as streamlined as possible.

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There must be a publicly-available information repository about cloud design, implementation, and deployment issues. No single cCloud vendor will provide this, so it's a DIY item. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the "what's what" must be documented both in the individual cloud applications and in a communal area. In addition to descriptive materials, the support team will need standard test cases, expected results, and work-arounds for known problem areas. Whether you use a Wiki, a set of Google docs, or shared folder — everyone should be able to read these docs, and everybody on the IT team should be able to update them in real time. Transparency matters — it's a cornerstone of collaborative problem solving. In case it isn't obvious, forget paper for these docs.

Support needs to be the consummate Agile function. Since things can go awry so quickly when there's a bug in your CRM configuration or data, the support team needs to work in fast scrums, with daily triage and prioritization meetings. It's a smart idea to have your sharpest QA person in on these meetings, as they can help troubleshoot and they'll have to plan for deploying the fix. A well-run 10-minute daily "stand up" meeting is a hard requirement, particularly if your internal support team is operating in more than one country.

Prioritization is everything. Since the worst support problems always seem to occur in clusters near business deadlines, the first order of business is to work on the few problems that really matter — and avoid the noise. In addition to the traditional priority and severity categories for bugs, use a pick-list for organizations impacted, a picklist for cloud systems affected, and a metric for number (or dollar volume) of orders that would require rework.

While some of these may represent new practices, they can typically be overlaid on an existing support organization. The trick is to become more responsive on the things that really matter — even when they're spread across several systems — without driving up costs.

David Taber is the author of the new Prentice Hall book, "Salesforce.com Secrets of Success" and is the CEO of SalesLogistix, a certified Salesforce.com consultancy focused on business process improvement through use of CRM systems. SalesLogistix clients are in North America, Europe, Israel, and India, and David has over 25 years experience in high tech, including 10 years at the VP level or above.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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