The Web-based tools, which will be announced within the next four to six weeks, are part of a broad plan to enhance IBM’s worldwide customer support and service infrastructure. The ultimate goal is to enable customers to more easily access support resources and resolve problems with IBM hardware, officials said last week during a briefing at the company’s HelpCenter technical support operations here.
The tools, which will be bundled on the company’s notebooks, desktops and servers and offered via its Web site, use logic to identify a customer’s system problem and recommend appropriate solutions. If the fixes involve software, such as BIOS updates, drivers or patches, they can be automatically downloaded to the customer’s system.
IBM’s moves are part of a trend among hardware and software vendors to reduce the time customers spend calling technical support lines. It’s a theme that resonates with many IT professionals.
“This could probably eliminate 80 percent of the support calls,” said Fred Erickson, director of technology and automation for Phoenix-based Avnet Computer Marketing Group, a division of Avnet Inc. “Certainly, in our notebook deployment, [Web-based support tools] would be a great vehicle for our users when they can’t get into our help desk.”
IBM’s new support tools will be tightly integrated with the HelpCenter’s Lotus Notes-based customer service database, called LENA (Leading Edge Network Application). The tools will tap into the database’s service history for each customer, along with a list of known problems associated with the customer’s system.
For instance, when a customer logs in to the HelpCenter’s Web site, his or her system and its specifications are automatically identified by serial number. The customer then types in the suspected problem using a customized search engine, and the database generates a list of recommended solutions.
“It takes it to the next stage where the system does the work for you,” said David Williams, vice president of marketing and support for IBM Personal Computer Co., in Somers, N.Y. “The tools help customers help themselves.”
As part of its Web-based tools development, IBM will offer an enhanced version of its Update Connector software designed for corporate notebooks and desktop PCs. Update Connector, which currently is available only on certain retail desktop PCs and IBM’s new ThinkPad 385D notebooks, lets users connect to the HelpCenter Web site, query the center’s database for a list of software updates for their specific machines and then download the necessary drivers and files.
IBM’s HelpCenter offers 7-by-24 support and has a 2,500-person staff that handles 600,000 calls per month at eight call centers worldwide. During the past two years, IBM has spent more than $250 million bolstering its worldwide support and service infrastructure as it seeks to lead the charge into new venues for support, such as the Web.
Other PC makers offer varying levels of Web-based support. Dell Computer Corp., for example, offers customers more than 35,000 pages of troubleshooting information via its Web site, where users also can download software upgrades, BIOS updates and drivers free of charge. In addition, the Round Rock, Texas, company offers a customer “premier” page in which customers can access Dell service and support team members’ phone numbers, E-mail addresses and pager numbers.
The Internet-based technical support services from Compaq Computer Corp., of Houston, enable users to post questions to support personnel, download software from an FTP site and access product and service information.
IBM’s new Web-based support tools
* New electronic support tools make it easier for users to access IBM’s HelpCenter Web site
* Once at the site, the tools enable users to query the IBM LENA (Leading Edge Network Application) database for problems.
* The tools diagnose problems and recommend solutions.
* A corporate version of IBM’s Update Connector software will be preloaded in IBM commercial notebooks and desktops. The software lets users automatically download updated BIOS and drivers from the HelpCenter.