In each column, The Support Authority discusses resources, tools, and other elements of IBM® Technical Support that are available for WebSphere® products, plus techniques and new ideas that can further enhance your IBM support experience.
This just in...
As always, we begin with some new items of interest for the WebSphere community at large:
- Are you ready for IMPACT 2010? Register early and save on registration fees and hotel accommodations. IMPACT 2010 is the premier conference for business and IT leaders. Join us in Las Vegas, May 2 through 7, and learn to work smarter from the most experienced business and technology leaders in the world.
- Have you tried the IBM Support Portal yet? All IBM software products are now included, and all software product support pages have been replaced by IBM Support Portal. See the Support Authority's Introduction to the new IBM Support Portal for details. Be sure to let us know what you think by sending your comments and suggestions to email@example.com.
- Catch the replays of the January Electronic Support Webcast series at the Global WebSphere Community at websphereusergroup.org.
- There are several exciting webcasts planned in March at the WebSphere Technical Exchange. Check the site for details and become a fan on Facebook!
Continue to monitor the various support-related Web sites, as well as this column, for news about other tools as we encounter them.
And now, on to our main topic...
Proactively reduce the impact of support issues in your environment
Previous installments of The Support Authority have presented information on a variety of tools and resources that IBM provides to help you maintain and troubleshoot systems that are based on WebSphere products. These resources can generally be divided into three broad categories.
- Self-help services: If you prefer to troubleshoot problems without any direct interaction with IBM, a great deal of information is readily available and accessible on the Web (through eSupport), as are tools that you can run, such as those available in the IBM Support Assistant. (All IBM software products are now included in the IBM Support Portal)
- Traditional support: In this mode, you collaborate with IBM Support specialists to resolve problems and answer questions. This service is typically provided as a standard component of your organization’s purchase of IBM software products (for example, through Passport Advantage). Problems are handled by a group of experienced support specialists, generally in the order in which that they are received, subject to prioritization according to severity. In Figure 1, mainframe support refers to programs offered by some IBM mainframe software products as an alternative to, or in addition to, Software Maintenance (SWMA) agreements.
- IBM Software Accelerated Value Program: This customized service provides an integrated set of proactive support services across all of IBM Software Group that complements your existing Passport Advantage support. It provides priority call handling and a personalized relationship with the IBM Support organization through a designated Accelerated Value Leader or Accelerated Value Specialist who becomes familiar with your specific environment and concerns, and can provide assistance both proactively and reactively when a problem occurs. The Accelerated Value Program is available worldwide at an additional fee.
This article offers an overview of the various aspects of the IBM Software Accelerated Value Program (hereafter referred to as the Accelerated Value Program) to help you understand how this level of support can benefit your environment.
Highlights and features
The Accelerated Value Program delivers a proactive, cost-reducing, and productivity-enhancing advisory service. The program pairs you with an Accelerated Value team who builds a foundational understanding of your overall environment. The Accelerated Value team and client partnership facilitates faster deployment, lifecycle leadership, risk mitigation, and more.
Your contract is customized to specifically meet your needs and price point by creating a combination of services, including remote or on-site assistance, best practice sharing, skill building activities, and diagnostic coaching. Ultimately, the Accelerated Value Program enables you to derive maximum business value from your successfully deployed IBM software with proven, quantifiable results by delivering these services and features:
- An Accelerated Value Leader helps with situation management, reporting, strategic advice, planning, and proactive support and problem management.
- An Accelerated Value Specialist provides deep technical skills, risk mitigation planning, critical fix advice, and assists with problem determination and diagnostic coaching.
- On-site assistance activities can include application review for adherence to best practices, performance improvements, deployment guidance, migration, or software upgrades.
- Emergency on-site assistance is available in the event of a critical (severity 1) issue. IBM makes every effort to dispatch an engineer to your site within an expedited time period.
- First access to technical information before being made publicly available.
- Certification exam vouchers for named callers.
- Knowledge sharing activities based on topics of your choosing.
- An Executive Sponsor is a senior member of IBM’s worldwide support team assigned to assist you so that you receive the highest return on your software investment.
- A Delivery Plan document between you and the Accelerated Value team communicating client priorities and needs for the coming year.
- A Quarterly Report that articulates the value and benefits derived from the Accelerated Value Program during the previous quarter.
The majority of the value that is realized from the Accelerated Value Program is delivered by the Accelerated Value Leaders and Accelerated Value Specialists, who work as single point of contacts between you and IBM.
- The Accelerated Value Leader (AVL) is responsible for ensuring that you receive
a higher level of service and added value when using your licensing software from IBM.
The AVL has a close working relationship with your team and plays an integral role in
helping you determine the overall lifecycle of your IBM software implementation.
The primary goal of the AVL is to provide proactive assistance to help you sustain and optimize your IBM software infrastructure. The AVL is your primary point of contact on behalf of IBM Support and coordinates the delivery of proactive support, skill sharing activities, and problem management.
- The Accelerated Value Specialist (AVS) is responsible for providing you
with the highest level of remote or on-site technical direction for specific
supported products. This includes initiatives such as diagnostic
coaching, and defect and non-defect problem resolution assistance.
The primary goal of the AVS is to provide the ongoing technical expertise that is required to avoid potential problems or mitigate the impact of reported issues. The AVS is assigned for a specific area of technology and has direct interaction with a subset of Named Callers, as designated by client. The AVS provides direct support or assistance with technical queries from clients and field personnel.
Each Accelerated Value Program contract is customized for a client's needs, enabling clients to choose the level of service that is best for their businesses. The program is categorized into three levels of service:
- Strategic level
At this top level, IBM assigns an on-site dedicated AVL or AVS (or both), who will coordinate and manage your relationship with IBM Support. This person interacts on a daily basis as a member of the team supporting specific applications and products that drive your business. The AVL or AVS takes work direction from the client, regarding Accelerated Value Program deliverables and setting priorities for support work performed. The AVL or AVS coordinates delivery of proactive technical product support, knowledge sharing activities, best practice applications, and, most importantly, executive sponsorship.
In summary: This level of the Accelerated Value Program provides a combination of AVL plus product AVSs, both on-site and remote resources, and Priority Call Handling.
- Analyst level
At this intermediate level, IBM assigns a remote AVL or AVS (or both) that works with multiple customers. You can purchase on-site days in which the AVL or AVS will travel on-site to, for example, attend planning sessions, perform tools education, or to assist with a major migration. The specific activities are customized and tailored for your support needs and what is most critical for your environment.
In summary: This level of the Accelerated Value Program provides a combination of remote resources across software products purchased across IBM brands, and includes Priority Call Handling.
- Assist level
This fundamental level provides an AVL only, who is assigned to work with you and to coordinate and manage your relationship with IBM Support. Typically at this level, the assigned AVL works remotely and works with multiple customers in parallel. Your AVL can provide product knowledge, but serves primarily as a focal point for all of the software products within your contract.
In summary: This level of the Accelerated Value Program is delivered by the AVL remotely for one or more IBM software brand products, and includes Priority Call Handling. AVS resources are not available at this level.
What the Accelerated Value Program can do for you
The core of Accelerated Value Program is your relationship with an AVL or AVS. Here are some key activities with which they can assist you:
- Planning and technical preparation
When the AVL or AVS meets you for the first time, they can identify skill gaps for your key technical contacts, advise on training and education plans, and validate product deployment plans. Obtaining this deep technical information is a valuable cient benefit.
- Initial deployment
The AVL or AVS can provide guidance on a new product deployment or even on a scheduled (or unscheduled) maintenance update. The AVL or AVS becomes an extension of the your team and functions in a project management role as well as a technical role, researching interoperability issues and providing configuration assistance.
- Growth and capacity planning
With the ability to reach into the IBM development and test organizations, your AVL or AVS works with you to investigate architectures and research best practices and tuning recommendations. The first and foremost function of each AVL or AVS is to help with problem avoidance. This is achieved through activities such as advance communication of security information, identification of pervasive issues, and product flashes.
- Operational status
The AVL or AVS can provide weekly, monthly, or quarterly reports to your staff and management, including trend analysis and PMR reports. They can collaborate with your IBM Account Team to ensure synergy with all IBM employees assigned to your account. An AVL or AVS can also assist in managing critical situations including coordination among multiple IBM software brands.
- Upgrades and changes
Before any upgrade, an AVL or AVS can research the benefits of a new release, and coordinate (or provide) training on any new features and functionality. Feature request research and beta offering nominations are other support services they can provide.
Working with the Accelerated Value Program
Now that you now know the basics of the Accelerated Value Program, here are some of the day-to-day aspects of the program agreement that will help you make the most of your IBM Software:
Your AVL or AVS is your focal point for all the services you get through your Accelerated Value Program contract, so a good line of communication with him or her is very important. During your Accelerated Value Program kickoff, you must determine how you will stay in touch with your AVL or AVS. This could include:
- Regular phone calls (typically weekly or bi-weekly) to keep everyone informed of what’s going on, emerging issues, changes of plans, and so on.
- Regular on-site visits by your AVL or AVS (typically, quarterly), which are invaluable to strengthen the relationship, and to provide an opportunity for in-depth discussions and informal sharing of information that might not occur in a simple phone call.
- Priority Call Handling
Provides priority for PMRs opened by clients with products covered by the Accelerated Value Program. Under normal conditions, these PMRs will be worked first by experienced L2 product support teams. PMRs opened by a client using a Premium ICN qualifies them for this additional consideration. Priority Call Handling is included with AVL and AVS services, but is not available as a standalone service
- Named callers
Your Accelerated Value Program contract is based on a list of named callers, which is a list of specific people in your organization who are empowered to engage IBM. This list is critical to IBM, but also to you so that you can keep track of who in your organization has the authority to perform various actions, such as prioritizing outstanding support issues and responding to suggestions from IBM Support. It is critical to keep the list current and accurate, being sure to also:
- Ensure that a sufficient number of people are designated as named callers. Should a situation occur off-hours or when the primary persons are unavailable, someone should be able to engage IBM and represent your organization with authority.
- Communicate effectively between you and the AVL or AVS. Optimal communication occurs when you designate a small number of individuals to serve as focal points. If there are many designated named callers, it is important that they all remain reasonably current in all the ongoing discussions and activities involving the Accelerated Value Program to avoid any potential confusion. Ideally, the named callers will attend most of the regularly scheduled communication with the AVL or AVS, or at least stay in the loop through the dissemination of status reports.
- Assign one or two individuals to manage the named caller list. Although IBM maintains the list of named callers, you should minimize the managers in your organization who will be designated to add and remove names from that list. It is important that these individuals remain readily available and known to all, especially if new names need to be added quickly to react to a changing business situation.
To supplement the regular and semi-formal sharing of information through phone calls and on-site presence or visits, it is also very useful to create and maintain more formal documentation to help keep everyone up to date and save time at the beginning of a new project. Your AVL or AVS will work with you to create and regularly update documents, including:
- System diagrams that describe the current architecture of your systems and applications.
- An outline of all expected changes to your environment for the foreseeable future, such as new application deployments, planned software upgrades and migrations, expected changes in load and usage patterns, and so on.
The value of these documents naturally depends on how current they are. Rather than saving time and effort, an obsolete document can waste it. Your AVL or AVS will help you keep these documents current; the periodic on-site visits might be a good opportunity to do so.
- Being proactive
The Accelerated Value Program provides you with an opportunity to be proactive, as we can help you anticipate potential problems before they occur. Be sure to take full advantage of:
- Project discussions, reviews, and changes to your environment with your AVL or AVS as early as possible, and as frequently as needed.
- Regular maintenance planning, including necessary upgrades to key software components. Such maintenance is necessary for the healthy long term operation of any sophisticated software environment, and performing it on a pre-planned and well-chosen schedule will typically be much less expensive than performing it purely re-actively, after problems develop.
- Education opportunities that can often help you avoid bigger headaches in the future! Your AVL or AVS will identify areas where your staff might benefit from additional education, and coordinate education delivery via various IBM resources. Keep in mind that not all education is expensive, nor does it necessarily require a large time commitment. In particular, the IBM Education Assistant facilities are designed to provide free education resources in small modules that can be consumed independently in a few hours.
- Emergency response planning by working with your AVL or AVS to plan the most effective response for when and if an unexpected problem occurs.
- New information, problem reports, alerts, and so on, that are regularly published by IBM Support and that might affect your environment. Your AVL or AVS provides special e-mails and other direct communication during your regular meetings, whenever appropriate.
- Working on PMRs
On occasion, you might work on problems handled through IBM Support’s PMR system. How does this work with the Accelerated Value Program?
- You can (although you don’t have to) go directly through your AVL or AVS to open a new PMR. If you open a PMR through other channels (for example, through a phone call to IBM Support or through the Web site), your AVL or AVS will be automatically notified and get involved when appropriate.
- You should, however, take special care to keep your AVL or AVS in the loop if you communicate directly with other representatives of IBM Support (for example, L2 Support Engineers) in the process of investigating a PMR. For example, if you are exchanging e-mail with IBM Support, try to always keep your AVL or AVS copied on the messages. Your AVL or AVS will regularly communicate with other IBM Support representatives to track the progress of your PMR, but keeping all parties in touch can greatly simplify and accelerate the process.
- Don’t forget that, even with all the special assistance that the Accelerated Value Program provides, the process of investigating and resolving complex issues remains a collaborative process between you and IBM Support. We need your help and prompt response to collect diagnostics and implement solutions on your systems, and we need your feedback to verify when the problem is resolved and determine if you are satisfied. Communication here is key as well.
- On-site incident response
Depending on the specifics of your contract, you might have arrangements in place to have your AVL or AVS come on-site specifically to help resolve an unexpected situation. Keep in mind that:
- The value of advance planning and being proactive cannot be stressed enough. The earlier we can anticipate that a problem might occur and that a special on-site response might be required, the more effectively we can organize that response and arrange to have the best skills available and prepared.
- As with less acute PMRs that are being investigated remotely, don’t forget that your AVL or AVS will need your active support and participation when on-site. Although your AVL or AVS can effectively act as an extension of your staff when working with the rest of IBM Support, he or she cannot entirely substitute for your staff at your site.
- Leveraging self-help tools
Working with your AVL or AVS is a major benefit of the Accelerated Value Program relationship. But even so, as many clients remind us, some things can be done even faster if you can do them yourself. For this purpose, IBM Support is expanding the array of tools and resources that help you help yourself. Many of these resources have been discussed in previous installments of this column, and your AVL or AVS can help you learn more about them. Consider in particular:
- When your AVL or AVS is unavailable
Your AVL or AVS is your primary line of communication, but what happens when he or she is on vacation or otherwise unavailable?
- Since good communication can help avert many problems, you and your AVL or AVS should regularly be discussing your needs and upcoming events, and make sure that everyone has the same expectations.
- If you are located in a different time zone, or have some teams in your organization that are located in a different time zone than your AVL or AVS, be sure to discuss this fact when making your initial communications plans. Your AVL or AVS might be able to make arrangements to be available at times other than the normal business hours, if this is when you are most likely to need assistance.
- Although your AVL or AVS is your best line of contact, he or she is not the only one. Even with the Accelerated Value Program, you can still contact IBM Support through other channels (on the phone or on the Web). Your request will be handled appropriately to your Accelerated Value Program status, and your AVL or AVS will be notified as soon as possible or necessary.
- Your AVL or AVS will always have a designated backup if he or she cannot be available for any period of time.
Here are a few real-life situations that illustrate how the Accelerated Value Program can be beneficial:
- Challenge: An Accelerated Value Program client upgrades their Application Interface Layer (AIL) twice a year, which includes the WebSphere Process Server product. The actual upgrade process consists of two steps:
- Upgrade existing systems and applications.
- Validate the upgrade using some level of predetermined testing.
The aggressive timeline for development and deployment of services and functions from all departments puts an incredible strain on the testing that is required to make sure all parties are ready. Some development, driven by business directive, is rushed to deployment, lacking detail in architecture design, functionality, and testing.
- Solution: The Accelerated Value Program engaged with the client after an unsuccessful upgrade. By analyzing the situation and beginning to track a task list of activities coordinated between the client and IBM, the Accelerated Value Program ensured that the client's next scheduled upgrade would be successful. These tasks included noting and implementing process improvements, providing technical talks, performing on-site engagements, and expediting problem resolution with IBM Support teams.
- Benefit: The Accelerated Value Program provided daily executive summaries to the client and IBM executives and management teams to track their progress for the next upgrade of AIL and WebSphere Process Server. To prepare for the upgrade, the Accelerated Value Program arranged and managed the on-site presence of technical skills and resources. As a result of the proactive planning and management, the client’s next upgrade was a great success.
- Moving forward: The Accelerated Value Program continuously works with the client to implement these action items to improve their upgrade process:
- Validate readiness of procedure to perform integrated test runs.
- Prepare a viable back out plan; remedy the fact that once the process begins, there is no turning back.
- Increase education and train more staff members to cover the workload.
- Automate all tasks and procedures possible.
- Challenge: A diversified worldwide company had WebSphere Application Server V5.1, with an existing vendor application that worked on one JDK version but failed on another. As a result, the JVM would crash after several minutes of testing with simulated load. The vendor had made several changes to the code hoping to alleviate the crash. This deployment was severely impacted to the point that it was escalated to the executive level.
- Solution: The AVL successfully engaged WebSphere Application Server support engineers, and encouraged the development team to proactively look beyond the IBM product and look for what symptoms caused the failure. With continuous around-the-clock efforts, the development team was able to determine the root cause of the failure and to provide alternatives to the client, as well as provide recommendations for code improvement to alleviate the problem to the application vendor.
- Benefit: The AVL immediately engaged the support engineers, notified their management of the escalating situation, led conference calls with IBM support and development teams to determine the differences in the JDKs, attended internal client calls, and communicated IBM updates to their senior management.
- Moving forward: Today, the Accelerated Value Program continues to work closely with the client. The AVL highlighted several items to improve client success in future application releases:
- Encouraged client to improve application testing.
- Provide alternative testing scenarios; for example, test JDK standalone.
- Encouraged frequent application code reviews with vendors, including IBM.
- Advise the client to review all JDK updates to become more knowledgeable of JDK literature and education, and to attend any additional education provided.
How to get Accelerated Value
To become eligible for the Accelerated Value Program, you must have a regular support agreement through Passport Advantage. Inquire about the Accelerated Value Program through your IBM Account Team, or simply email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Accelerated Value Program offers coverage for all IBM Software brands (Lotus®, Information Management, Rational®, Tivoli®, and WebSphere). To maximize the value of your IBM software investment, it is suggested that you include all software brands in your Accelerated Value Program contract. See the Accelerated Value Program Web site for more information.
This article offered a glimpse at the IBM Software Accelerated Value Program offered by IBM for all software products. The Accelerated Value Program augments the regular support services available when you purchase an IBM software product with a more personalized and focused set of services and resources. If you find that you have a special environment or special application requirements for which you often need to go beyond IBM Support self-help resources or traditional technical support, you might consider upgrading to the Accelerated Value Program.
The authors thank Vicki Johnson, Russell Wright, and Dan Julin for their advice and patient reviews of this article, James Kochuba for starting the idea of this article and getting things in motion, and Shawn J Burns and Tamiko Watts for the client success stories they generously provided.
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