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March - 2007 - issue > Company Profile
Tiding-over-tech-hurdles
Vidya Balakrishnan
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Calling out to all gizmo lovers. Stored away in labs worth millions are the latest international technology products and gadgets. From over 600 products in the consumer technology space to high end laboratory equipments (many not found elsewhere in India), complex networking labs set up by Alcatel, Linux for the enterprise and Open Source front, these electronic wonders are sure to get any true techie’s pulse racing. Moreover, you get your hands on these products before they hit the market and are allowed to dissect them and suggest remedies for their shortcomings. Now imagine doing all this for a career!

Precisely what 4000 odd engineers are working on in a state-of-art office tucked away in Chennai, inside India’s first specialized technical support company: SlashSupport. If you raised your eyebrows at the word ‘technical support’, you are not alone. “We are not a call center,” emphasizes Shiva Ramani, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, to clear any such misinterpretations about the work carried out in the organization. “We do only tech support and we ensure its top notch.”

Headquartered in San Jose, California and spread over seven global centers, SlashSupport handles nearly 15 million requests a year (35,000 inbound requests a day as per 2006), servicing an impressive suite of international clientele over consumer technology, enterprise technology and Open Source space. They assist customers, either individuals or corporations, in resolving technical hitches experienced while using certain products.

Consumer tech support occupies the largest chunk of business—nearly 65 percent—handling technologies including networking base, VoIP, broadband and usually deals with less complex incidents like troubleshooting or setting the broadband right. Enterprise application and on the other hand, handle the more advanced EAP ((, IMS (Infrastructure Management System) or technology driven products like virtualization software and higher end networking & telecom solutions.

The Indian market is now understanding tech support domain better, explains Ramani adding that they are not into developing technology but helping technology run its course. “Developing technology is inspiring, but making that technology work is even more challenging,” he says.

For instance, the challenge: A huge enterprise connecting thousands and thousands of systems has poor latency or is hacked or have improper servers. These huge enterprises could be at the NASA, or the Government or any large multinational corporation. They would require highly advanced support and technical expertise for resolution that in turn would require a breed of highly talented engineers. It is here that the team at SlashSupport works their magic and helps support and resolves such an issue.

“The work and challenges we provide need technical expertise and pose as highly stimulating to the engineers,” says Ramani, explaining why the company is on the prowl for talented engineers. Currently, 85 percent of the workforce is engineers. While everybody hired is a science graduate versed in computers, the enterprise technology demands experienced professionals in the technical domain. These could be technicians, switch and router experts or networking engineers with no less than three years of experience.

In addition to this, the company has clients spread over various sectors making the product line it caters to highly widespread. “There are two types of engineers,” observes Mani, “one who wants to be a developer and another emerging breed of young engineers who want work with the latest technologies.” He opines that developers usually work and innovate on one particular domain—some developers working on COBOL and MAINFRAME for decades—whereas at SlashSupport an engineer would get to work and examine the emerging technologies and more importantly be client facing and have the chance to see how the technology work in multiple end-customer scenarios. The kind of training provided here covers all theses areas, making each engineer very flexible and equipping them with a bird’s eye view.

Even in the tech-support domain, the company promises unique flexibility. For instance a tech support engineer at a captive tech support center would have access to latest products only within company’s product domain – while in SlashSupport you get both depth and the breadth of products. This flexibility has worked its charm, as now the company has no trouble attracting talent.

While a fresher would start with consumer applications, an experienced engineer would directly move on to handling enterprise technology. The labs worth $4 million (Rs. 17.6 crores) set in common investments with the clients (Alcatel, Sun) helps the organization train these engineers in real-time situations. Every single project, which the client has launched or is about to launch, is ready in the lab. So an engineer or a tech support personnel has the physical product in mind.

Working amidst these many products, there is bound to be a flutter of ideas and innovative streaks and SlashSupport has ensured this is given ample growing space. Set up under the programme called the Knowledge Engineering Report (KER), every engineer can collate his/her data after a month of requests and note the common problematic areas. These areas can then be further classified on the cause and the result takes many forms: New “how to” entries in the clients support site, changes in product installation/manual, creation of self-help / self fix tools and more.

The team gets to test these products and note if they are launch-able in a tech support environment. Here the team gets accustomed to the functioning of the product and also identify bugs on the systems ahead of time. Not to be mistaken for Quality testing, the results of these tests play a role in the eventual outcome of the product, thereby shouldering a great responsibility on the tech team. This demands the engineers to remain on their toes while allowing them to contribute to the betterment of the product. This knowledge centric approach allows the company to add value by suggesting how they can improve their products/service and customer satisfaction to the technology creators. “We have moved a long way from being a transaction oriented contact center to transformation enabling support center,” says Ramani.

This engineer driven community survives on the people who get a thrill from solving technical problems. With increased dependence of technology by large organizations and households getting more tech savvy, for such tech support teams have become essential. While fresh engineers are likely to feel technology creation is the plum job, Ramani rallies to differ. In fact, he believes tech support is much harder than developing a product as the former helps deliver the true vision of the product to the end users by utilization of the technology in the right way.

The journey that began from being among the first companies to provide tech support to enterprise technology companies has seen a multifold growth in the contact center territory in the last eight years. Ramani believes most organizations today allocate 30 percent of their annual budget for new technical products whereas 70 percent goes towards maintenance of its existing technology. As enterprises depend on IT infrastructure 24x7 to deliver its services, IT systems are turning out to be the most important asset. Hence its availability, reliability, security and scalability are of paramount importance. “Logically, it presents very bright future beckoning engineers into tech support,” he concludes. And SlashSupport too is beckoning; inviting all those who would like to help technology work, the right way.

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