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Q & A with Roy Aho, Director, IBM Developer Relations Technical Services and Support

  • November 20, 2003
  • By Lakshmi Ananthamurthy
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Q. Give us a brief idea of the different support offerings from IBM and the product lines supported.

A. Technical support is inherent in everything we do at IBM. We want developers, customers and partners to feel comfortable with our technology, to know we stand behind whatever technology we offer, and to know they have access to our worldwide technical talent when they need it. As a result we provide technical support across the technology life cycle: we help customers and business partners determine what technology is right for their business needs; we help with deployment, and we provide ongoing support across all our product lines once IT systems are in place. The support can range from self-service available on the IBM developerWorks web site which reaches nearly 3 million developers, to the programmer-to-programmer support provided to members of PartnerWorld, IBM's business partner program.

Q. What are the support programs from IBM specifically for the developer community?

A. We believe in working at a developer-to developer level. And we take an integrated approach to technical support because 50 percent of the problems developers encounter are not specific to just one technology.

We offer a broad foundation of support to the developer community. Our IBM developerWorks Web site is a comprehensive resource for developers, open to everyone who logs on. There is a wealth of information on technology, open standards, Java, XML, Web services, as well as IBM products, such as DB2 and WebSphere. Developers are self-starters. They go to the site and get what they need. There are downloads and tutorials, tools and tips. They may use an online tutorial on Java, or get sample code for handling a certain programming problem, or get tips from other developers to learn a tool faster. They can tap into the expertise of both IBM's technical community and the broader technical community of industry experts.

There is also an entire support infrastructure for developers, who are members of PartnerWorld, IBM's partner program. These are benefits available only to partners that have a relationship with IBM, and include both technical and marketing support. For example, business partners have access to 19 technical support centers around the world known as Solution Partnership Centers.

And last but not least, we have a public website dedicated to emerging technology, called alphaWorks. Developers can download new technology and get information on the latest developments in IT from the alphaWorks site.

Q. What is the core value you offer IBM's customers?

A. The core value we offer developers is helping them be successful in their jobs which are demanding, complex and stressful. We assist developers in getting their applications deployed and enabled more quickly. The people on our support teams, who work with our customers and partners, have development experience, and understand the problems developers face everyday. They have experience working in our development labs, so are trained on our products before those products are released into the market. And as they work with developers and customers they funnel that feedback right back into our development labs so we can make further improvements and refinements in our technology.

Q. Walk us through a brief scenario of how the support team interacts with the product development team to forward feature requests and resolve issues.

A. At IBM both our support teams and our development teams are out there working directly with customers so they get feedback first hand. We want to know how customers use technology, interact with our products and what problems they face in the real world. When, for example, we are working on the next release of a product, we develop a list of new features and functions based on customer feedback, and then rank the level of importance of each item on the list based on the customers' viewpoints.

Our alphaWorks web site is also an effective way to learn how developers work with and react to emerging technology. We offer downloads and demos of new products at the site. There are discussion forums for the working developer which provide us with insightful feedback as they "kick the tires" on new products.

One recent effort to help work through an issue a partner was experiencing may give you a sense of how we work. The partner, an east coast provider of e-commerce solutions, was using IBM WebSphere Commerce and discovered some difficulties. We set up a duplicate environment, and tested the product under the same scenarios our partner was using in order to isolate the issue. We found the product worked as designed, but needed a small modification to handle this partner's unique set of needs. The modification was made, the partner is happy, and the modification is being considered for inclusion in a future release of the product

Q. Tell us a bit more about the Solution Partnership Centers.

A. The 19 Solution Partnership Centers worldwide offer both on-site and remote access to technical support, including porting, testing and enabling services. The remote access is via a secure virtual private network, so developers don't have to travel to access technical experts. These centers, in the U.S., Canada, South America, Western and Eastern Europe and Asia, are open exclusively to partners to help them deliver their solutions to market faster, and at a lower cost. The centers also offer more than 8,000 educational workshops and seminars each year to help developers build their skills, and learn best practices in their field.

Q. Do you have any special initiatives for providing support for users of IBM products running on Windows?

A: IBM products run on a multitude of operating systems, and we support our products in those environments. We believe in open standards and we build our products based on open standards so customers have the flexibility to choose whatever operating systems works best for them - whether it's Sun, HP, Windows, Linux or IBM or any other. For example, IBM DB2, our database product, runs on some 30 platforms, including Windows.

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