On-premise to SaaS transition — the support engineer’s journey

Many thanks to Alex Khatis for suggesting this topic.

This blog has offered many discussions of the transition from on-premise software to SaaS from the perspective of the organization — but never from the point of view of the individual support engineer or manager. What should individuals do to advance their careers and  increase job security? And how can we managers help them?

  1. The future is EaaS (“everything” as a service). If you are still grumbling against the EaaS crazies from the back of the classroom, stop. You are not making friends and you will be seen as a dinosaur, and a dangerous one at that: career killer. You can choose to stay where you are (point #2) or seek your fortune with EaaS (point #3), but accept that EaaS is here to stay. 
  2. On-premise is not dead. Many customers with large investments in on-premise solutions (and not a small amount of concern about the reliability and confidentiality of EaaS) will choose to stay with on-premise for years, and vendors will be happy to oblige them, racking in the support revenue (and upping the rates for “extended” support while delivering few if any product improvements). These customers will need support, so jobs are not going away. On the positive side, expect a cosier relationship with customers as the customer base shrinks, and no more big-bang releases with more bugs than new features.
    On the other hand, accept that exciting technical changes will occur on the EaaS products, not yours, and that strategic support decisions will be governed by the needs of the EaaS community rather than yours. Expect that resources will be tight, both on the support team and on the engineering side. IT may be difficult to obtain bug fixes, although you may get an opportunity to get into the bug-fixing business yourself. And if you should seek new employment, your profile as an on-premise support engineer may look a little dated.
  3. Your on-prem experience is precious for EaaS. Customers are customers, regardless of how they consume the product, and most of the experience you have gained as a support engineer or as a support manager applies to the EaaS world. We still need people who can empathize with a customer’s problems; we still need skilled troubleshooters; we still need crisis management teams. And we still need managers to hire solid empathizers, troubleshooters, and crisis managers. We still need managers to design effective support processes (which look very similar to the ones used for on-premise products, for the most part). And we still need managers to drive high performance in interrupt-driven environments.

How can you achieve a successful personal transition to EaaS? It’s easiest if you can do it in your current environment since you will likely be given lots of training and coaching opportunities to switch, but skills transfer surprisingly well:

  • Learn the EaaS product. That’s the easy part since you undoubtedly have lots of experience learning new products.
  • Learn about best practices of your industry. You will likely no longer support IT teams, but instead accountants, nurses, or marketing managers who are not necessarily knowledgeable or interested in the technical side of the product. So you need to learn something about their world.
  • Consider a technical backline position. In many EaaS support organizations, the frontline support team works with the practitioners, but there is some kind of backline group that works on the more technically challenging problems. That could be a great fit if you are a highly-technical on-premise support engineer.
  • Embrace the new ways of EaaS. Yes, communities are great ways to deliver support. Chat is a wonderful intake mechanism for the simpler how-to questions that EaaS users may have. Onboarding new customers is a necessity. Customer Success Managers do matter for retention. Don’t pine for the good old days: get to know the new approach.
  • Consider sideways moves. Are you a named support engineer or a technical account manager? You could move to a CSM position. ( Support managers make great CSMs, too). Do you enjoy the deep technical side of things? Consider switching to an implementation job (not so much travel now that everything is virtual). Are you falling in love with all the self-service options? You could become the self-service owner.
  • Enjoy the benefits of EaaS support for the support team. Some of my clients have daily releases (yes, they can cause whiplash, but imagine bug fixes turned around in a day…) There is someone making sure that every customer is trained right from the start (heaven!) Usability is rightly seen as a standard product feature, as it should be. The feedback loop of customer success helps feature requests be associated with revenue dollars. It’s pretty sweet.


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