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Is automation the future of software support, or a surefire fail?

By JenAtPCHelps ·
It sounds too easy: Click a button and your problem is solved.

That's because it is.

Tech publications have been abuzz lately about automated software support, due in part to Microsoft's soft launch of Fix-It in late 2008. The product, which is still in its early stages, promises uncomplicated, automated fixes for common Microsoft software issues.

It's a commendable effort. How much it helps the average corporate user, however, remains to be seen. In general, self-help software support does not work as well as assistance from an actual person. Knowledgebases are tech-jargon beasts, and make little sense to computer novices.

How many of your employees understand the importance of backing up the registry before poking around in it? (A bigger question: Do you really want your employees poking around in the registry?) And how many know that rebooting or clearing temporary files can resolve some common problems?

The result: The user will most likely spend too much time looking for his solution in a knowledgebase that's written for developers, IT support techs and so-called power users. That's a drain on productivity, and company money.

Self-help support also fails to anticipate future software snags, a practice known as "type 2" support. For example, if someone wants to parse data in Excel, the Text to Columns feature will work beautifully. But if an employee parses data from the same source every week, using Text to Columns each time is hardly streamlined. In this case, a software support tech could suggest using a macro, and end up saving the employee's time and the company's money.

Sadly, CEOs looking to trim budgets - to "do more with less" - may use automated and self-help assistance as an alternative to live-person software training and support for employees. This is troubling. It works as a complementary option, but as the sole support source, it simply fails.

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