The Importance of Being SupportedThe world we live in..
Nothing in life is perfect - well, maybe Audrey Hepburn was. But apart from Audrey, nothing else. No product or service is ever 100% - even with the best will in the world, anything human-made is prone to errors. Don't let anyone kid you otherwise.
Whilst your TV, fridge or washing machine may have worked perfectly for years, I assure you the same model has failed elsewhere in the world. The law of averages dictates that if you make a million units of something at least one will fail.
If we tried to build a world where everything is perfect then I'm afraid we'd still be in prehistoric times - if a caveman had tested his spear under every conceivable set of circumstances and didn't use it until it was perfect, we wouldn't be here! Most of the time it worked and did it's job but I'm certain that sometimes it didn't.
The same principle applies to any man-made "thing", so, we live in a world where most things work most of the time, but sometimes do not.
Most white goods manufacturers offer a 1 year warranty, meaning they guarantee you will have a working product for a year because either a) the product will work for a year or b) they will fix/replace a broken product free of charge. The company offers this guarantee because it is confident the majority of it's products will be error free. However, when a fault does occur, the manufacturer accepts this as a cost of doing business. Better to have 95% of goods working and 5% to fix than no sales at all!
Under exactly the same principle, we offer a standard 90 day warranty on all Mattched IT code. Anything identified as a coding error ("bug") is typically rectified free of charge if it occurs within 90 days of sign off and release.
Be sure your software vendor offers a similar warranty. If they don't, it may well be a sign that they are not confident about the quality of the software they deliver.
OK. It's day 91 and suddenly, after 90 flawless days, something breaks in your system. What do you do? (Apart from rant at the developer).
Legally, the vendor has delivered code within warranty, to spec and the new "bug" would often be classified as new work - therefore chargeable. You may just have to ready yourself to pay for a "fix" which may have been free two days earlier. Think of this like a washing machine flooding the kitchen 366 days after you bought it.
Morally, so close to the end of the warranty, a supplier may offer something gratis or at a reduced rate, but they are not obliged to.
One factor that may sway favourable terms is your ongoing relationship with the vendor and whether you have a support agreement. This usually takes the form of a retainer in lieu of providing patches to existing software and perhaps a reduced rates for out-of-warranty fixes. It may include on-call activity - if your software collapses at 2am, can you call someone to help fix it? All of this is for peace of mind; software insurance if you like.
When we do bespoke work for a client, we offer a support agreement as part of our after sales service. We don't have a standard agreement as each is tailored to the client's needs (and budget), but we always offer, because we value our service and want to build ongoing relationships with our clients.
Be sure that your provider offers the facility for the support you need. If they don't, it may not be as professional an organisation as you would like.
Remember, there is no such thing as perfect software. There can be well written and well tested software, but even one of the largest software companies around - Microsoft - release patches for their products. The amount of testing that goes into a Microsoft product is phenomenal, whether automated or human-driven, the volume of testing is measured in millions of man-hours. Yet some combinations of hardware and/or other software will produce bugs (normally when the user is already under pressure!).
As a side note, this shouldn't excuse poor development practices or software that is consistently "buggy". Not many software companies will last if they regularly produce unsatisfactory software; consider this e-Darwinism.
In conclusion, no software is perfect but there are ways to mitigate the impact of issues through warranties and after sales support agreements. When you weigh up the cost of these elements, you should always consider how much of your time (or your businesses's time) could be lost without it. You may well find that this vastly outweighs the cost of the agreement itself.