Support goes global: from sophisticated Web-based systems to that old standby, the phone, EDA companies have entered a new era of customer support.Mentor Mentor, in Greek mythology
Mentor (mĕn`tər, –tôr'), in Greek mythology, friend of Odysseus and tutor of Telemachus. Graphics' recent launching of a support database that provides customers instant online access to the most up-to-date solutions to common design problems is only the latest in a continuing battle to stay ahead of customers' needs for instant, thorough product help. With broadening product lines and point-releases coming out every few months or so, the need for an army of technical help is acute. EDA companies The external links in this article or section may require cleanup to comply with Wikipedia's content policies. are attacking the problem head-on, as PCD&M learned in a recently conducted survey.
The companies are also performing a balancing act between driving customers to the Web--which can trim staffing costs--and providing easy-to-use, custom assistance in a timely manner--attributes that heretofore were available only via the phone.
Mentor's rollout, called the SupportNet KnowledgeBase system, is a good measure of how high the bar is being set. SupportNet provides a list of relevant solutions to customers' questions within an average response time of 15 seconds, less time than it takes to look up and dial a phone number. The system is backed by a global group of 300 corporate applications engineers who provide answers 24/7. "By adding this online knowledge reuse reuse - Using code developed for one application program in another application. Traditionally achieved using program libraries. Object-oriented programming offers reusability of code via its techniques of inheritance and genericity. database, we have effectively given our customers instant access to the collective experience of Mentor's entire support staff," says Tom Floodeen, vice president and general manager, customer support division.
Cadence cadence, in music, the ending of a phrase or composition. In singing the voice may be raised or lowered, or the singer may execute elaborate variations within the key. , the second biggest PCB PCB: see polychlorinated biphenyl.
in full polychlorinated biphenyl
Any of a class of highly stable organic compounds prepared by the reaction of chlorine with biphenyl, a two-ring compound. EDA (1) (Electronic Design Automation) Using the computer to design, lay out, verify and simulate the performance of electronic circuits on a chip or printed circuit board. player, echoes that thought. "We are seeing an increased trend toward using Web-based collaboration/communication technology to provide hands-on support."
So true. Knowledge base systems are becoming a standard offering among EDA companies, popular for their searching capabilities and their ability to navigate (1) "Surfing the Web." To move from page to page on the Web.
(2) To move through the menu structure in a software application. for solutions to complex technical questions. The best of the bunch include natural language searches and identify parallel issues for users to also consider. And they are becoming easier to use: Mentor users, for example, log in to a password-protected site and enter questions in plain English Plain English (sometimes known, more broadly, as plain language) is a communication style that focuses on considering the audience's needs when writing. It recommends avoiding unnecessary words and avoiding jargon, technical terms, and long and ambiguous sentences. . SupportNet's responses, called TechNotes, are sorted by relevancy and cover six categories: patch, release, defect, solution, enhancement and business. More than 11,000 TechNotes are compiled in the system, and Mentor says over 600 TechNotes are added each month.
In the PCD&M survey, we asked six leading EDA companies their thoughts on how customer service is shaping up (five responded). If they agree on one thing, it's that customers want solutions that are customized to their needs, and they want more of them.
Cadence says it sees "a definite trend toward closer relationships through high-level customer partnerships and deeper customer support relationships." Attention has increased, Cadence notes, on delivering support in the manner that the customer prefers (for example, online or by phone), and tailored to the design environment. Not surprisingly, ease of access and depth of content rank high on the list.
Amy Clements, marketing communications Marketing communications (or marcom) are messages and related media used to communicate with a market. Those who practice advertising, branding, direct marketing, graphic design, marketing, packaging, promotion, publicity, sponsorship, public relations, sales, sales manager at Zuken USA, agrees. "Customers are demanding more customer support," she says. "Customers rightly are demanding better service for their money invested in EDA tools." Using Web technology helps EDA firms keep up, Clements says. At Altium, technical support services support services Psychology Non-health care-related ancillary services–eg, transportation, financial aid, support groups, homemaker services, respite services, and other services are built into the cost of the product and are available at no extra charge, executive director Bruce Edwards proudly notes. Those services include email, fax and knowledge base tools. Altium also maintains a dedicated library for new and updated schematic A graphical representation of a system. It often refers to electronic circuits on a printed circuit board or in an integrated circuit (chip). See logic gate and HDL. , PCB, simulation and PLD (Programmable Logic Device) Refers to a variety of logic chips that are programmable at the customer's site, the customer being the vendor of the finished chip, not the end user. component libraries.
From his office in Marlborough, MA, Mentor senior worldwide customer support manager Jim Meikle monitors trends in globalization globalization
Process by which the experience of everyday life, marked by the diffusion of commodities and ideas, is becoming standardized around the world. Factors that have contributed to globalization include increasingly sophisticated communications and transportation , automation and asset control. "Economic pressures mean design engineer resources in one region may be cut back to more effectively leverage lower-cost resources in another region," he says. "R&D is done in locations worldwide; designs are shared around the world." This mandates a uniform level of support worldwide and assistance in local languages, he says.
Yet, says Meikle, as design goes global, customers "do not want to be burdened with administrative overhead of monitoring assets. They want to buy centrally and use their assets globally." This means release updates that can be adopted worldwide without having to parse license keys or dongles. "They don't want to be tied to one set of products into perpetuity perpetuity n. forever. (See: in perpetuity, rule against perpetuities)
PERPETUITY, estates. Any limitation tending to take the subject of it out of commerce for a longer period than a life or lives in being, and twenty-one years beyond; and in case of a without the ability to remix re·mix
tr.v. re·mixed, re·mix·ing, re·mix·es
To recombine (audio tracks or channels from a recording) to produce a new or modified audio recording: the software tools when new cutting-edge technology comes along," Meikle says.
Not all support comes directly from the vendor, however. The advance of customer communities--online forums in which customers help each other--is another trend. "Often customers have used specific software applications for several years and are familiar with nuances that even the most sophisticated support team will not know," Meikle notes. "Online communities allow that expertise to be shared with or without the intervention of the vendor."
Don't expect the Internet to replace the human touch tomorrow. As Craig Yano, VP of marketing at Intercept intercept
in mathematical terms the points at which a curve cuts the two axes of a graph. Technologies, says, "Although the ongoing trend is to move toward a more automated au·to·mate
v. au·to·mat·ed, au·to·mat·ing, au·to·mates
1. To convert to automatic operation: automate a factory.
2. support service, issues can always be resolved much faster when two people can communicate directly." Yano notes that, while more expensive, live support reveals "more about our customer's needs and allows us to better engineer our products."
If anything, companies are upping the ante, increasing the amount of help they provide, even before customers request it. Mentor has a weekly technical newsletter customized to each designer's personal product set. The newsletter contains links to TechNotes that have been created or updated in the prior week for alerts about the latest patches, notices of software update releases, and solutions to commonly asked questions, Meikle explains. And Altium has gone so far as to form a group, Altium Professional Services (job) professional services - A department of a supplier providing consultancy and programming manpower for the supplier's products. , to provide contract design and development services. Based in the Netherlands, APS engineers use "current communications technologies Noun 1. communications technology - the activity of designing and constructing and maintaining communication systems
engineering, technology - the practical application of science to commerce or industry " to work with customers around the world.
Yet the companies surveyed disagreed as to whether customer support will eventually become primarily a Web-based service. "Uniform, consistent, global support points directly to automated (i.e., Web-based) services that are available on-demand," Meikle says. "Another driver is the cost (too high) and risk (e.g., SARS) of travel." (Meikle allows that some complex software tools and custom design environments pose technical issues too sophisticated for an online solutions base to resolve.)
But Zuken's Clements says that while web-based systems "are very strong methods" for customers to make quick contact and receive personal feedback, "verbal and face-to-face communication is needed to truly understand a customer's overall needs." Adds Intercept's Yano, "Personal contact will always be important to adequately support our customers."
And while it calls Web-based support "critical" to its strategy, "one size doesn't fit all," Cadence says. "Customer support is not just about content, but access to content. Our customer feedback indicates a continued need for offering a variety of ways for customers to meaningfully interact with [us]."
While the Web offers "a scaleable channel of value-added support on a global scale," Altium's Edwards says, "I don't think that the human element will ever completely disappear. "Email and phone access continue to be important vehicles ... and are a personal preference for some users."
Web or no Web, each firm PCD&M spoke with has committed resources around the globe as OEMs migrate or add designers in locales where labor costs are lower. Mentor's Web site lists more than 29 service centers worldwide. Altium has sites in the U.S., Japan, Australia (where it is based) and two in Europe. Intercept maintains offices in the U.S., U.K., Germany and France. Zuken has 10 customer service sites--five in Europe, three in the Americas, and one each in Japan and mainland Asia--and Cadence has 29 customer service offices in North America North America, third largest continent (1990 est. pop. 365,000,000), c.9,400,000 sq mi (24,346,000 sq km), the northern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere. , Europe, India, Asia Pacific and Japan, and staff on-site at some major customers. Intercept's Yano worries that some may take the trend too far. "This often creates a language barrier and makes good support difficult," he asserts. "Many times, these support resources also have a reduced level of expertise with the applications."
Over time, however, local support sites may be the only way to fulfill ful·fill also ful·fil
tr.v. ful·filled, ful·fill·ing, ful·fills also ful·fils
1. To bring into actuality; effect: fulfilled their promises.
2. what Zuken sees as a trend toward more hands-on help, brought about as the complexity of customers' problems continues to grow. At Mentor, top customers are assigned as·sign
tr.v. as·signed, as·sign·ing, as·signs
1. To set apart for a particular purpose; designate: assigned a day for the inspection.
2. dedicated support managers who champion their issues. And at Cadence, its goal of "effective, efficient customer support" sometimes requires on-site help, and other times means "easy access to meaningful on-line support."
Yet when it comes to Web-based support, Mentor's Meikle asserts that it's the non-vertical markets, and nor Cadence or Synopsys, that are the real competition. "It's Amazon or Travelocity who remember my profile, provide me information specific to my interests and allow me to purchase electronically," he notes.
AT YOUR SERVICE The Menu of Offerings of Select EDA Companies WEB WEB KNOWLEDGE COMPANY PHONE E-MAIL FAQ BASE LANGUAGE (1) Altium Y Y Y Y E, F, G, J Cadence Y Y Y N C, E, F, etc. Intercept Y Y Y N D, E, F, G, I Mentor Y Y Y Y E, J, G, F, K, S, O Zuken Y Y Y Y C, D, E, F, G, I, J, K, O (1) Chinese (C), Dutch (D), English (E), French (F), German (G), Italian (I), Japanese (J), Korean (K), Spanish (S), Other (O). Does not include VARs.
MIKE BUETOW is editor in chief of PCD&M. ANDY ANDY Andrew
ANDY US Popular Abbreviation for Andrews AFB SHAUGHNESSY contributed to this report.