The Explanatory Notes to Contracts 3, 4 and 31 describe many of the support issues to be considered in drafting a support agreement. From the end-user’s viewpoint it is preferable to have an entire computer system (including hardware, software, network connections and peripherals) supported by one organisation both from the point of view of cost and technically; in the latter case, because the occurrence of a malfunction in a system may equally be attributable to a software, hardware or network fault and indeed the end-user is, more often than not, unable to distinguish the cause of the fault. Therefore, having only one support contractor to contact for any problem is the most beneficial support option for an end-user.
The style of agreement forming this Contract is a comprehensive agreement which includes most of the common options for support provision, e.g.:
(a) an online support ticketing portal (“Help Desk”) through which the customer can report faults or problems with the system which are then logged and dealt with by the contractor’s support team by email to the customer,
(b) a remote access support facility whereby the support contractor takes control of the customer’s system via online connection to identify the problem and provide a resolution.
The customer can also opt for additional support services such as:
(c) a telephone “Hotline” contact number to obtain fast, direct advice on system or operator problems,
(d) on-site support for urgent critical problems,
(e) out-of-hours/weekend support,
(f) guaranteed Response Times, where the contractor guarantees to respond to varying degrees of faults within specific timescales (see Appendix C).
The “Help Desk” service (usually managed by a computer software program commonly called an issue tracking or trouble tracking system) and telephone “Hotline” contact service will normally be the first contact the end-user will have with the contractor’s support staff. Such staff need to be sufficiently qualified to discuss customer problems and to determine whether such problems are “operator error”, which is most frequent in the first few months of use of new system, or whether there is indeed a software “bug” or defect. The Help Desk staff should be able to determine whether or not the problem is serious (where there are usually internal “priority” levels given to distinguish severity of problems) although the customer can contract for guaranteed response times to system problems (see Schedule and Appendix C). It must be noted however, that if response times to fault calls are agreed to form part of the support contract, failure to perform by the contractor within the prescribed time can be regarded as a breach, so great care must be taken by the support contractor when agreeing to include the same.
Such can be the cost of providing comprehensive support that some system suppliers prefer to sub-contract this service to a third-party support organisation (see Maintenance Service Provider Agreement, Contract 33). However, in so doing, the system supplier/software owner in particular, must disclose sufficient proprietary information about the system to enable the support contractor properly to provide such services to the end-users. Such disclosure must be subject to an agreement not to further disclose such confidential information and to use such information solely for the purposes of providing support (for Non-disclosure Agreements, see Contracts 47 and 48).
Finally, for a new system, the manufacturer/supplier commonly offers a “warranty” period or period of “free” maintenance to its customers thus the necessity for an “Effective Date” as opposed to the date of installation referred to in this Contract. The Effective Date will be the date of expiry of the warranty period.