IBM Support Portal: A One-Stop Shop for Technical Info

Faster fixes mean a better business outcome

Tivoli Beat. A weekly IBM service management perspective.

The conventional wisdom is that IT managers don't have nearly as much time as they need to solve problems and achieve goals. And the conventional wisdom is correct.

This nearly universal situation has led IT solution providers to rethink not just their solutions, but also the support for those solutions. Among leading providers, the idea is not just to deliver faster, more comprehensive, and more accurate support in time of customer need, but also more proactive support—useful for preventing many problems from happening in the first place.

These ideas are at the heart of the IBM Support Portal. This unified, centralized repository of information on all IBM products—both software and hardware—is a one-stop shop for crucial technical fixes, diagnostic tools, integration possibilities, common deployment issues, and many other relevant topics. But it's also, thanks to recent updates, more personalized, in more ways, than ever.

While many of the site's resources can be used by anyone, anonymously, the site offers far more for those who are willing to take a little time and become registered.

By doing so, they can effectively tailor the portal to match their needs and goals—getting not just accurate information on IBM products quickly, but also the specific context that reflects their own infrastructures and problem history. It's the difference between an off-the-shelf suit and a tailored fit, and it's available for free.

Searching for the solution

One clear illustration of that difference is apparent in the way the site handles search—arguably the single most critical function of any technical support site. The faster, and more accurately, a site can turn up the information a user is looking for, the faster problems are going to be solved and the less business impact they can create.

"Beyond patches and updates, Fix Central also provides device drivers and a number of special download opportunities, such as beta/evaluation versions of software, or the fixes/updates needed to improve them."

The default search capabilities of the IBM Support Portal are impressively comprehensive, even for anonymous users. Suppose, for instance, that an IT manager needs information on IBM Endpoint Manager, but doesn't have an IBM ID, or doesn't have time to log in.

On entering "IBM Endpoint Manager" into the Quick Find search box (prominently displayed on the top left of the portal), this manager will get not just information, but conveniently and intuitively clustered information. Among other examples:

That's a great way to simplify and shorten the process of getting exactly the tidbit that's needed, even for anonymous users.

But let's imagine that this same IT manager has taken the five minutes needed to get an IBM ID and stays logged into the portal. Now the portal can display information that's been personalized for the manager's interests, and that reflects that user's/organization's history in dealing with IBM and IBM Endpoint Manager.

One very common scenario: instead of the manager having to perform a search, many times the portal will already be displaying the information the manager wants.

Through the personalization, it already knows what the IT manager prefers to see, both in the product selections, but also with the page customization, preferred modules and layout sequence are saved.

Crucially important information is, as a result, delivered even more quickly and easily, and problems are resolved that much faster.

My Notifications: Proactive, configurable insight

The best possible way to handle a problem is to preclude that problem from originally occurring—the IT variation on the proverb that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

One of the recent updates to the IBM Support Portal is designed to help users accomplish exactly that: the My Notifications feature. Using it, users can easily create subscriptions to different kinds of information on different products.

This is proactive insight, generated via IBM's research and development and reports from the field, and many users will find it applicable before problems have even manifested for them.

What kinds of information are delivered? Critical fixes and updates, updated technical resources—basically, anything that's both new and pertinent to the chosen topic. Users can also choose how and when notifications will be received (via e-mail, RSS feeds, and Web-based folders).

And over time, if user interests or priorities shift, the subscriptions can be adjusted in parallel, to keep notifications in close alignment with business needs.

Fix Central: Updates, patches, and background info

Every IT manager knows that the infrastructure is only going to perform as well as it's maintained. And today's complex infrastructures require considerable ongoing maintenance, typically in the form of fixes/patches to address security vulnerabilities, improve performance/stability, or add features.

That's why the IBM Support Portal also includes a resource called Fix Central—a consolidated tool to download all such software updates, for most IBM products (both hardware and software), straight from the Internet.

Beyond patches and updates, Fix Central also provides device drivers and a number of special download opportunities, or the fixes/updates needed to improve them. And because certain problems require a long-term revision but client needs are much more immediate, Fix Central also offers interim fixes—fixes that will address a problem for now, and put you in a position to wait for the official, more complete solution down the road. You can also upload your machine software inventory to Fix Central, and have it provide a complete list of new fixes, even associated fixes required.

And for all updates/fixes, there is also a library of support information including Read Me notes, release notes, installation instructions, and change history. For managers who wonder what a particular update does, why that's important, and whether it applies to them, this information will prove a godsend.

Service Requests: Escalate problems to IBM and collaborate with IBM Business Partners

A small minority of problems will always be beyond the reach of IT managers themselves; in such a case, the problem should be reported to the solution provider for escalation, and tracked over time for resolution.

Toward that end, the IBM Support Portal also includes a comprehensive online tool for monitoring service requests cradle-to-grave. Using it, IT managers can

Furthermore, managers will find that files can be attached to a request, to help IBM's experts better understand and diagnose the problem. Log files, in particular, will often prove useful to show how conditions changed prior to a crash or performance degradation.

Finally, if an IBM Business Partner has been called in to help with a particular case, the Service Request feature can help that partner as well, by providing an overview of the problem's history, all associated information and data, and the resolution (if any has been reached).

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