When we look at the types of agreements that small business clients are acquiring for business computer support in Burlington, Oakville and Hamilton areas of Ontario, a clear shift in focus is occurring. It is occurring because more vendors and purchasers have determined the traditional approach has been failing both parties.
In the past most IT support in the area was delivered through the use of hourly related contracts, often in the form of pre paid (or contract term set) time blocks. Under this model a company entered into an agreement to acquire the IT network services based upon a set hourly rate which was applied when work was performed. Commonly referred to as 'block of time break fix' contracts these agreements led to some problems.
First of all, there was little incentive for the service provider to work on preventative measures since doing so would decrease the amount of time available in the block for other work and also could limit how much work was done. This lose, lose kind of relationship could lead to poor support and poor network performance.
Secondly, these contracts built in a tendency for clients to hoard the hours under the pre paid block 'so that they would be available in the case of a major shut down'. Of course the lessening of preventative work caused by this tendency ensures that the shut down will occur and that when it does it will be major since minor work has been left undone.
The analogy that this procedure brings to mind is the 'Fram oil filter commercials' of the late 70's. In these commercials car owners were encouraged to change their oil regularly and to use a Fram top quality filter so that they would get long term reliable use out of their car. The tag line was 'Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later', implying that not doing the small correction that the oil change provided would lead to bigger costs in the future.
This is exactly what happens when regular monitoring, management and maintenance is not applied to a business computer support program.
What's the alternative?
The new model for IT network support is the Managed Services Plan. Under these plans, a contract is established between the parties with a detailed scope of work established. Under the scope of work, the IT support vendor outlines the specifics to be carried out, the computer equipment and network infrastructure that is to be supported and any software components that will be managed. The two parties establish a criteria for performance under the contract: response times, remote work, whether onsite work will be covered or not, hours of coverage, patch management, anti virus planning and processing, backup strategies, hardware repair if needed, and a collection of additional components specific to the business computer environment of that client.
Once the details of the scope of work are agreed, a costing for the performance of these duties is developed and this becomes the basis of a monthly agreement for compensation. The IT support vendor agrees to manage these systems for the set monthly rate and the contract is established.
Why the change?
Under a managed services plan there is clear incentive for the IT vendor to manage the system to minimize disruptions and maximize up time (some plans even provide for penalities if uptime does not reach a certain threshold). They are encouraged to use tools and expertise to know exactly what is happening on servers and workstations to ensure that patches are deployed, security is in place and watched, anti virus is operating effectively, disc space is adequate and a group of additional checks and balances to help ensure reliable performance.
From the purchaser's point of view, they have a clearly defined checklist of activities they can see are being performed, and a fix cost for the bulk of their IT support costs. A more reliable network is the result of the process.
Making the change
The parties to a managed services agreement have to develop a clear trust in each other. The purchaser must trust that the IT vendor will carry out the scope of work effectively and without being pushed to do so. The IT vendor has to trust that the purchaser and their employees will be responsible in how they use the IT network and to not abuse the support agreement to try to get unspecified work included under the flat fee.
When the trust is established the results can be excellent and the IT environment can be better managed and provide better returns to the owner, often at lower overall cost as emergency work is reduced and replaced by planned administration.
Have considered managed services for your IT network? Does break fix lead to higher costs?
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