IT Support & Maintenance Services Buyers Guide

IT Support & Maintenance Services Buyers Guide


 
 
Introduction to IT Support Services:

According to Gartner, one in ten IT departments will be disbanded by 2011. The reason for this is outsourcing and the changing nature of IT. By Gartner's prediction, IT departments will shrink or disappear as they will be outsourced to external providers moved to other parts of the world through outsourcing deals. Also, IT departments will increasingly deal with areas outside of what is considered IT in 2006, such as business and strategic planning. IT will become one of the top three make-or-break factors for businesses, but IT departments will still see their actual technology staff reduced by 40 percent.
 
However, you may be thinking: Why would my company be outsourcing IT when you already have IT staff? Outsourcing your day-to-day IT management gives you access to an entire new team - a whole IT Department, for less than the cost of one technician. You get professional support 24/7, not just in work hours, and not just subject to a staff member's health or holiday time. With outsourcing, you are no longer limited by the skill set of your staff, because you have access to the full range of expertise available in a complete team.

On the other hand, smaller companies may ask themselves: Why would my company be outsourcing IT, if I don't even have IT staff? One of the biggest mistakes small businesses make is not leveraging their IT investments. If you want to make sure that the staff you can have on board are concentrating 100% on those activities that will drive your business, or directly improve your bottom line, then outsourcing is a tremendously economical way to make sure you never have to worry when things go wrong, and downtime occurs.
    

1. Gartner is the world's leading provider of research and analysis about the global information technology industry. The prediction about one in 10 departments being disbanded by 2011 was discussed at annual Symposium / IT xpo in Orlando.


What are IT Support Services?

IT Support Services cover a range of services providing assistance with computer hardware, software, network or other. IT support services attempt to help the user solve specific problems with a product or a service, whereas IT maintenance services help your company prevent problems with your hardware, software, network and security. Outsourced IT support can be flexible, which means that your company might never have to worry about supporting full time salaries or about finding the IT staff you need when you experience growth.
 
Unlike your internal staff, outsourced IT staff can be available 24/7, where vendor's technicians will respond to you and your employees' requests within a pre-defined response rate, which can be as quick as a few minutes. This means that your company would not have to wait for one particular person to become available before the problem can be solved. Lots of vendors today can provide remote monitoring services, so that through a remote connection to your network, they can be working on a solution instantly. In that way, they can resolve problems quickly, and they can even reduce the number of problems your company experiences through their preventive monitoring and maintenance activities.

Types of IT Support:

IT Support can be delivered through various media, including e-mail, live chat, telephones, applications and technicians, although the most common one is that of the telephone.
 
However, some things that are not supported in lower levels of support can be supported with higher service levels: for instance, only direct questions can be addressed through e-mail or fax; basic software problems can be addressed over the telephone; while hardware or network problems often need to be dealt with in person.
 
Based on company's requirements there are different types of support:
  1. Online Self-Help Support - FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), Knowledge Base, product/service  specific mailing lists, product/service support centres, newsgroups, chats, help database
  2. Subscription-Based Support - Subscriptions include the monthly delivery of certain support
  3. Assisted Incident Support  E-mail support, Phone support, Advisory services
  4. Contract-Based Support  Direct access to technical experts any time, account management, support assistance, problem resolution support, information services
 
 
Vendors Often Specialise in One or More of the Following Category Types of Support:
  
Computer Hardware Support - Services that can be included: Diagnosing and resolving hardware and software problems, installing and configuring all hardware and software components, providing user support, providing technology direction...
  
Computer Network Support - Services that can be included: Administering local and wide area networks, Monitoring and optimising network resources (network traffic, storage use, deployment of peripherals, etc.)...
  
Application Support - Services supporting critical applications, from mainframes, Unix and client server or web based technologies
  
IT Security Support - Services that can be included: Establishing and administering security procedures, establishing and maintaining disaster recovery, backup, and anti-virus procedures...
  
Telephony Support - Telephony implementation (installation, setup, repair), hardware and software maintenance, network support, remote monitoring, phone replacement?
  
IT Audit - Including IT Security Audits - Analysis, testing, assessing, optimising?
  
IT Department Outsourcing (Partial or Complete) - You can choose the amount of support you require so that your staff are productive and satisfied, and your critical infrastructure performs. Services under IT department outsourcing may cover: network management, hardware and software support, disaster recovery, preventative maintenance solutions, outsourcing of senior IT management functions such as LAN Manager, IT Director, Chief Technology Officer etc; Developing and administering technology budgets and others.
 
 
 
Types of IT Maintenance Support Solutions:
Based on categories, there are different types of IT maintenance services:
  
Hardware Maintenance - testing and cleaning of the hardware 
Information system maintenance - updating of master files, such as adding and deleting employees or customers and similar.
  
Software Maintenance - updating of application programs in order to meet changing information requirements, such as adding new functions. It also includes fixing bugs and adapting the software to new hardware devices.
  
Network Maintenance - taking care of the overall health of the network (anticipating, preventing and solving the problems, troubleshooting, cable testing
  
Security Maintenance - ensuring that the systems remain secure all the time. Security maintenance service may include backups, checking permissions and ownerships in critical files and directories, checking the assignment of rights, monitoring system logs etc
  
Telephony Maintenance - the telephony maintenance service is similar to the data networking processes of fault isolation and correction. On the other hand, IP telephony maintenance is much easier than with the traditional phone set up and can be done remotely in most cases.
There is also another classification of maintenance types, and that is:
  
Preventive Maintenance - performing proactive maintenance in order to prevent system problems. Its purpose is to minimise breakdowns and excessive depreciation.
  
Predictive Maintenance - strives to detect the onset of system degradation and to address the problems as they are identified. Predictive maintenance differs from preventive maintenance by basing maintenance needs on the actual condition of the system, rather than on some predetermined schedule.
  
Reactive Maintenance - No actions are taken to maintain the system, either to prevent failure or to ensure that the planned life of the equipment is reached.
  
Reliability Centered Maintenance - a systematic approach of evaluating a facility's equipment and resources to best match the two needs.
 
 

Advantages and Disadvantages of IT Support Types:

Online Self-Help Support:
Advantages:  

Immediate access to support information
Large amount of support information
Works the best if you know the problem and where to look for an answer
Most of the vendors provide this kind of support for free or for a very small cost
   
Disadvantages:
 
Requires time to research the problem and to come up with a solution
Too much information, if you don't know what the problem is

Subscription-Based Support:

Advantages:
 
Quick access to support information
You get support from vendor's staff
Cost effective
 
Disadvantages:
 
After you exploit support activity included in your subscription, you are on your own again, or you  have  to pay astronomical prices to get additional support
Support you get is limited

Assisted Incident Support:

Advantages:

Immediate personal contact
Helpdesk support staff can handle more incidents more quickly - reducing phone-assisted or on-site support costs while ensuring high service levels
You get support from technical professionals
You get advisory and consultative support
Knowledgeable support

Disadvantages:
 
Higher costs involved
You depend on the vendor you choose
You have access to technical and/or engineering support only in case of emergencies

Contract-Based Support:

Advantages:

Solution is quickly identified by a provider
Direct access to technical experts
Gives you the flexibility to choose the support options that best fit your organisation
Also included: support account management, support assistance, problem resolution support, and information services
Maximise business value and minimises total cost
You get SLA (Service level agreement)
Increased employee/customer satisfaction
 
Disadvantages:

Higher costs involved

 
Advantages and Disadvantages of IT Maintenance Types:

Preventive Maintenance:
Advantages:

Provides flexibility for the adjustment of maintenance periodicity 
Increases system life cycle
Money savings
Reduces system failures 
Results in an estimated 12% to 18% cost savings over that found in a reactive maintenance program
 
Disadvantages:

Does not eliminate catastrophic failures 
Is more labour intensive 
Includes performing unneeded maintenance activities, which has the potential to result in incidental damage to components

Predictive Maintenance:

Advantages:

Allows for preemptive corrective actions 
Results in decrease in system downtime 
Lowers costs for parts and labour 
Provides better product quality 
Improves worker and environmental safety 
Raises worker morale
 
Disadvantages:

Increases investment in diagnostic equipment
Increases investment in staff training

Reactive Maintenance:

Advantages:
Lower initial costs 
Requires fewer staff
Increases costs due to unplanned downtime of equipment
Increases labour costs, especially if overtime is needed for untimely repairs or replacement 
May increase costs associated with repair or replacement of system
Provides better product quality
 
Disadvantages:

May result in possible secondary system or process damage from system failures 
Is an inefficient use of staff resources

Reliability Centred Maintenance:

Advantages:

Can be the most efficient maintenance program
Lowers costs by eliminating unnecessary equipment maintenance or system overhauls 
Minimises the frequency of overhauls 
Reduces probability of sudden system failures
Focuses maintenance activities on critical system components
Increases component reliability
Incorporates root cause analysis
 
Disadvantages:

Can have significant startup costs associated with staff training and system needs
Savings potential is not readily seen by management?

 
Advantages and Disadvantages of Outsourcing IT Support and Maintenance:
 
Outsourcing IT Support and Maintenance:
 
Advantages:

Increase Profitability - If you counted the hours your staff spends solving IT issues, or unproductive hours due to downtime, and if you put those hours back into the activities that make up your core business, how much money would you save? How much more would you make?
 
Outsourcing IT support and maintenance frees you and your staff to focus on your priorities.
 
Improve Security - In a secure, managed and stabilised environment, you can have the peace of mind of knowing that your network is protected, which means you no longer have to worry about your critical information being compromised or rendered inaccessible right when you need it most.

Control Costs Better? With outsourcing your IT, you can keep your IT costs predictable on a monthly basis. Provider covers expenses such as costs of downtime, training, and technology obsolescence.

Reliability - Peace of mind that the system is in good hands 
No large investments 
Access to professional capabilities
Share the risk
Do not have to worry about continually introducing new technologies
Frees up human resources
 
Disadvantages:

No direct control
The fear of the service provider ceasing to trade (bankruptcy, etc)
Creates potential redundancies 
The loss of talent generated internally
Employees may react badly to outsourcing and consequently their quality of work may suffer
   

When Should We Outsource IT Support Services?
 
There are 4 main scenarios when you should consider outsourcing your IT: 
  1. Costs are too high - If your annual IT expenditures are greater than your operating budget, you should consider outsourcing as a way to reduce your costs.
  2. Shortage of qualified staff / staff are unstable - If your IT staff consistently has vacancies and high turnover, your IT department cannot provide the desired level of services. An outsourcer can resolve this problem by reassigning some of its IT staff.
  3. Existing systems are not productively utilised - The hardware and software contained in an information systems represent some of the largest investments your company makes. If you are not using the full capabilities of the systems you have purchased, or if you are not getting high quality and timely outputs from these systems, an outsourcer can provide focused leadership to resolve these problems within a minimum timeframe and at low risk.
  4. Inability to keep up with rapid technology and regulatory changes - IT staff often do not have the time or opportunity to keep up with the technology changes, vendor offerings, and complex regulatory developments. Quality outsourcing firms will have broad industry exposure, and serve numerous clients with different technology environments and challenges. As a result, the IT staff have continuous access to a community of technology experts that provides support, mentoring and information sharing. If your company’s business objectives require greater IT knowledge and new perspectives, a relationship with a strong IT outsourcing vendor will be a valuable strategic resource.
 
Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Establish if Your Company Should be Outsourcing:
  • Are device or equipment problems impairing your business?
  • Are your engineers and/or technicians spending too much time fixing problems and not attending to business?
  • Are testing your latest software or hardware releases draining your resources?
  • Are you having a problem keeping up with or ahead of your competitors because your staff is busy resolving your internal issues?
  • Is budgeting your IT Department a big headache?
  • Do you need to lower your expenses/ to be ahead of your competitors in the current global market?
  • Do you feel like your users are unhappy with your current IT staff?
  • Your company is so rapidly growing that you can't manage to increase your IT staff at that speed?
  • You need to move your IT solutions to another software platform/OS and your internal IT staff learning curve is going to take unacceptable time?
 
Selecting an IT Support Services Provider:

Many businesses choose an IT and Maintenance provider on instincts, without any systematic vendor selection process. Avoid this basic mistake and ensure you identify, evaluate and qualify all prospective vendors, initially matching your needs with providers capabilities.
 
The two most important factors in a successful outsourcing relationship are trust and security - without these the relationship is destined for failure. It is therefore important that you take the time and effort required to find the right partner.
 

These are the steps we recommend you follow in selecting an IT support provider:
  1. Research a list of potential IT Support and Maintenance providers
  2. Ask each prospective provider a series of questions to assess their offerings, experience and demonstrated capabilities.
  3. Speak to an employee of the service provider, as their service may extend from what it initially suggests on their web site or information supplements - there could also be hidden terms and conditions that may affect your decision.
  4. Ensure that the service provider has long-term financial stability. Obtain a company report or bank reference to solidify your perception.
  5. Once you are happy with your choice of partner, review their contract to ensure that they are liable to live up to expectations (service quality). Find out the procedure for negotiating any issues and how much control you will have over the process - contracts are a grey area where businesses slip up when outsourcing.
  6. You should also clarify the costs - are there any hidden extras, bonuses or penalties? Do remember to build exit strategies into the contract highlighting on what grounds a party can terminate.
      
Questions to put to Potential IT Service Providers:

Do not assume a vendor can deliver everything and anytime. Instead ask them questions to assess their offerings, experience and demonstrated capabilities:
  • What type and level of support does a vendor provide?
  • Does the provider cover all of your geographical region(s). For example are you looking for IT Support London? [on site support]
  • What experience do they have dealing with companies of your size and industry?
  • How much flexibility does the provider offer in accommodating your specific needs?
  • How many business customers does a service provider have and how satisfied are they?
  • Obtain references on service quality & customer satisfaction from current / past clients
  • What industry recognition has the provider had for customer service?
  • Who are provider's strategic partners? 
  • Are your provider's pricing practices flexible or rigidly set?
  • How will price change as your needs scale up or down over time?
  • Is the bottom line figure fully comprehensive or are there incidents that are priced separately?
  • What can you expect in terms of pricing breaks or waived fees should a provider miss a service level commitment?
  • Does the provider offer service level agreements (SLAs) backed by financial guarantees?
  • Will an individual handle the day-to-day details of your account?
  • How quickly can you expect to receive a return phone call from your day-to-day account manager?
  • Is it possible to meet with your future account manager and other support staff before the relationship starts?
  • What are the provider's current and future investment plans?
  • How strong is the provider's financial health? (Ask this, especially if they are less than two years old)   

 
IT Support Contracts:

The most overlooked and undervalued element of any IT is the support contract. Ignoring this, or opting for a 'cheap fix' is sure way to an impending disaster.

 

Case studies: IT Support and Maintenance:

Small Business: 15 employee company 
Mid Market: 200 employee company 
Enterprise: 15,000 employee company

 
Case Study 1
Size of the company: Small (15 employees)
Industry: Healthcare
 
Overview of the company and its issues: A healthcare company has been established since 1996 and has 15 employees. With ever increasing emphasis being put upon health and safety in the workplace, their services help their clients meet their legal or occupational health obligations. The company specialises in offering medical services, including alcohol and drug testing. Their headquarters in London coordinates visits to any UK location, offering 24-hour, 365-day service.
 
Objective: The company was looking for a vendor to assist them in the long term, as the business grew. The requirements were to deliver support up to 24 hours a day 7 days a week, with rapid on site response times, to meet the budgetary requirements of the business, to implementing desktop PCs and servers based on Microsoft Technologies and to ensure that whatever is implemented is capable of expanding as the company grew.
 
Solution: A vendor designed a solution based on integrating technologies from a core group of manufacturers and service providers. In brief these consisted of custom built PCs and HP PCs, Microsoft Windows 2003 Small Business Server, Watchguard Firewall, Avaya IP Office PBX, Netgear LAN Switching Equipment and Trend Client Server Messaging Suite for Small Business. In addition the vendor provided services such as 24x7 on site support and Least Cost Routing for best value telephone calls.
 
Result: A vendor has worked side by side the healthcare company for many years. Since installation a company has gone through significant growth, and has been extremely successful in its target market. As demand has increased so the systems have scaled. Extra users are easily added to the existing infrastructure as required. Being service focused the company is always looking for ways to utilise new technology to service their client's needs, and rely on a vendor to recommend new versions of software as they become available. As the company provides a 24 hour nationwide service, vendor engineers are on hand 24 x 7 providing rapid response and hardware swap out to all problems.
 
 
Case Study 2
Size of the company: Mid Market (200 employees)
Industry: Retailing
 
Overview of the company and its issues: The retailer with 200 employees was considering outsourcing the maintenance of all applications to redirect internal staff to work on mission-critical development applications and to minimise overall costs for IT. Application systems maintenance for the retailer involved ownership of the entire gamut of over 75 applications spanning a wide range of platforms: mainframes (IBM, AS/400), Unix, client server and web-based technologies. Applications interfaces with third-party products, for example, CRM packages like Clarify. The retailer was looking for a vendor who was financially stable, could provide uncompromising support and meet stringent service levels.
 
Objective: 7x24 applications support and enhancements for applications in the business areas: finance, inventory and logistics, marketing, advertising and pricing, stores, database management, services, human resources, infrastructure, data warehousing.
 
Solution: A vendor involved providing IT support services for break fixes 24x7 in order to correct production problems during system break-downs; Production support in order to analyse problems where the system ran as designed but the outcome is incorrect; Scheduled IT maintenance which included routine maintenance tasks or preventive maintenance tasks resulting from break-fix problems; Business sustenance in order to research or enhance requests generated by business users; and Proactive monitoring during critical or peak season processing.
 
Result: The retailer gained several advantages as they worked with an IT outsourced support team: Faster reaction time for ramping up or down resources with knowledge of the retailer's application systems for support or other development projects; Access to vendor's specialist support services such as database support, operations support, system services, hardware; Effective cost/resource utilisation.


Case Study 3
Size of the company: Enterprise (15,000 employees)
Industry: Healthcare

Overview of the company and its issues: Driven to speed product development and patent approval while competing against other brands and lower-cost generics, pharmaceutical companies are under pressure to streamline operations, increase efficiencies and improve results. A major pharmaceutical company works to address these imperatives through a commitment to supporting strategic IT initiatives internally and using a best of breed partner to deliver routine computing services.

Objective: Outsource mission-critical, but non-strategic, IT operations such as administrative functions and service-desk support.

Solution: Support for a collection of multi-vendor mainframe and midrange platforms running administrative and back-office applications. With a team of more than 100 employees on site, a vendor staffs the company's 24x7x365 data centre operations, and the vendor's computing support centre provides support for Lotus Notes and manages a Remote Access Center of Excellence (COE). In all, vendor's outsourcing services support some 15,000 employees.
 
The organisation initially asked the vendor to provide service-desk support Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. But when conditions changed, the client needed vendor support services 24x7x365, which is a significant increase in requirements. The client gave the vendor just one month to make this transition. By making the best possible use of resources, vendor was able to deliver the needed levels of support within the required timeframe. Vendor now manages this organisation's remote computing operations.
 
From handling employee requests to managing installations and providing ongoing telephone support, the vendor has complete responsibility for the client's Remote Access COE. As more employees telecommute, the demands placed on this COE continue to grow.
 
Result: Reduced IT costs. Streamlined operations. Increased service levels. By working with the vendor, this organisation has been able to offload a tremendous amount of end-user support from its per month. In addition, the Lotus Notes support team handles some 850 tickets, while the Remote Access Service Desk addresses approximately 320 tickets in an average month. By leveraging vendors' resources, infrastructure and expertise, this pharmaceutical giant has been able to control and avoid costs while redeploying in-house resources to more strategic IT initiatives.

 
IT Support Services UK:
This guide is aimed at business decision makers researching IT Support Services UK or a focus on geographical regions, for example IT Support Services London
 
 
In this paper the term IT Support covers the following:
  • Network Support
  • Computer Support
  • Hardware Support
  • Software Support
  • Applications Support
  • IT Audit & Consultancy
  • Server Support
  • IT Department Outsourcing
 
Frequently Asked Questions about IT Support Services and IT Support Contracts:

Q. What alternatives exist?
 
A. Outsourcing is one of a wide range of possible management strategies. Considering  "in-house" strategies include:
  • Inaction: Do nothing. We're doing a great job already.
  • Cuts Projects: Eliminate wasteful projects (especially those that require an excessive investment).
  • Cut Jobs: Eliminate jobs. Load more work onto existing staff.
  • Reallocate Resources: Shuffle personnel to new, more effective tasks. (Training may be required.  Transitions could be bumpy).
 
Q. Can we avoid Outsourcing?
 
A. Yes. When a work group, however large and complex,  has been mismanaged through neglect, lack of vision and poor processes, outsourcing might not be the only answer. Improvement of business processes before outsourcing can avoid those outsourcings that occur based solely on "cost savings." But even good management and leadership cannot escape the compelling advantages of certain types of "strategic outsourcing" that adds a strategic benefit beyond mere cost savings.
 
 

Q. What are managed services?
 
A. Managed services are services that are managed and delivered in partnership with the private sector, typically performed by staff employed by the private sector partner at the direction of the staff employed by the public sector partner.

 
Here are Some Support Tips:
  • Under all circumstances make sure you have a support contract with a reputable provider. Make sure that there is a valid contract in place for the entire term of your agreement with a reputable and capable provider.
  • Do not settle for bundled support. Quite often the support 'included' in the price is the lowest level of support, and therefore cheapest. You may still be subject to further charges.
  • Make sure from the outset that you get the support that is best for you and not the best for the provider.
  • Make sure your contract includes parts and labour and has defined a Service Level Agreement.
  • You should read the small print or clearly define your support requirements to the person providing the service.
  • You should have a contract that states parts, labour and a guaranteed response and fix time for your fault.
  • Contracts are only valid if in credit. If you have not paid for a contract or are late in paying, the contract is not valid and your support company will not have to respond. It is best all round to establish a payment plan from the outset and stick to it.

 

Pricing of IT Support Services:

Although service levels and not pricing should be the key basis for provider differentiation, pricing is still an important element of the value equation. The cost of support can vary, depending upon the type and level selected.
 
 
 
Below are Some Common Charging Methods:
  • IT Support Contract -Usually this is fixed price support. Prices for support contracts can vary to cater for unique circumstances.
  • Blocks of 'Per Incident' bought in advance - Per Incident Support is not a subscription. You will be charged on a per incident basis.
  • Premium-rate telephone calls - These are used to provide support on a pay-as-you use basis.
  • Flat fee - The company agrees to solve a single problem over the phone no matter how long it takes.
  • Limited free support - Some companies offer limited free support when their hardware or software is purchased.
 

Make sure that as you assess the total pricing structure, you also weigh it against your total cost of ownership (TCO).
 
  • Print
  • Send to a friend