BreakFix or Managed Services

Break Fix vs Pro-active maintenance

Break Fix vs Pro-active maintenance

Break fix is what most companies seem to believe is the right solution. It may be difficult for companies to accept but with the increase in malware, continuous updates to operating systems and programs aimed at patching security vulnerabilities, it would be irresponsible to believe that any internet connected PC that is not behind the very best live cloud updated hardware firewall was not at risk.

Even then, with mobile data devices from BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), to portable drives and USB Thumb Drives, the firewall can’t protect the internal network from everything.

Perception

So why don’t employers see more problems on the break fix model? The answer is simple; the user will hardly notice the slow degradation of performance until it becomes a more obvious problem. By then, it’s time to request support and the problem is now many times larger than it would have been under a monitored and maintained system.

Now it is true that some problems will happen due to the hardware lifespan of the product entering the wear out zone, you can be certain that just like maintaining your car, maintaining computers will ensure that failure is more likely to occur later in the wear out zone with fewer minor to major issues during the interim period.

The majority of the problems users face are software issues, these as stated earlier will impact on performance and without remedial action they will severely affect productivity further down the line.

Some facts

  1. Reactive maintenance. Also described as fix it when it breaks or break fix; this is the most basic maintenance strategy. Its major drawback is obvious: the cost to repair (or replace) equipment that’s run to failure is typically much higher than if the problem were detected and fixed earlier not to mention the cost of lost production during extended downtime.
  2. Preventive maintenance. Also described as Managed Services; a preventive strategy assumes equipment is relatively reliable until, after some period of time, it enters a wear-out zone where failures increase. To postpone this wear-out, equipment is serviced on a calendar- or run-time basis − whether it needs it or not. On average, this fix it just in case approach is about 30% less expensive than reactive maintenance. With software the application of security patches, malware detection and removal, service start-up issues, driver conflicts and other less detectable issues can seriously impact the operating system or application speed due to the errors, error reporting and with new operating systems the diagnostic and repair cycles that in most cases will not correctly identify and repair the root cause.

Imagine saving 30% on your IT budget, how much would that be worth? Now factor in the waiting time for support and the lost productivity, how expensive is that?

Managed Services

Managed services is nothing new, the concept and many forms of operation have been around for a number of years. Simply put; a small application resides on each computer or server. The application responds to any failure of a set of rules by reporting the exception to the central monitor. The central monitor relays the issue and usually any basic data to the users responsible for monitoring the system. The same application usually allows remote access to the affected computer and its core programs and services.

The support team respond by examining the alert, connecting to the affected system and either remotely resolving the issue without desktop interaction or if required they will contact the end user and request a remote takeover session to resolve the issue.

In our experience around 54% of issues are resolved without any remote desktop interaction, that is to say that either a service is restarted or an automated fix is triggered and the end user is probably unaware of any remote intervention. Usually they just find that the problem has gone away and the system is now operating correctly.

And there is the problem for clients…

Because of the lack of obvious intervention by the support team, clients are frequently unaware of the work that has been performed. To ensure that the client understands the value of the service reporting is critical. The detail of reports may vary, but should at least include the time and date of the issue, the identified symptoms and the resolution.

Delivering these reports to the client on a monthly basis can make the difference between contract renewal and ending the contract.

The cost factor

Every business looks at the bottom line and ways of reducing costs to improve profitability. Justifying the cost of Managed Services is always a challenge because generally people don’t know what they don’t know, they fail to see a need, or they undervalue the service.

It is often surprising that companies (especially smaller firms) respond to promotions of IT support services such as Managed Services with statements such as “We have a member of staff who is pretty good with computers and they usually fix things for us”. There may seem to be nothing wrong with this statement but consider this:-

  1. They are not IT experts but rather hobbyists
  2. Whilst they are resolving someone else’s problem they are not performing their own duties and as a result you are doubling the lost productivity
  3. Their fix may have a serious impact on the security of the system(s) in your office
  4. Usually people fix the symptoms not the root cause – the problem will occur again in the future on the same or other systems

Example

A common enough problem in small and medium offices is a failed print job. This can happen for a number of reasons:-

  • Printer our of paper
  • Printer paper jam
  • Print queue stalled
  • OtherResending the print job – won’t help may cause multiple copies to be printed after the error has been clearedRebooting the computer – not necessary in the majority of cases and causes longer down times but usually fixes the problemBecause this is a common problem a Managed Services system usually resolves this problem completely but by logging it for the monthly report and alerting the Monitoring Team repeated occurrences of the issue can be identified and a root cause investigation can be initiated if necessary. This may identify something like a failed printer driver update as being the root cause for which the resolution is simple and will stop the problem happening again.
  • It is number 3 that requires the professional IT engineer to identify the root cause and remedial action. For a Managed Services system the monitoring software often sees the issue (because it is looking for it) and resolves the problem by restarting the print queue in less than 15 seconds (which is what the reboot does but takes several minutes to do) without any user intervention either locally or remotely.
  • Restarting the printer – often the printer is not the cause of the problem
  • The first two are usually obvious and the average user can remedy them without any problem. The stalled print queue on the other hand can be a real nuisance. Many users respond to this by:-

Of course the above example is a simple fault and that is why an automated fix is usually applied, but the saved down time can have a significant impact on productivity over the course of a single year. Now multiple the instances of similar problems and add more complex problems to the mix and suddenly the Break Fix model is so much more costly than Managed Services.

Types of Managed Service

Because we provide Break Fix and Managed Service solutions (ours is called Sentinel) we have a deep understanding of the service levels. Over the years we have also identified the types of service that clients prefer dependant on their company size and budgetary restrictions.

Full Cover

Our name for it is Sentinel Ultimate, it covers everything, servers, workstations, the network devices, the network all labour costs, full monitoring, full reporting, 24/7 response cover 365 days a year, Anti-Virus software, Offsite Cloud Backups. 1 Hour response SLA. (Current average 3 minutes). Full update control. Priority 1 call out.

Professional

To us, it is Sentinel Pro and covers servers, workstations, the network devices, the network, full monitoring, full reporting, 24/7 response cover 365 days a year. Offsite Cloud Backups are an added extra. 2 Hour response SLA. (Current average 8 minutes). Full update control. Limited Labour hours are included in this contract but discounts apply for extra hours. Priority 2 call out.

Basic

Basic provides cover for workstations, the network devices, the network, limited monitoring, full reporting, 24/7 response cover 365 days a year. Priority 3 call out. Typically only one hour per month labour is included in this contract but discounts apply for extra hours (discount is less than for Pro).

Monitoring & Reporting Only

We call is Sentinel MRO. This option has been added for those who users and companies that want to know when they have a problem but will choose either to fix it themselves or to have the IT Team resolve the issue as it requires a level of expertise they do not possess.

Essentially the system monitors servers, workstations, the network devices, the network all labour costs, dedicated monitoring, provides full alerting and reporting during working hours. The alerting and reporting lets a nominated email address or SMS text number to receive alerts about issues with the choice of resolving the issue in house or logging the problem with the help desk to be assigned to the next available engineer.

When support is required the Help Desk ticket will be resolved either by detailing a way for them to apply the fix or by a remote session. The help desk response by providing instructions is not guaranteed and has a fixed charge per incident (which may need escalation to a remote session). The remote access is again a fixed fee based on time connected to the user.

Home Users

A number of home users have also taken up the Sentinel MRO support system as it offers a cheap alternative to taking the computer to a computer shop or having an engineer visit them in their homes.

Cost

As you would expect Full Cover is the most expensive but provides a definite fixed cost to IT support with monthly payments allowing companies to plan their IT budget.

Professional is less expensive and is the choice for the majority of companies as it offers similar benefits to Full Cover but at a higher saving.

Finally we have MRO which is by far the cheapest for monitoring but the unexpected nature of faults means it is much more difficult to plan costs on the IT budget.

Conclusion

Break/Fix is dead, the obvious savings of 30% on average (or higher) make the cost of Managed Support much more of a benefit to companies be they Home Office, Small, SME or Enterprise. Looking over the last years IT support costs and factoring in a 30% saving for some may seem less significant than for others, but over a three or five year period those savings will be significant and that is profit for your business.

About the author:

Stephen Richards has worked on a range of systems over the years from VAX VMS DEC Mainframes to every Windows system from Windows 3.1 to the very latest operating systems for PC’s and Servers, Web Servers, Exchange Servers and SQL Servers.

Whilst at a previous employers he worked on an early version of a Managed Services System in 2002 (although the term was yet to be invented) and has worked with them ever since.

You can learn more about Sentinel at http://www.ctsnww.co.uk/sentinel/ and also at http://www.ctsnww.co.uk/ctsupport/sentinel-mro/

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Where to start with a “Practicle approach to Data Protection”

Customer Data Protection

When someone says data protection people’s eyes glaze over, it’s understandable that the data protection act of 1998 is important not just to businesses but the public in general.

Don’t worry, this article is not going to depths on the data protection act, instead focus on what you can do to protect your data.

This is about BIG companies isn’t it?

No, definitely not, here are some snippits of recent action taken by the Information Commissioners Office:

Lismore Recruitment Limited

A recruitment company has been prosecuted at Ealing Magistrates Court for failing to notify with the ICO. Lismore Recruitment Limited pleaded guilty and was fined £375 and ordered to pay costs of £774.20 and a victim surcharge of £38.

and here’s another:

Parklife Manchester Ltd

The company behind Manchester’s annual festival, the Parklife Weekender has been fined £70,000 after sending unsolicited marketing text messages.

The text was sent to 70,000 people who had bought tickets to last year’s event, and appeared on the recipients’ mobile phone to have been sent by “Mum”.

Let’s look at the simplest way in which you can protect your data. Education is by far the easiest way to protect data on your computer’s and therefore in your network. This means taking time to educate the staff and updating them on a regular basis.

So who should be trained?

The best way to demonstrate the importance of data protection is to top-down learning session where management is trained first followed by junior management followed by the staff. In this way it’s obvious to management as well as the staff the data protection is not something that one person does it is in fact the duty of every employee within a company.

A data breach will affect everybody within the company not just the person responsible but, those ultimately responsible as well.

The training is not lengthy or difficult, but it should be provided by an expert in the field or a company whose expertise is beyond doubt. In-house training on this subject is never recommended as it is only the outsider you can see the issues.

Information Security Awareness Training

Here’s what should be covered:

  • Provide an easy-to-use online 40 minutes information security awareness training course for your employees to log on and learn best information security practices from.
  • Provide best practice course contents of your compliance requirements.
  • Teacher employees in simple non-technical language, how and why hackers hack.
  • Instructor employees in the best methods of protecting your systems and the sensitive information you process.
  • Explain the employees inherent responsibilities for protecting your business information and identifying and reporting suspicious since.
  • Supply this information efficiently and effectively an information security threats risk assessment should be completed. A good threats and risk assessment should answer the following questions:
  • What do I need to protect and where is it located?
  • What is the value of this information to the business?
  • What other vulnerabilities associated with the systems processing or storing this information?
  • What is the security threats to the systems and the probability of their occurrence?
  • What would be the damage the business if this information were compromised?
  • What should be done to minimise and manage the risks?

Answering the questions above, is the first and most crucial step in information security risk management. It identifies exactly what your business needs protect and where it’s located and why you need to protect it in real cost impact terms that everyone should understand.

Kwik Fix Plumbers Ltd

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined a marketing company based in London £90,000 for continually making nuisance calls targeting vulnerable victims. In several cases, the calls resulted in elderly people being tricked into paying for boiler insurance they didn’t need.

In plain English, it points out to every employee within the company exactly what their responsibilities are to the data that is within their grasp on an everyday basis, it tells how to protect it, it tells us why we need to protect it and it points out the consequences to the business of not doing so.

If you would like to know more about how to protect your data then we have managed to secure a 10% discount on training with one of our partners. To obtain your discount code visit this hidden page Data Security on our website. Complete the instructions and when you click submit the link will appear to download the Info-graphic with the discount code.

Don’t leave Customer Da Protection to chance, get yourself and your staff trained on Data Protection and avoid the pitfalls. It’s easier than you think.

Steve Richards

Steve has been involved with computers since 1974 and runs Computer Technical Solutions, a consultancy, in North Wales.

Getting people back to work

Speaking with many of my customers I know that the credit crunch is a long way from over. Some of my customers and some family friends as well have been struggling to keep their heads above water.

During a recent brain storming session I came across some unusual lines of thought, this took me down a path that I wouldn’t normally have followed.

You see recently a friend had problems getting a replacement car when his old one had to be scrapped. The problem was that like many people in the recent credit crisis the friends credit score was damaged. This meant no finance for a vehicle, that would mean no job because unfortunately with shift work there would be no public transport.

As it happened, this time, his mother helped out, but it got me thinking about other people who might not be so fortunate.

It took a while to research the right solution. I needed to find a company that had a range of quality used cars and a legal and responsible finance solution for people with a poor credit history.

 

Credit ScoreCan't Get Car Finance

There are several companies in the UK that are used to check someone’s credit status. Equifax and Experian are the better know firms.

One thing that many members of the public don’t understand is that every time they apply for finance that request is recorded on their credit file. If you are refused credit then each subsequent application within a set period of time has a further adverse affect on your credit rating.

As a result some people make life worse by applying time after time with different companies, each of which adds the line “Refused for credit” or similar to their file.

So how can you get transport?

A lot of the work we did during our research to find a company that would of been able to help my friend only highlighted the poor service and unfriendly companies or unprofessional companies that would be willing to lend money with APR rates well above 300% – a disgusting way to treat people who are desperate.

What was most annoying was the fact that the people who could afford vehicles easily got charged very high rates because they had a poor credit rating and were considered a risk based just on that score.

Good News

Eventually we did find a site that could help and because this company like to pre-qualify people with such care we have developed a relationship that allows us to act as a first contact agent to promote their service.

The criteria for being considered for vehicle finance is very simple:-

  • Aged 18 or over
  • Hold a valid UK Driving Licence
  • UK Resident
  • Employed or Self Employed
  • Benefits accepted with proof
  • Must not be currently bankrupt
  • Can prove income with bank statements
  • Minimum Earnings of £8000 per annum for single applicant Minimum Earnings of £12000 per annum for joint applicants
  • Can afford at least £350 deposit

Best of all – NO CREDIT CHECKS

If you are looking for a quality used car with a 12 month warranty and MoT and you have been turned down for car finance then you should visit Can’t Get Car Finance today!