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.
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.
- 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.
- 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 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:-
- They are not IT experts but rather hobbyists
- 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
- Their fix may have a serious impact on the security of the system(s) in your office
- Usually people fix the symptoms not the root cause – the problem will occur again in the future on the same or other systems
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.