An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – Retained Service Contracts

We here at TCG have always known that in IT, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. However getting businesses and individuals to actively consider system management and maintenance can often be a daunting task. It’s easy to forget that computer systems, networks, and software are like any other equipment and require regular maintenance to operate and peek performance and to help avoid costly downtime.

With this in mind, we are considering offering an economic incentive to businesses and individuals to help them keep up this vital regular maintenance. On-going maintenance can often be a complicated and confusing endeavor for both the receiver and provider of services. We have looked at several ideas for ways of providing this service, and have come up with a plan we feel is very cost effective for our clients. Before we implement this plan, we wanted to present it and ask for comments about it. After all, while we feel it’s a good idea, we also feel that our clients should have input in the process.

First, some background. Our rates for service have been he same for many, many, years. We’ve never gone in for complicated billings arrangements. Our fee structure is VERY simple: flat hourly rate, billed in half hour increments, and we don’t bill for time that is not productive. This has held us well all these years, but the higher level of expertise we have now, combined with the higher costs of doing business have conspired to force the issue of a rate increase. Starting January 1, 2010, we will have to raise our service rates. We are currently in negotiation with our sub-contractors and other service providers to keep the increase as low as possible. One of the ideas that came up was to try and “normalize” our business by moving from a “reactive” to a “proactive” model of service. This would allow us to have greater control over our work flow and better budget our resources.

Simply put, under our current “reactive” model, when something breaks, we go and fix it. The danger here is that if too many things break in too many places, we are unable to react in a timely manor. There is also the strange (but very real) fact that things happen all-at-once. We spend several days doing very little, then become inundated with calls.

The Plan:

To promote good system maintenance, and to help avoid costly downtime, we are asking our clients to consider retaining us as professional IT managers. The arrangement is very simple, we ask for a monthly retainer equal to the amount of time it would take to preform normal system management and maintenance. The amount will vary from business to business based on individual needs.

On a scheduled cycle we will perform these normal system management tasks and maintenance as needed. This will not only accomplish the routine tasks, but also give us “hands on” time with the equipment so that we can spot trouble and correct it before it becomes a serious and costly problem.

These normal system management and maintenance services include things like anti-malware, OS updates, software update, physical system cleaning, hard drive integrity testing, backups, extraneous software removal, and system optimization for all IT systems, servers, printers, connected devices and even cell phones.

Our Retained Services Clients will also continue to receive the same hourly rate ($50) and the same “at cost” arrangement on parts for anything they require above and beyond normal system management and maintenance. We will also be providing a 2 hour incident response program that will have one of our specialists at your location within two hours of your call for those times when emergencies arise. As we have in the past, we intend to be very open and giving in regards to our services, so our clients never have to worry about “nickel-and-dime” invoices for things not maintenance related.

In addition to the tasks for normal maintenance, we will offer two additional services to our Retained Services Client, “remote support” and “backups”.

With “remote support” we will be able to asset our clients with many simple questions either over the phone or via remote access to their system. Our Retained Services Clients will have access to our specialists for assistance over the phone or by remote access at no additional charge.

The sad reality is that no matter how much maintenance is given, all things man-made will fail. Unless your data is backed up on a regular basis it will be lost. We want to make sure that your data is backed up regularly both at your location, and in a secure offsite location in the event of fire or flood. We have over the past year created and perfected a means by which your data can be securely and safely stored in both your office and our data center in Cumberland County. While there are many “online” solutions that claim be be able to provide offsite or “cloud” backups, these are limited in space and/or can have high monthly costs. We have always felt that for proper security, data needs to be stored in a location where you as the client can walk-in and be given your data in person, working with people you know and trust.

The Cost:

Starting in January we will be contacting our key clients with details and estimates. Until then we would genuinely like to get feed back from our clients and friends as to this new strategy. We hope that it will lead to lower IT costs and greater peace of mind for our clients, as well as better management of our own resources here at TCG.

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