10 Tips To Ensure A Long-Lasting Relationship With A Third-Party IT Maintainer

As organisations approach the end of the vendor warranty on IT hardware, they may choose to consider using third party maintenance provision from the established pool of support companies. But how can an organisation choose from the support options on offer, and guarantee that the equipment so crucial to its day to day trading will receive the best maintenance?

In this blog I’d like to provide 10 top tips to ensure a happy relationship and long-lasting marriage with a third party IT maintainer.

1. Not just a pretty face

When approaching potential third party maintenance providers make sure that you fully investigate the company behind the sales and marketing façade. Whilst slick presentation skills and charisma may be natural, you need to ensure that a solid grounding in technical expertise supports this. Investing time in visiting the company HQ and engineering office will help you get a real feel for the company and its people.

2. No skeletons in the closet

The company being considered should be able to readily produce testimonials to demonstrate its history of successful maintenance delivery and customer satisfaction. As with any other major procurement project, make sure you take the time to take up customer references. Gaining an understanding of the company through its customers will be the next best thing to first-hand experience of the service you will be receiving.

3. A firm hold on the purse strings

Investigate the potential suppliers’ financial health, checking the strength of its balance sheet and profitability. You will be placing your business-critical equipment in the hands of this company, so it’s imperative that they will be around for the next three to five years to fulfil your contract. Furthermore, placing trust in the fact that you have a long-term future with the maintenance provider may allow you to negotiate reduced fees on longer contract terms.

4. A strong presence

Whilst many smaller maintainers only work from a single office and buy stock as and when required, there are suppliers out there which have invested in regional offices and carry an extensive stock of spares.

The obvious benefit of having a nationwide presence is the company’s ability to respond quickly to issues across the country, even in out of reach destinations. A regional centre will manage engineers locally and deploy the correct engineer for the task in hand. Customers will often also have specifically-assigned engineers who are familiar with the company’s setup and build long-term relationships, so not only will an engineer be on site quicker, it’s likely that he will be familiar with the customer’s systems.

Rather than ordering parts on an adhoc basis in response to maintenance problems, some maintenance providers ensure that engineers carry spares on a constant basis. This helps to ensure that problems can be fixed immediately, minimising the delays caused when waiting for parts.

5. Always keeps a promise

When fixing a contract with a provider SLAs are put in place to ensure service delivery. But the company’s ability to meet the SLAs you have in mind must be considered during the procurement phase if these are ever to be fulfilled. If you expect a 4 hour break/fix SLA to be met you must ensure that the company has the engineering breadth and expertise to meet this, as well as good fleet infrastructure, call tracking and management processes.

6. Keeps their house in order

It is important that your maintainer has the required engineering expertise and personnel in-house. This ensures that you have constant access to a breadth of experience and consistency with the engineers which work on your system. Beware the smaller companies which use sub-contracted staff to deal with adhoc projects and problems, as this will undoubtedly compromise the service levels you receive and their ability to tackle in-depth technical issues. Relying on third parties in this way can cause major delays, and Google does not have all the answers!

7. Taking the same vows

When it comes to tying down the details in the service contract, make sure that you have a clear understanding and definition of the service parameters. For instance, what is the definition of ‘on site response’? To you it will almost certainly mean an engineer with the correct levels of training and experience arriving on site with the right spares to fix the problem – but this may not be the view shared by your supplier!

Another key example is the definition of ‘logging a call’. At what point does the clock start? To you it will be the moment that you ring the call centre and log the problem. But in some cases it is not this straightforward – you may experience long waits reaching a customer service agent, difficulty logging the call and lengthy investigations before the case is activated. This means that your 4 hour break/fix promise may not be put in motion until all of this is complete – up to 24 hours after the problem first occurred.

8. Open and honest communication

Communicating with your maintenance provider will strengthen the relationship and help them understand your business requirements. The maintainer should be easy to contact and the process of engaging with them, should problems arise, must be straightforward and quick. Make sure you investigate exactly how cases are received and tracked by the call centre, and understand how they are escalated.

9. Happiness is key

High staff retention is a good indicator of happy staff and a well-managed company. Empowered and well-trained staff will be able to deliver quick, well-informed decisions, something which will have a positive impact upon the service delivery levels you receive.

10. Shared values

Taking all of these points into account, you may have found a partner who ticks all the boxes. The final, and arguably the key point to consider for a successful relationship with any supplier is trust. You need to be sure that the maintainer you choose has company values that mirror your own and you need to be sure they will support you when you need them most. After all, the point at which they will truly be tested is when you are likely to be at your most vulnerable, and this is not the time to find out that the maintainer cannot deliver on a promise.

Try to avoid relationships where you feel you may be tied up in red tape and small print when a problem occurs, or those which are inflexible when quick decisions are required. Often, the service from large vendors can seem impersonal and detached, whereas smaller third party providers can deliver a personal investment in the relationship, a flexible approach and ultimately a more effective partnership.

Paul Timms is the Group Managing Director for Maindec and CSA Waverley. Paul took up the role in 2014 after a number of years as Operations Director managing the day to day engineering functions of IT service contracts. Paul has successfully presided over the full integration of CSA Waverley into the Group. He has expanded the range of services to offer an end to end service from design, installation support and ongoing maintenance for Data Centres. Pauls holds a Master's Degree (Hons) in Engineering & Management form Exeter University and was awarded Chartered Engineer status by the Institution of Engineering & Technology (Formally IEE) in 2006. Paul is also a proud holder of a Gold Duke of Edinburgh's Award, ITIL Level 3 Foundation, CMMI Level 5 Integrator and also a keen golfer.