Computers are the lifeblood of any business, which means every business needs to spend money to maintain them. Yet the cost involved to properly support your IT network can vary widely from one provider to another.
Are you getting the best value for your budget with your IT support?
Comparing Managed IT Services and Break-Fix Plans
When it comes to IT support, there two basic types of service plans that most IT companies offer. The first is “Time and Materials” (known throughout the IT industry as “Break-Fix”). The second is “Managed IT Services.”
Under this pricing model, you pay an agreed-upon hourly rate for a technician to fix your problem whenever something breaks. To keep costs down, you can often negotiate a discount on the standard hourly rate when you purchase a block of hours in advance.
The scope of work under this pricing model is often resolving a specific problem (like removing a virus). Sometimes it may involve a large project like performing a computer network upgrade or move that has a specific result identified.
Managed IT Services
Under this pricing model, your IT services company becomes your IT department, supporting all the devices and PCs connected to your server. Managed IT service plans also typically offer phone and on-site support, antivirus, security, backup, and a host of other services. In short, a managed IT provider will monitor and maintain the health, speed, performance, and security of your computer network. You’ll pay a monthly fee based on the number of computers and devices that need support.
So which pricing model is best for your business?
For most small businesses that have a server and at least five computers, managed IT services are the most cost-effective option by far. By acting as your IT department, a managed services provider can proactively keep your network healthy and stable, all for a fixed monthly cost.
In contrast, the break-fix model reacts to problems as they happen, rather than helping to prevent them. This results in unpredictable bills and doesn’t save you from the costs of downtime or lost productivity either.
In fact, the only time you’ll really want to consider the break-fix pricing structure is when you already have a competent IT person or team proactively managing your computer network and simply have a specific IT project that your current provider doesn’t have the time or expertise to implement.
Outside of that, most businesses will come out ahead with the managed IT approach. It’s not hard to understand why when you consider that regular monitoring and maintenance (the basis for managed IT service plans) is critical for today’s computer networks.
The best plan is a proactive one
Another factor to consider between the two IT models is the reality of cybercrime. We are increasingly dependent on our IT systems and the huge amount of data we store digitally. Unfortunately, this has given rise to sophisticated cyber criminals who work around the clock to do one thing: compromise your network.
Staying one step ahead of the cyber criminals is a full-time job that requires the full-time monitoring that managed IT service plans provide.
Unfortunately, your network also faces plenty of other threats beyond cybercrime. Employee mistakes, lost devices, hardware failures, fire, or natural disasters can interrupt or even destroy your IT infrastructure and the data it holds.
Preventing these problems and keeping your systems up and running is a lot less expensive than waiting until something bad happens. Emergency IT services to restore your systems get expensive quickly. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention really does equal a pound of cure.
So if constant monitoring is a necessity, shouldn’t you just hire a full-time IT person? In most cases, companies with fewer than 50 employees will find it far less expensive to outsource their IT needs to a dedicated managed services provider than to take on the expense of additional employees.
What to Look For In a Managed IT Services Agreement
Even though a managed IT services solution is the best option for most small businesses, not all managed services plans are created equal. Here are some things to look for when evaluating a managed IT provider’s services.
Be sure the quoted monthly price covers:
- Applying security patches weekly, if not daily, for urgent and emerging threats
- Antivirus update monitoring
- Firewall update monitoring
- Backup monitoring and test restores
- Spam-filter installation and updates
- Spyware detection and removal
- Monitoring disk space on workstations and servers
- Monitoring hardware for signs of failure
- Optimizing systems for maximum speed
The following services may not be included and will often be billed separately. Be sure to talk with providers about these items.
- Hardware, such as new servers, PCs, laptops, printers etc.
- Software licenses
- On-site support
The Gray Areas of “All-Inclusive” Service Contracts
In order to truly compare the cost of IT service contracts, you need to make sure you fully understand what is and isn’t included. You should review the SLA (service level agreement) carefully. One IT support provider may appear far less expensive than another until you look closely at exactly what’s included.
Before you sign up for a managed IT contract, be sure you know the answers to the following questions.
- Do they offer a written, guaranteed response time to your calls?
- Do they provide detailed invoices that clearly explain what you are paying for?
- Do they have adequate errors and omissions insurance as well as workers’ compensation insurance to protect you?
- Do they provide a weekly report that shows all the updates, security patches, and the status of every machine on your network so you know that your systems have been secured and updated?
- Is it standard procedure for them to provide you with written network documentation detailing what software licenses you own, critical passwords, user information, and hardware inventory?
- Do they have multiple technicians on staff who are familiar with your network in case your regular technician goes on vacation or gets sick?
- If you were to experience a major disaster, do they have a written plan for how to quickly restore your data and/or enable you to work from a remote location?
Also be sure to find out if your IT support contracts includes any of the following:
- Is phone support and e-mail help desk included or extra?
- What about 3rd-party software support? (We recommend that you do include this)
- What are the costs/consequences of early cancellation?
- What if you aren’t happy with their services? Do they offer a money-back guarantee?
- Are off-site backups included? To what degree?
- If you have a major disaster, is restoring your network included or will it cost extra?
- What about on-site support calls? Or support to remote offices?
- Are home PCs used for remote work included?
The Final Word
As computer networks become more complex, it has never been more important to ensure your network is being monitored and protected. Getting the best value for your IT dollars is easy when you choose the right IT support and pricing structure. While looking through contracts and asking lots of questions may seem like a hassle at first, you’ll be glad you took the time to fully evaluate your options before signing up for service. After all, the right managed IT service plan will help you control your IT costs each month while providing consistent monitoring and peace of mind.