In this chapter we shall:
Most machines come with warranties (usually one, two or three years) which an be 'on-site' (the supplier will come to you) or 'return to base' (you have to send the machine back to the supplier). It is always worth checking at the procurement stage the duration and type of warranties you are buying, especially if you are price shopping, as the difference in price between machines can sometimes be attributable to a difference in warranty provision.
Regardless of warranties, most charities use (or wish to use) a third party for the maintenance and support of the structural element of their IT (machines and operating systems). It is easier to find suppliers if you are a very big charity - as large engineering and IT facilities management companies are probably going to be interested in the top 50 to 100 charities - or a very small charity, as local high street IT shops (probably the source of your equipment) often provide a good personal service to single site charities.
For those in between, say charities with 5 to 50 machines and possibly more than one site, it frequently seems to be problem getting a suitably qualified and located support company sufficiently interested. Perseverance will usually pay off in the end and it is better to keep shopping around than to put up with dreadful service. If you get dark days you can console yourself by remembering that standards of service in this area of IT are generally pretty low throughout the UK. In other words you are probably no worse off than most of your peers.
It is important that your maintenance and support contract is clear about service levels, such as call-out lead time (usually four working hours or eight working hours, the latter being significantly cheaper) and which aspects of your computing are covered by the agreement. Make sure that the supplier is aware of machines that are still under warranty, as this should have an impact on the price of your maintenance contract. It is also important for you to clarify which aspects are covered by your regular fee and which aspects you will pay for “as-you-go”. When you do have an element of “pay-as-you-go”, ascertain when the clock starts ticking (e.g. are you paying for travel?) and whether you have to cover travelling expenses. If you have sites in remote places these aspects can have serious cost implications. When asking for quotes, ask suppliers to offer you choices of different levels of service and alternative mixes of fixed fee and “pay-as-you-go”, so you can choose an arrangement most suited to your budget and your needs.
If you are able, it helps to have an element of self-sufficiency with regard to support. That doesn’t mean a screwdriver and soldering iron for the chief executive, but it does mean, for example:
If your organisation is large enough to have one or more dedicated IT staff, you should consider using a third party to manage the facility comprehensively, for example to provide full support of networks, desktop PCs, operating systems and office applications. This approach can make sense financially, especially in circumstances where a commercial facilities manager can achieve economies of scale on your behalf. Although a relatively unusual approach for not-for-profits at the moment, managed IT facilities are increasingly popular for smaller and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). It is increasingly common for maintenance and support companies to offer wider IT facilities services.
You should ask potential providers of maintenance and support for their ideas on managing the whole IT facility. Such ideas can also make your organisation look more attractive to providers, encouraging them to engage in discussions with you whereas otherwise they might not be interested in your organisation. Even if you decide to choose a traditional maintenance and support contract for the time being, obtaining estimates for a comprehensive managed service can help you to gauge whether or not you are getting reasonable value for money from your current IT support provision.
There is further discussion about outsourcing aspects of your not-for-profit organisation's IT service in the chapter 19.