Special Reports

Managed Services Smooth the Way in Rough Economic Times

Companies tired of the "break-fix" model find a better way.

Like many business owners, Eric Shorr, president of PC Troubleshooters, is completely dedicated to customer satisfaction. Yet, a couple of years ago, Shorr realized that something at the very heart of his business was jeopardizing his relationships with his customers. At the time of Shorr's revelation, PC Troubleshooters used a time-and-materials model -- also known as a "break-fix" model -- to provide IT support services to small- and medium-sized companies in the New England area. Customers were billed only when work was done.

Sounds reasonable, but the resulting relationships were completely crisis-driven. Customers rarely considered network and systems maintenance a priority, so Shorr's engineers were usually called upon only when there was downtime. Then there was the aftermath. "Customers would get upset upon receiving a big bill after something broke," explains Shorr. "It resulted in a very reactive -- almost adversarial -- situation. Something goes down. They weren't expecting it to go down. That's bad enough, but then there's a big repair bill." Double whammy.

Shorr began the process of shifting his customer base from the break-fix model to a more proactive managed services model. For a monthly service fee, PC Troubleshooters monitors and maintains computer networks, servers, workstations, and applications. If there's downtime, the fix is included in the monthly fee.

The managed services model works well for both PC Troubleshooters and its customers. Customers know how much they're going to be spending every month, and PC Troubleshooters is free to be proactive with the monitoring and maintenance to keep systems up and running, resulting in less downtime. "Things just run much more smoothly for everyone," says Shorr.

Moving customers to a managed services model meant PC Troubleshooters had to be absolutely confident it could provide 24x7 system and network monitoring -- no mistakes, not even a hiccup. Monitoring tools from Zenith Infotech are key to PC Troubleshooters' managed care offering, which it calls Total Care Plus.

Shorr believes it's important to know your core competencies, hone them, and stick to them. So, he knew he wanted his engineers on the road, servicing their accounts and providing exceptional customer service. He didn't want them tied up in the office, maintaining equipment and rebooting servers in the middle of the night. So, PC Troubleshooters leaves those tasks to Zenith's NOC (network operations center) and monitoring systems. Shorr's engineers are front and center with their customers, proactively contacting them when there's some sort of issue that has been identified and resolved, or is in the process of being resolved.

Nicholas Barrett & Associates (NB&A) is a good example of a customer that transitioned from a time-and-materials model to managed care. This Rhode Island law firm specializes in bank transactions, such a real estate closings, foreclosures, evictions, etc. It's a document-intensive, deadline-oriented business, so uptime is critical. If letters don't go out on time because a NB&A employee doesn't have access to the most recent documents, or if they don't file documents with the proper courts on time, the results are costly. "When you're dealing with a law firm of 50 or so people who are sending and receiving documents via e-mail all day long, you can only imagine how costly extended downtime would be," explains Shorr.

NB&A recently ran into a serious problem. Its Exchange e-mail server crashed hard and there was physical damage. "Because of Zenith's monitoring tools, we were able to notify NB&A of the problem," says Shorr. "And, because we also use Zenith's backup and recovery solution, we were able to get them back up and running in less than an an hour using a virtual copy of their server." Afterward, there was no massive time-and-materials repair bill to turn PC Troubleshooters from hero to villain.

Shorr is happy with the changes he's seen in his business over the last couple of years. Zenith's tools let him provide the kind of service his managed service customers expect. His business has grown, despite the economic downturn. And, customers are happy with the care PC Troubleshooters provides, which is what matters most to Shorr.

About the Author

Christa Ayer is a freelance technology writer based in Seattle, Wash.

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