Protecting your computer: service contracts keep your equipment humming

Protecting your computer: service contracts keep your equipment humming

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

A service contract is like car insurance: It gives you peace of mind in case something unforeseen happens. A good service contract assures business owners that their most critical computer equipment will keep humming.

Most likely, the computer and software you buy will come with some type of warranty, which for a limited time covers glitches that may have occurred during the manufacturing process. Unlike warranties, a service contract is specific to your needs, a guarintee that your computer will be up and running within hours.

“A service contract takes the pressure off me,” says Seth McMillan, systems manager for Afro-American Newspapers in Baltimore. “I don’t have to worry [too often] about system failures.” He manages a 50-node or workstation multiserver network and maintains the company’s Web site.

Some would disagree that service contracts are beneficial. “It’s a waste of money,” says Alison Harris, editor of Service News, a newspaper for computer support professionals. When it comes to hardware, go with a warranty as long as you can before seeking a service contract, she adds. “Most of the time you don’t need replacement hardware parts for three years,” Harris says. “With the pace of technology, by the time three years is up, the technology is obsolete.”

If you feel you need extra protection, you may need a service contract for only one of your computers. LaVerne Parker, vice president of Strategic Intelligence Inc., a New York-based software development company, has eight computers but has a service contract on only one, the mid-range IBM AS400. “It has almost all our development content on it,” Parker says, “It’s a critical machine, the lifeline of our company.

Whether your business relies on 50 computers or just one, you should decide on whether you need a service contract.

First, decide how many pieces of equipment need to be under a service contract. Determine what the cost of failure is to you. Can you do without the equipment for an hour, a day or longer? Is that cost worth the price of the contract? Spell out what kind of service you want in a contract, which may include standby technical support or standby parts.

Be sure to make a thorough investigation. Ask for the contractor’s client list. Then once you have the list, call a few people and ask them how satisfied they’ve been. “Nine out of 10 people will tell you the truth,” Afro-American Newspapers’McMillan says.

Make sure the contractor is a licensed technician of the type of computer you use. If you use a Macintosh and your service firm doesn’t have a license with Apple Computer, the contractor has to pay more to get parts, and it takes longer to get them. Translation: You pay more.

Find out how large the contractor’s staff is. If a contractor has only 10 engineers but is taking 30 calls a day, when would they get to you? And of those 10, are all skilled in the service you need?

Don’t feel obliged to sign on with the service provider offered by the dealer from which you purchased your computer. Many retailers have contracts with large companies such as Bell Atlantic and General Electric; you can call them directly. While these companies may strike a great deal with the dealer, they may also give you a competitive price. Be sure to bargain tough.

Third-party service works particularly well with multivendor systems, says Service News’ Harris. If you use a Compaq computer with Microsoft Windows, Borland’s database and a Hewlett-Packard printer, you have four different vendors. What you need is someone who can make it all work together smoothly,” Harris says.

Most important, don’t take salespeople at their word. Always insist that every single condition, such as on-site service or rapid turnover, be put in writing. This is especially important with large service companies because the salespeople you negotiate today may not be there tomorrow, or another division of the company may provide the actual service. If it isn’t in writing, all bets are off.

No matter how large or small your operation, your goal is to keep your computer up and running. Unless a service contractor can agree to that in writing, you should take your business elsewhere.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group