If you’re like me, your eyes begin to glass over and you immediately become suspicious when someone passes any type of contract across the desk and in your direction. We are all leery (for good reason) of committing to almost any type of relationship for an extended period of time. We immediately think that something is going to happen and we are going to need to get out. The ability to leave a contract is an important issue, and something we all worry about. But sometimes you just have to sign on the dotted line.
The question really is, when is the time right and how can you be sure you are protected?
In our business, we use a service agreement (notice I didn’t say “contract”) as an outline of how we intend to do business. It is more of a way to define responsibilities: duties we are responsible for as the service provider and responsibilities the client has. All of these are clearly listed in one area so everyone is on the same page.
You may or may not have an agreement or contract with your current IT folks, but here are a few reasons why you may want one:
- Such agreements will state the amount of time and the services you are to receive for a specified amount. It will also clearly state whether you receive support hours each month alongside any other services such as anti-virus programs for your workstations or network monitoring. Having a clearly written document with what you get and for how much is the most important aspect of the agreement.
- There should also be an understanding of what the expected response time will be from your provider. As a business owner, you need to know if you have a network-down emergency when you can expect someone to get it back up. Of course, you won’t see a guaranteed repair or resolution time (no one can guarantee repair times). But knowing your support team will be working on the issue within a reasonable period of time is crucial. By the way, a network down emergency should have a response within one hour or less.
- What’s not covered is just as important as what is covered. As an example, we no longer support out-of-date operating systems. We specify that in our agreements. If we talk to a prospective client who has older servers or workstations, we begin asking serious questions. Perhaps there is legacy software running on older systems? Maybe those older applications can be virtualized and run on more stable infrastructure? Maybe the answer is that it’s time to get them replaced? Every situation is different. We do our best to work through these sticking points with every client and prospective client.
- The time and commitment issue is still a tough one. Usually, for a specified amount of time, you get the proposed service at a set rate. Your fees do not go up. This is still the practice of many IT providers. At Atlantic Computer Services, we take a different approach. All of our agreements can be terminated with a 30-day notice. If something isn’t working out, it isn’t working out. Why hold each other hostage? As for agreements that do lock you in a time period, I’d recommend that you never commit to anything for more than one year unless you receive significant rate reductions.
These are just a few items that should be in your IT service agreements. But the biggest thing to remember is that everything is negotiable. Please don’t be forced into a preplanned package that doesn’t fit your needs. A properly structured agreement is nothing to avoid. In fact, I’d demand it.
There’s a reason why so many organizations look to Atlantic Computer Services for the IT support they need to grow their business, and that’s because ACS provides honest, reliable, knowledgeable and friendly service. The company's goal is to serve as a technology partner, offering solutions that are affordable, uncomplicated and in the best interest of each individual client. Learn more about ACS, its services and its people at www.acs-ilm.com, or call (910) 799-6538.