Disaster Recovery

Three tips for billing maintenance plans

In order for an IT consultancy to maximize maintenance plans, consultants must first learn how to properly administer these agreements. Erik Eckel offers advice about billing from lessons he has learned.

 

Maintenance plans are a consultant's best bet for smoothing the turbulence that accompanies most IT support roles. By minimizing downtime, maintenance and support contracts help IT consultants develop more predictable schedules, generate more consistent revenue, and eliminate many unplanned outages, which quickly tire and exhaust even well-staffed consultancies. Maintenance plans offer another important benefit: These plans help ensure proper data backup operations are in place and are working as required.

Smart organizations work to protect their data from catastrophic loss due to fire and other threats. In Louisville, KY, where my IT consultancy resides, tornadoes are another worry. But how often do such scenarios prove realistic? Well, take a lesson from my IT consultancy. In the last 11 months, my office has had to assist clients in recovering from an unforeseen hurricane (yes, such things exist), a devastating ice storm, and events of the last week.

Last Tuesday, August 4, 2009, began like any other day. A breakfast meeting with a strategic partner was followed by a new desktop deployment and data migration. Then emergency calls started rolling in around 10:00 AM. Clients all over town were taking on water, literally. High water, even in locales usually immune from flash flooding, resulted in millions of dollars in damage. Such is the effect of more than six inches of rain within an hour.

This situation is a good example of why I advocate selling maintenance plans. These support contracts are an excellent method of not only smoothing your consultancy's business operations but also protecting clients from the loss of critical data. But, before an IT consultancy can maximize maintenance plans, consultants must first learn how to properly administer them. After three-and-a-half years of consulting full time, I've learned a few lessons. Here are three tips for billing maintenance plans:

1. Describe services

When performing maintenance tasks -- such as monitoring server disk space or e-mail logs, reviewing antivirus scans and back up routines, and downloading and installing security patches and performance updates -- be sure to tell clients which tasks you complete; this is especially true if you perform these services remotely.

Don't just send an invoice that lists "server maintenance" and don't just describe services as "reviewed backup logs" or "server maintenance" on the invoice. Instead, state "confirmed server back up operations were backing up critical data off-site as scheduled" or "downloaded and installed Microsoft-recommended server security and performance patches to protect against newly identified threats and known performance issues." By including additional information, you better enable the client to understand exactly how you continue to add value to their business.

2. Write tight maintenance agreements

Clients don't always differentiate between maintenance work and new projects. If you draft an agreement that specifies you'll provide support service, be sure to define the tasks that constitute maintenance and support. Some clients may believe migrating data from an old server to a new Windows domain constitutes maintenance, while most consultants will view such a complex and time-consuming task as a new project.

Better yet, when drafting maintenance and support plans, specify the number of IT service hours the client receives each month. If the client surprises you with a new project, then it's not a problem. You should include language in the maintenance contract that clearly states the hourly rate the client will pay for any IT services delivered above and beyond the number of hours they receive each month as part of the maintenance or service plan. This strategy helps eliminate any unpleasant surprises when the client receives your bill.

3. Leverage reporting features and tools

Windows Small Business Server includes daily performance reporting features. Third-party tools, including GFI Software's HoundDog and HyBlue's Windows Monitor, offer alternative monitoring opportunities. Even APC power management software and image backup applications offer automated and alert reporting. Be sure to use these types of tools to keep an eye on your client's servers and computers. Review appropriate performance reports daily to help identify troublesome trends and errors before the issues become crises. Then, be sure to include the time spent on such tasks on your monthly maintenance plan invoice.

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About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

12 comments
kehindeIbiejugba
kehindeIbiejugba

hi guys, i am drafting a maintenance proposal for a company, what are the tips and strong points to lay emphasis on?

GlennHughes
GlennHughes

Interesting comments. In my role I negotiate many contracts with IT suppliers but as part of a larger organisation I haven't dealt with independant consultants for support & maintenance. However, I'd be interested to know how frameworks such as ITIL are taking hold and if independant consultants are having to include elements such as service hours, SLAs, service credits etc. Obviously small clients may not want such services as they will carry extra cost but from your point using these best practices can give you a more professional image. You could even have a service catalogue concept clearly defining what services you offer. Clients can then pick and choose services to suit their situation. You may even find that some clients are willing to pay for better service increasing your revenue once they are aware they exist.

reisen55
reisen55

I have long encouraged this practice but with the caveat that it not be a binding document. As a letter of intent, I clearly state issues, rates and job expectations but with the open thought that as a letter of intent it is always open to conversation and adjustment by all parties. It is a then a living document that can be easily broadened or narrowed, modified and corrected as circumstances so dictate.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

I'm interested to hear what reporting and alert tools other IT professionals use to monitor systems and networks? And, are you happy with those tools?

j
j

We use a service catalogue to help identify the service requirements of our customers. It is seldom that we find the requirements of 2 customers to be the same, even in vertical industries. Using the catalogue allows us to quickly build and cost a solution with the required elements from the catalogue used to construct the SLA.

QwertyTec
QwertyTec

Great article, where could I get a sample of a Maintenance plan I could implement for my clients?

henrick.aecom.saudi
henrick.aecom.saudi

Anyone knows what Company can be contacted for Maintenance Proposal for HP and dell servers, Oracle softwares, etc? need your advice as soon as possible.

reisen55
reisen55

For remote access to any server. You can create up to 5 accounts for free, after that it is a pay service. The setup is a bit tricky but the client once downloaded works like a charm. Study RDP and Port Forwarding through the router, ports 3389 onward and opening up systems for remote control.

eharris
eharris

We work with a number of non-profits and small business who use SBS (different versions). We provide the decision-maker with the key reports and they like knowing things like email volume per employee.

bigaussie
bigaussie

Once we have our clients confidence and trust we install RADMIN as our remote access software of choice. It installs best with a fixed IP Address but does play well with DynDNS as well. The port it uses can be easily changed to suit your own environment. This is by far the fastest remote access package for Windows based clients, with plenty of options for cutting back on graphic settings to make it even faster getting around your target server or desktop. Remote access to all the standard tools built into SBS2003 or WinXP/Vista/Windows7. Works well under all versions of Win32/64. Pretty hard to beat the Event Viewer logs under Computer Management on all platforms. Many server based packages will setup their own set of Event Logs which make troubleshooting that program so much easier.

QwertyTec
QwertyTec

Thanks I'm looking at the sites as we speak!

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