Quality are Vital
by Robert Brittaine
Advanced Technology Maintenance Ltd
As the demand for computer hardware has increased, so
the end-user has become more knowledgeable and specific
in his requirements. It would seem therefore that the need
for third-party companies to provide computer maintenance
is certain to become more widespread.
The selection of a suitable micro or Personal Computer (PC)
is fairly straightforward, as information, on speed, com-
patibility, cost, reliability, etc, is readily available through data
sheets and other published information. However,
maintenance quality is not quite so straightforward, as this
service is essentially only as good as the last effective repair.
with the rather indeterminable nature of maintenance
quality, just how should the end-user make his choice of
a suitable maintenance company?
With many new product acquisitions, the supplier will offer
an attractively priced package of after-sales service and sup-
port which is very often provided in order to compensate
for the discounted price of the hardware. As the supplier
is the first and main point of contact for the purchaser, this
does on the face of it seem a simple and quite logical choice
for him to make. That is until a system breaks down, when
reliability and quality become
in the main, service only their own kit, and
as users nowadays tend to operate with a mix of manufac-
turers' equipment, this is not cost-effective — particularly
if you do not know whether the fault lies in the terminal,
disk-drive, printer or software. Calling the wrong engineer,
therefore, can prove very costly.
The immediate and most obvious strength of a third-party
maintenance company is its ability to take on responsibility
for the whole installation, and provide a superior standard
of maintenance to that of a hardware supplier.
Naturally, cost is another very important factor, but indepen-
dent third-party maintenance companies offer pricing struc-
tures that are in most cases far more attractive to the
end-user. There is also likely to be more contract flexibility.
What other factors should be considered when making a
choice of maintenance company? If possible, seek a
reference or guide from an existing customer. If this is not
possible, an assessment should be made of the particular
company's ability and willingness to please.
In addition to this, check whether the maintenance com-
pany is a member of the CSA which is the UK's computer
services trade association, whose professionalism and
business standards' objectives are highly regarded. The
Association abides by a code of practice relating to com-
munications, resources and general business conduct.
The financial strength of the maintenance company is
another important consideration, bearing in mind that the
profitability of a Third Party Maintenance (TPM) company
is based entirely on the maintenance service to its
customers. Although the financial picture will show an ability
to survive, it does not provide an indication of quality of ser-
To assess this, a visit to the company premises is
strongly recommended, when you will be able to assess per-
sonally the capability, attitude and efficiency of the
employees, and view its workshops, repair and administra-
The ability of a maintenance company to provide a "fix"
is largely dependent on the value and range of spares it car-
It should also be able to track and call spares for
despatch quickly and efficiently. In most companies, the
spares will be managed and monitored totally by a com-
puter system. Effective spares management is vital to the
quality of service as well as to the success of the company
Too few spares increase the incidence of repeat
whilst too many increase the financial burden.
Of real concern to the TPM company is the variation that
exists in the products it maintains. One of the major selling
points claimed by independent maintenance companies is
that they are able to maintain mixed vendor sites and
therefore take responsibility for a multitude of products sup-
plied by various manufacturers. To cope with this wide
equipment range, however, the independent maintenance
company has to ensure it can support its customer base
and meet its contractual commitments.
This can be handled fairly simply, provided all the relevant
information about the product to be maintained is ob-
tainable. The decisions that have to be made are: to "spare-
for the product to be maintained and to find an alter-
native product that is acceptable to the customer as replace
IMDS • SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER • 1986 3