IT (information technology) has, in recent times, become super crucial in all organisations across all sectors. The simple reason being, it has enabled better communication, efficiency, and improved productivity in all business operations. But the main question is, how do you ensure that your IT-enabled services are delivering what you are expecting from them? Well, through IT Support Contracts agreements! For a business to effectively manage and support its IT-enabled services, it normally relies on third-party providers who provide the necessary insights, expertise, and workforce to maintain its IT infrastructure. Now, if you are looking for an IT support provider, you need to have an IT support contract that covers all the essential requirements necessary for your IT system to continue performing at optimum levels. In this guide, we will have an in-depth look at IT support contracts, and most importantly, what to expect from your IT provider.
What is an IT support contract?
To put it simply, an IT support contract is basically an agreement between two parties, where one party provides IT support services to the other party in exchange for payment. When you contract IT services from a third party, it is because you want the technological aspect of your business to continue running smoothly and without any mishap, and that in the event there are technical difficulties, they are fixed in a timely manner. When you hire these IT service providers, you get into a contract with them, clearly stating exactly how they are going to help you tackle these challenges.
What is Service Level Agreement (SLA) and how is it different from an IT service contract?
If you have heard of IT support contracts, then it is highly likely that you’ve also heard of Service Level Agreements, and might be wondering what their differences are – if any at all. Here is the thing, an IT support contract basically outlines the services provided, the cost, duration, approach, assumptions resources, and so on, whereas an SLA only focuses on the service quality and performance agreed to by both parties. So we can say that the SLA is like a performance measurement tool, as it essentially sets out what service levels are acceptable and the consequences if these levels aren’t met. This document is filed separately together with the IT support contract, which means that it can be revised without having to revise the contract as a whole, which also means that it can adapt easily to the changing service level requirements. What’s more, keeping them separate helps in eliminating the administrative strain of having to regularly review the contract.
IT support contract scope
Your IT service contract needs to include the supported services, hardware, and software that are covered in the agreement. Among other things, it should include PCs, servers, network equipment, cloud computing services, tablets and smartphones, email systems, and websites. Remember, the listing itself isn’t enough, the contract also needs to state the level to which this equipment is covered. For instance, the contract generally states the response time for each item, which indicates the specific time it will take to fully fix the problem once the provider is notified. Now, deciding what should be covered in your IT support contract, and to what level, certainly requires some strategic foresight. And for that reason, we’ve included some of the things the contract should entail, in detail.
What should an IT contract cover?
Here are some aspects that need to be clearly stated in the contract:
How long will we be working together? – The contract should be clear on when it starts, and when it ends. Check out the automatic rollover clauses which renew the contract automatically – that is you stated otherwise, and you may want to end the engagement at a certain date. What’s more, the contract also needs to state how it can be ended. Are the conditions for terminating the contract onerous or reasonable?
How can you keep the contract running? – You need to check if there are conditions to that effect, and whether if you are okay with them. The conditions may include the following:
- The specific date to make full payment;
- Issues with your IT system you will need to fix first before validating the contract;
- Having to make changes to your system only when the IT service provider approves them;
- You may also need to have someone in your team who is tasked with looking after the support provider and calling the provider in case anything goes wrong. This individual may also be required to do some basic IT support service before calling the provider, and must also keep the IT provider briefed at all times, not to mention offering a helping hand in case the provider needs it;
- Must meet minimum standards for security as well as continuity, including backups, having anti-virus software, and also ensuring that you have an uninterruptible power supply for your servers.
What will be the cost? – You also need to know exactly what you will be paying, and whether you will get value for your money in return. Now, there are a number of combinations and permutations used when price support services, including:
- Fixed fee for everything;
- A fee that will guarantee priority support service;
- The number of hours you are paying for. You should know if there are extra hours needed – probably due to extra work – outside the scope of support covered in the contract, you ought to pay extra;
- There will also be flat fees covering specific types of support.
Hardware covered – you also need to be aware of the equipment that is covered by the contract. In this case, a list on which both of you can agree will be ideal. The IT provider may give conditions such as not covering equipment that has been in use for many years, as they are worn out and that they may not be as effective as they once were. Things like servers and printers, which fail quite often should be included in the contract, but things like your PC hardware aren’t recommended to be in it as it doesn’t fail that often.
Software covered – when talking of software, think of operating systems, business office applications – such as spreadsheets, presentation, and word processing – databases, security applications, productivity and collaboration software, as well as industry-specific software packages. Now, you have to make sure that the support provider is experienced when it comes to supporting software, as you don’t want to entrust the most important part of your business to someone who knows nothing of software.
How soon will they respond? – It is good to have a commitment on response times for specific support requests included on your IT support contract. Obviously, when a server fails, you want it fixed as soon as possible, otherwise, it might put the business operation in jeopardy. So, you need to find out how long the provider might take in case you need something dealt with urgently, and if there are extra costs attached to it. Also, other than specifying the response time, you may also want to specify a target time to resolve certain support requests.
Backups – regardless of the kind of backup systems you use or the data you usually backup, it’s important to keep the system working smoothly to avoid any data loss. This is why the support contract needs to include the regular testing of backups at regular intervals and also storing the backup in multiple locations to ensure that critical data is protected.
What’s not covered? – The contract also includes a few exclusions, which you be aware of and must agree with. Some of these exclusions include:
- Support for old equipment
- Anything that broke before the commencement of the contract
- Support for non-standard software
- Anything that breaks from being misused by the client
- Site visits to set up new equipment.
The IT support contract may also include things that may invalidate the agreement. So, you must understand them, and most importantly, must find them reasonable. You may find some providers who may still help with any of the excluded tasks, but, in doing so, they are not bound to adhere to the response times indicated under the contract.
How do you make a request for IT support?
A lot of support providers prefer when a client follows a specific procedure when requesting tech support. Simply because they are able to get an idea of your preferences and requirements from the manner in which you request help. Luckily, all this info is outlined in the support contract. Essentially, the contract outlines who is supposed to make the request, during what hours should the request be made, and lastly, what form the request should be. As well, the IT support contract should also mention the kind of response you can expect from the provider. It could either be over the phone or they could access your system remotely. Now to ensure that the process is smooth and efficient:
- Always ensure that you have someone who deals with the provider;
- Make sure escalation is clearly defined on the contract, and whether there will be additional costs that will be incurred, and lastly;
- Always ensure that there are clear logs available for recording the status of the problems plus their resolutions.
IT support levels
IT support is structured in levels so as to:
- Address the needs of the consumers strategically;
- Handle the easier problems quickly;
- Create favourable client experience;
- Creating a plan to resolve the difficult issues.
Now, a typical support provider offers support in accordance with the following levels/Tiers:
Self-help and user-retrieved information – which includes information such as FAQs, guides, blog posts, knowledge bases, comprehensive product, and technical information, or search functions.
Basic help desk resolution – including simple client issues such as troubleshooting usage issues as well as completing simple service desk request.
In-depth technical support – the technicians provide solutions to problems that are a bit complicated, and can’t be handled in Tier 1. But when the problem becomes too challenging, it’s set aside for a higher tier.
Expert level service support – all challenges that couldn’t be solved in Tier 1 or Tier 2.
External support for excluded problems – this includes support for those products that the company renders but doesn’t service, such as manufacturer software support, printer support, depot support, equipment repair, plus other outsourced services.
What does an IT service contract require of you?
Whenever you are looking to enter into a support contract, it is very important that you are aware of your responsibilities and you must uphold the contract on your end. The responsibilities may include:
- Ensuring that you maintain the payment schedule;
- Consult your provider before making system changes;
- Addressing certain system problems before the commencement of the contract;
- Having an individual on your team to look after the system and report any changes to the IT provider;
- Meeting minimum security standards.
IT support contract types and costs
When hiring IT support providers to maintain your system, of course, your decision is largely influenced by their costs as well as billing policies. But before you even get this far, you need to have a clear picture of exactly what you need, your system’s value as well as the overhead of the inaccessibility of your resources. This will give you a better idea of what the cost will be. Remember, when looking for an IT support contract, how much you will be paying plus how you will be billed are crucial considerations that you must emphasise. And in doing so, ask yourself this:
- How is the cost calculated? Per event or per day?
- Will you adopt a pay-as-you-go policy or will you be paying a monthly bill?
- In cases where credits are supported, how much time corresponds to one credit, and basically, how valid are the credits?
Here are some of the payment options:
Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) – in such an agreement, the client pays the provider every time you ask for support. In other words, this PAYG is referred to as “per incident” billing and it’s mostly offered on a rolling and no-obligation kind of contract. The thing with this form of billing though is that you will need to exercise diligence, given that you may find yourself paying for the littlest things like restarting a computer. In most cases, you find the ‘per incident’ costs going up to £70. Now in such a contract:
- You can be charged per hour where you book a certain amount of time in advance and draw whenever you are in need of assistance. Compared to paying for every hour, such an arrangement has proven to be more cost-effective.
- In cases where there are online chats or telephone support, the charges vary greatly, especially when it comes to onsite support and remote support.
If you are looking to add an in-house IT support team, maybe PAYG support would be the way to go, given that it substitutes really well in cases where IT staff are unavailable.
Flexible IT support – maybe you are not comfortable being tied down into contracts, well, that’s fine. Now, if you are one of these people, then you should look for providers who offer flexible IT support services, maybe like rolling 30-day contracts. In doing so, you need to focus more on the most critical areas such as the backup and servers so as to guarantee efficient business operations and security.
Monthly contract – under this agreement, you are required to pay a fixed monthly charge every month, to cover all the support services offered within that particular month. A lot of reputable companies provide their services under fixed monthly charge contracts, and so, if the thought of having your servers down terrifies you, you need also need to consider this type of contract. A business with about 10 computers and a network server pays around £300 per month – a cost that covers server monitoring as well as checks of your equipment.
A managed IT services contract is intended to protect both the client and the IT provider. And so, both parties agreeing to the terms and conditions of the contract is very crucial. What’s more, you need to find a provider who takes your needs at heart in everything that they do in your collaboration.
A well-laid-out tech support contract typically covers all scenarios when it comes to maintaining your IT systems. So, ensure that the IT support provider you are to get into a contract with offers all the services you are looking for and is doing so at a price that is within your budget.