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Support service with a smile 24/7

In the third part of WA Business News’ outsourcing series Julie-anne Sprague examines the different ways to obtain outside technical support, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

FEW businesses these days are immune from software and hardware hiccups. In a world increasingly dependent on the opportunities offered by instant communications and the computer systems technologies that drive them, the availability of technical support 24/7 is becoming a must for business.

For businesses without an in-house IT team, fixing computer or network problems can be an overwhelmingly daunting, and often impossible, exercise.

Outsourcing tech support comes in several forms but the most common are derived through payment of a yearly fee for service, or a pay-by-the hour call-out fee.

IT West operates like a call-out mechanic – if you have a problem they charge you an hourly rate to fix it. According to IT West network manager Kevin Taylor, if problems cannot be fixed over the phone, contractors can go on site and solve IT glitches.

“We act as their IT support where they have problems on site and we can solve them either over the phone, dialling into their system, or we go out and fix them,” Mr Taylor said.

And, as with most experienced fix-it men, there are added fees for services required after normal business hours.

“We do operate 24 hours but we charge extra rates after business hours,” Mr Taylor said.

Getting charged extra for after-hours service is also built in to tech support services that work on a pre-paid set up.

For example, Lan-Tech systems offers pre-paid contracts that allow customers to use time as is done on a pre-paid mobile phone contract.

Lan-Tech Systems managing director Stuart Gunnis said that, while the company operated an hourly rate contract service, the pre paid model offered customers good savings.

“They pay us a support fee and that is usually discounted. For example something may be $200 an hour to fix, and if it has been pre-paid it may only cost $150 an hour,” he said.

Mr Gunnis said having a fixed contract also ensured priority technical support.

“You jump the queue, absolutely,” he said.

Power Business Solutions offers technical support to its clients as well as to companies wanting to utilise the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week help desk.

Power Business Solutions operations manager John D’Orazio said customers who bought software applications through the company were given the option of purchasing tech support.

“It is a fee paid per year, a maintenance fee, but that gives them unlimited phone support, which is quite unique,” he said.

“Generally there is a phone allocation given to people.”

The service is available to customers who do not purchase software or networking solutions from Power Business Solutions.

Mr Gunnis said more people were signing up for technical support and were viewing it as an insurance policy.

“It is becoming more common-place. People cannot afford to have down time,” he said.

And deciding what systems are mission critical and those the business can afford to have inactive also helps reduce the costs of tech support.

If something needs to be fixed it can generally be prioritised by the tech support company, however that priority listing attracts a fee for the courtesy. If the systems do not have to be online for a few hours then it may not be necessary to pay an urgency fee.

Problems also can be addressed over the phone and can often involve the technical support staff accessing the company’s network via the Internet.

Mr Taylor said businesses can gain greater expertise by outsourcing their IT departments.

“The customers we deal with are SMEs and tend to be just too small to have their own IT department,” he said.

“We have had companies that have IT support internally but have used us and simply got rid of the IT support.

“That is usually because that support was one person and they don’t necessarily know everything, they run out of knowledge.

“When you use us we can spread the problem over six people. The knowledge base is extended.”

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