Proactive maintenance is perfect for the services era

When the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced additional lockdown rules late last year, he caused a different kind of flurry. Deploying his love for maxims, the PM said: “A stitch in time saves nine.” It turns out that many people today have never heard this advice, which first appeared in a 1700s book on sewing. Briefly, UK searches for the phrase peaked on Google, explaining that a little intervention now can avoid many future problems.

The same applies to digital technology. A straightforward fault in complex and integrated systems can result in serious damage to revenue and productivity. Thus, leaving maintenance until something breaks is a bad idea, says Patrick Reeves, Managing Executive for Axiz Field Services: “If you drive your car and only get it fixed when it breaks down, you are going to pay a fortune. You’re going to have to pay to get that car towed from wherever you have broken down; you’re going to have to replace whatever broke. You’re going to spend a lot, plus you’re going to have to get things done without your car. The same applies to technology systems. Wait too long and you will have a bigger mess to fix than you needed to.”

Services vs maintenance

In the world of traditional hardware sales, maintenance was less of a value add and more of an additional cost. Many companies chose to avoid those costs by either placing the responsibility on internal teams or keeping maintenance to the bare minimum.

This disharmony feeds the appetite for as a service alternatives such as IaaS and device as a service. If you don’t own it, you don’t really have to maintain it. It’s a very familiar motivator around cloud adoption – your people don’t need to spend so much time ‘keeping the lights on’, often a euphemism for system maintenance. But in reality, there is always hardware to maintain.

“If you are an SME, you can have an almost pure service play,” says Reeves. “But even at that level, you don’t get away from hardware completely. You still have user devices and network components. And the need scales with the size of the business. All of these elements can cause big problems if they aren’t looked after, yet IT teams have their hands full with digital transformation priorities.”

Services don’t eliminate all the operational demands on a company’s IT. The answer is to use field services that maintain physical assets in your technology estate. But traditional maintenance is ill-suited for the demands of the current digital age and requires a fresh approach.

Untangling traditional maintenance

Today’s channel businesses are reducing ‘big bang’ hardware sales, replete with maintenance contracts, for the long sell of services. It enables small providers to offer solutions at scale yet also encourages them to reduce maintenance capacity or never develop that capacity. This is a space where distributors such as Axiz can play a transformational role, Reeves explains: “In the past, maintenance was seen as the job for the solution provider selling the product to the customer. This meant that if the distributor offered maintenance services, they could undercut the provider who is also their customer. But we’ve noticed that as many providers turn to a services model, they develop gaps in their maintenance capability. This is where companies can step up and provide maintenance services through the provider.”

For example, many vendors stipulate that only correctly certified engineers can work on their systems. A provider can sell a system, but it might lack the skills to maintain that system. Yet if it can rely on the maintenance network of a big partner such as a distributor, it can continue to deliver without dramatically expanding its operations. Other examples include doing work in different territories (often requiring a work permit and risks a travel ban if violated), maintaining vendor agnosticism, using local legal maintenance entities for domestic transactions, and staying on top of mundane maintenance issues that can get out of hand.

“Take a common small example of a CPU with too much load on it,” Reeves elaborates. “Over time, that chip will eventually fail and yet it can be fixed easily by shifting some of that load to other CPUs. But it’s one of many elements an IT team needs to monitor. They don’t have time to track such details. If you have someone who comes in once a week to do proactive maintenance, they get to know the systems and they can spot those small issues that will become big problems.”

Going proactive

Proactive maintenance creates this direct value. It can be designed around the scope of work a company needs, presented through different tiers such as permanent on-site technicians or rotating visits from a technician. A focused field maintenance provider offers valuable skills where and when they are needed.

Though the concept is not new, today’s proactive maintenance is much more feasible and value-driven, says Reeves: “The old days of moving boxes is what damaged proactive maintenance. You bought something and it came with a service warranty that would bleed you, so you tried to keep that cost as low as possible. The flexibility we have with the cloud today also makes maintenance more flexible. It’s no longer a means to an end for a technology sale. It’s a standalone service that can fit into the context and budget of a business. Maybe you just need a server check once a week. Maybe you need a technician in a van to sort out employee devices. You can set the scope, and the costs are upfront and not hidden behind some TCO calculation.”

This shift means that maintenance is now more sensible, predictable and proactive. You can wait for all the stitches to come undone, or you can get one in before it all falls apart. But you no longer have hidden costs and inflexibility keeping you from making the right choice: “Don’t just think ‘fail and fix’. Everyone knows the term ‘break fix’. If it breaks, we’ll fix it. But actually, there is money to be saved for a customer. Proactive maintenance means you will spend less and you will have less downtime.”