Most small companies outsource their computer maintenance to consulting services because a 15 employee population does not financially justify having an IT person on staff. In the normal course of business, spyware slows the speed of PC’s, accounts take on increasing amounts of spam and fewer and fewer emails reach their designated locations. Inevitably, the symptoms foretell a business crisis coming due in the same manner in which chest pains and shortness of breath eventually give way to a heart attack. So it would seem that optimizing your business health should mirror the way one maintains their biological well being. “The concept we have is the computer HMO,” says Principal Barry Levine of Microcomputer Consulting Group (MCG), but their application analogy integrates the western healthcare model with an eastern hook.
For instance, Chinese medicine may someday prevent open-heart surgery through the daily application of stress relieving acupuncture. If not, the HMO has doctors standing by. Similarly, Mr. Levine’s computer HMO will be there if a virus crashes a client’s email system but proactive maintenance allows MCG to get out in front before problems become fruitful and multiply into something that cripples.
A monthly co-pay, so to speak, means Mr. Levine’s people come in, do a 15 step onsite diagnostic on each PC and inspect every piece of equipment in a company’s IT arsenal. So with a workstation’s disk space running low, important error messages not getting their due or having a firewall that’s about to burn, the possibility of bigger problems get cut off before heavier technical lifting is required.
Unlike a real doctor, though, if MCG misses something or things just go a rye, your lost time and their added attention doesn’t mean more out of pocket payment. “When you’re sick, you don’t pay us (extra),” he says, so the onus is on MCG to put its proactive processes to good use.
That zeroes a company in on exactly how much expense goes out on computer maintenance. A common complaint of reactive IT outsourcing firms is clients have no idea what they’ll be paying from month to month, he says.
In March it might be $10, while April tallies to $5000, he says, but for as much attention a multi-thousand dollar month might seem to get, it doesn’t necessarily add up to quality time. In crisis mode, employees need to get back online so the tech must take an approach that is not necessarily conducive to the best outcome. “He’s more patching and getting them working rather than resolving a problem and coming up with a good long term solution,” he says.
So ten minutes, once or twice a month, seems insignificant and when regular visits are simply the routine, calm engenders an interaction with the consultant that pays off. “We’re discussing normal computer use” he says. Consequently, they become better users. Meaning users learn how to correctly deal with typical error messages, avoid actions that will cause problems later on or bring better questions to MCG’s consultants when issues put their PC on hold.
All of which obviously increase productivity, but one of the biggest challenges companies face today is the manner in which employees take a break from daily duties. Tetris or the water cooler may have once sufficed for a breather, but now, he says, “They surf the net.” It certainly helps to have employees exercising caution regarding the sites they visit but installing some oversite probably is in better interest of those signing the checks.
If no one’s coming around to look at your computer on a scheduled basis, he says, you’re going to be doing things you shouldn’t be – until something goes wrong. By then, the tech’s detective work again takes on that unwanted sense of urgency for a problem that is potentially much more entrenched.
In the end, he believes MCG provides a high end, low cost technical service that can almost be likened to virtual memory. Proactive and scheduled care provides the reality of a daily umbrella of protection without having to pay someone every single day. But it’s always there when you need it.
Rich Monetti interview of Barry Levine