The question of maintenance

October 2013 Integrated Solutions, Financial (Industry)

It’s common knowledge that the purchase costs of security equipment (or any technology for that matter) is only part of the total cost of ownership (TCO). The costs of maintenance, support and repairs over the lifespan of the technology play a major role in the overall cost, sometimes even costing more than the initial purchase price.

It’s common knowledge that the purchase costs of security equipment (or any technology for that matter) is only part of the total cost of ownership (TCO). The costs of maintenance, support and repairs over the lifespan of the technology play a major role in the overall cost, sometimes even costing more than the initial purchase price.

No wonder then that many companies that implement the cheapest security solutions they can find end up bad-mouthing the solution because it doesn’t deliver. Not only did they opt for the cheapest technology, but in doing so they also, perhaps unknowingly, also opted for the cheapest after sales service and support. Maintenance is crucial in security implementations to ensure the products installed work as required and continue working as required over their lifespan. Moreover, maintenance contracts can often be used to tweak technology to deliver specifically what the customer wants or changes they want over time.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked a number of people from various corners of the market about maintenance, its importance and how, or if it is a common practice for companies to sign up for maintenance contracts. Our spokes people are Walter Rautenbach from neaMetrics, Bill Sandham from AC/DC, Charl Mijnhardt from Centurion Systems and Kalvin Subbadu from WD South Africa.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: Do installers and integrators bundle maintenance services into their installation contracts? Do users want to pay extra for these services? Do they pay up in the expectation that the performance of their solutions will justify the cost?

Walter Rautenbach: We find that in our distribution channel you get both installers/integrators that offer maintenance and those that don’t. Those that offer maintenance SLAs sometimes don’t give new end-users the option of opting out of the first year’s maintenance as they are aware of the support overheads required during initial stages. This is not necessarily because systems are difficult to use, but rather because it is in this time that the end-users realise their total requirements, which are often not completely documented, and then require them to be met.

In the same breath I must mention that most of these first year SLAs are specifically found in the time & attendance market with integrated HR and payroll or sophisticated system integration arenas, where multiple points of possible failure can come into play.

From an end user point of view, the additional cost is normally unwanted, especially where the purpose of the implementation is to save cost. With larger implementations end users do however understand the impact of rolling heads should a system not deliver and with this in mind they choose to go with the safer option. Where end user leads come in through us, we see it as our role to match the end user’s level of expertise and expectations with the correct type of integrator/installer.

Bill Sandham: We believe that in the CRI (Commercial, Retail & Industrial sectors) only forward looking, professional companies seem do this and are hugely successful. Domestic system installers don’t generally offer any real after-sales backup. Sadly, most installers are in it for the short-term gain, and don’t even own a legally binding contract that they can print and offer to their client, so they don’t. True professionals drive their SLA policy, employ dedicated technicians and even target their staff on how many SLAs they sell per month.

Do users want to pay extra for these services? Yes, providing:

* It’s sold professionally and at the point of winning the main contract.

* The system has some intrinsic value to the organisation, as in being mission critical, or forms part of their standard operating procedures (SOP).

* The contract that they are expected to sign, is not too onerous.

We prefer to think of it as how much will it cost customers not to have an SLA.

Charl Mijnhardt: That depends largely on the application and environment of the installation. For instance, Centurion operators are installed in domestic, commercial and industrial settings and the milieu of the installation will determine whether a maintenance agreement forms part of the contract. In the case of a large office park, parking area or similar industrial environment, it is very likely that the client will opt for some sort of maintenance agreement, whereas a homeowner might not insist upon such an agreement for the maintenance of his gate motor.

Kalvin Subbadu: Some integrators bundle maintenance costs and there are customers that will appreciate these value-added services. At the same time, there are also those that might not appreciate the higher final costs or find that the services are not beneficial. A good way around this is for integrators to offer these services as an add-on, giving the customer the opportunity to choose. The integrator should always make it a point to educate the customer on the benefit of maintenance, such as extending the lifespan of the product or solution, thus justifying the additional costs.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What types of maintenance are required for different security technologies? And what schedules should companies keep to ensure their equipment is running optimally all the time? Do they opt for ad hoc maintenance when something goes wrong, or pay regular attention to their equipment?

Walter Rautenbach: With sophisticated systems integration it is normally at the connectors and adaptors linking two different components where the point of failure exists. With this said, should proper commissioning and certification of integration be performed then issues should not occur if none of the integrated systems change.

On the hardware side, unfortunately, one can test a device until you go blue before it leaves the workshop, but that won’t mean nothing will go wrong as external factors such as unstable power, power surges, bad wiring and installation will have an influence on hardware performance. These types of issues normally surface during installation, but can be triggered by changes in the power grid or merely the new IT techie who never crimped a network cable before, never mind it being PoE. These types of issues need to be dealt with when they occur. Once a system is up and running, fiddling should not really be required.

Where possible, adding system checks with automated notification when abnormal hardware and system behaviour is detected can dramatically improve service levels. It is more valuable if an end-user is notified that a device is behaving strangely rather than waiting for a frustrated user to call when the pressure is on. Incorporating proactive monitoring on a software level is something that makes end-users feel comfortable and is value which makes a maintenance contract something to consider.

Bill Sandham: There are many technology disciplines that have moving parts and many that don’t. There are many devices that lie in a dormant state (seismic detector) and yet many that are physically touched several times a minute. (biometrics). An SLA should be geared around the specific risks of what the technological discipline is addressing. Example, a mantrap turnstile’s biometrics could fail and thus sending a technician “soon, later maybe, or tomorrow ” may result in the production area of a company being off-line and thus expensive. On the other hand, a covert camera watching a stationery storeroom that only is used once a month has a much lower requirement for a high speed, priority turnaround.

Preventative maintenance should be carried out quarterly as a minimum SOP and can be escalated to a permanent technician being on site for enterprise-level systems.

Charl Mijnhardt: When we design our access automation equipment, we ensure that the devices will require a minimum amount of maintenance during their functional lives and, in fact, many of our products are designed to be largely maintenance free. In addition, the majority of our new generation operators provide diagnostic feedback, which makes maintenance much simpler than it previously was. Of course, all electromechanical systems are subject to wear over an extended period of time and users should therefore check hard-working parts at least on a six-monthly basis.

Kalvin Subbadu: The maintenance type and schedule needed ultimately depends on the product or solution in question and the environment it is operating in. If 100% uptime is mission critical then it is better to schedule regular maintenance sessions by a certified technician. If uptime is not critical then, in some cases, it may be acceptable to schedule maintenance when an issue arises.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: Do companies (end users) tend to opt for internal maintenance schedule using their own staff, or outsourced (external) contracts? Which is the better option? Does equipment maintenance require special skills (since the systems are already installed, perhaps they don’t require the same skills as they do for installation)?

Walter Rautenbach: This depends on the type of company and the skills they have employed. Personally, I would find it quite horrifying for an associate of a small auditing firm to take care of hardware maintenance himself. In most cases, as a distributor, it is far more comforting to let a certified installer/integrator take care of maintenance.

Bravery in this respect is something that led the industry to refined conditions of warrantee, as it is easier to train and certify people in the trade than it is to educate all end-users. As a distributor, dealing with end-users is something avoided at all costs. To protect the brand, one can unfortunately not just ignore cries for help and it is therefore a necessity to be geared for rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty. This points to the importance of the term Value Added Reseller, and the question if you really want to allow anyone into the channel that doesn’t add value.

Bill Sandham: We have seen this whole arena changing since many devices are deemed to be IT-related. Hence, companies often opt for an internal solution initially; however, they always seem to come back to the SI. Hence the SIs must sell harder and perform to measurable standards. This adds to their leveraged income and thus the security of their own business ultimately.

Charl Mijnhardt: Companies are more likely to engage the services of external service providers that has adequate experience and training on the security equipment. Having said that, we try to make our products as intuitive as possible so that they are not only simple to maintain for the installer and/or maintenance staff, but for end users as well.

Kalvin Subbadu: The debate on whether to go in-house or outsource is an on-going one, but either way, it’s always best that the maintenance is handled by a certified industry professional who has prior experience with the product or solution.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: How does the security industry handle equipment failure over the life of a project? Once the manufacturer’s warranty is over, who carries the cost of support and repairs?

Walter Rautenbach: By default, if the warrantee is over it becomes the end user’s responsibility. This is where maintenance plans come in handy, or at least having an ongoing commitment of service from an installer/integrator. Electronic hardware has some limitations and will not last forever. It is therefore important to establish where manufacturers are willing to grant extended warranties, as this normally serves as a good indication of how long it will last.

As a distributor we always try and make the journey of ‘out of warrantee’ an easy one by offering local repair services, doing it in the fastest and most professional way possible. As some of the hardware now being returned is going on 7 years, it is easy to refer back to the warrantee terms, but so much more satisfying to assist the client at a fraction of the cost. Collaboration and communication between manufacturer, distributor and installers is what spreads the word and creates organic growth through word of mouth. Swap-out agreements, repair periods, parts availability and cost of repair are things that have to be discussed, negotiated and packaged by the channel to ensure happy end users.

Bill Sandham: I believe the knee jerk reaction is to blame the client, Eskom or lightning. Most manufacturers offer a carry in warranty, thus installers regularly charge a call out fee for both collection and re-instatement of that component, as a legitimate cost.

Charl Mijnhardt: I think it depends on the nature of the failure. If it is normal wear and tear, most end users are happy to carry the cost, but if, on the other hand, the failure is as a direct result of poor installation or inadequate training on the product, that could change things. We offer a 24-month warranty on all of our products, but we are proud to say that we see them operating in the field long after this time-period has elapsed.

Kalvin Subbadu: Certain companies offer extended warranty and support that can be purchased at the point of sale or when the product or solution is out of warranty. In the case that a vendor does not offer extended warranty and support, a third-party specialist can be engaged to maintain the product and extend its useful life.

Contacts:

Walter Rautenbach, neaMetrics, walter@neametrics.com, www.neametrics.com

Bill Sandham, AC/DC, sarar@acdc.co.za, sarar@acdc.co.za

Charl Mijnhardt, Centurion Systems, charl.mijnhardt@centurionsystems.co.za, www.centurionsystems.co.za

Kalvin Subbadu, WD South Africa, kalvin.subbadu@wdc.com, www.wdc.com



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