Similarly to the way a motor plan provides peace of mind when buying a vehicle, a maintenance contract or a service level agreement (SLA) offers a company peace of mind regarding the functioning of their security installation, over and above the warranties on the pieces of equipment themselves.
According to Archibald Makatini, regional general manager for Africa at Johnson Controls Building Efficiency, the above analogy is highly pertinent as it is a situation any vehicle owner can relate to. “It’s tempting as a customer to think that a warranty should be good enough, as it commits the manufacturer to standing behind their product, but even a high-quality car will not continue to operate correctly without regular maintenance such as oil changes,” he elaborates.
Exactly what is and is not covered under a maintenance contract varies from equipment to equipment and situation to situation. For example, a premium-level contract will cover things over and above the equipment itself, such as hardware and software upgrades. In the case of a security or access control system, this could extend far beyond the functioning of individual cameras and biometric terminal, and go right to the heart and guts of the system.
“For example, a frontend that runs on, let’s say, a Microsoft platform, might not always play nice with the other systems if the latest software patches are not installed,” Makatini says. “The coverage provided by a maintenance contract allows you to sleep at night, because you get into a cycle where a company like Johnson Controls will make regular visits to make sure your software is functioning correctly, and that you have the right version.”
An added benefit for the client is that they are not required to be experts on every aspect of their operations, but can rely on the specialists at the contracted company to provide the knowledge and expertise necessary. In the case of a fire alarm system, for example, legal codes and regulations are extremely important in terms of maintaining the system and providing inspection records in the event that the worst happens.
In some cases companies do try and save money by doing everything in-house, but Makatini warns that risks opening a can of worms: “This can result in company’s maintenance crew becoming stretched so thin that they end up running around like chickens without heads. This affects productivity since those individuals are not able to focus on other important things. This is where subject matter experts come in and really stand behind whatever fixes they have to make – it takes away the headaches and makes it easier to manage your site to the best of your abilities.”
At Mustek Security Technologies (MST), it is mandatory for clients to sign a maintenance contract. Explaining the reasoning behind this, MST projects product manager, Sergio Pedregal, says that “maintenance is not the core business of our clients – if the system is accidentally damaged by uncertified personnel, this could lead to costly repair and replacement costs to bring the system back to working order.
“MST ensures that our engineers are fully compliant and certified to install and maintain any solution provided to our clients. Many clients do not have the expertise, knowledge or manpower to maintain systems themselves. The cost of not maintaining a system is much larger should there be a system failure.”
Pedregal therefore believes that a maintenance contract is extremely important. “Regular maintenance of a client’s site ensures that the systems installed are kept in proper working order throughout the expected system lifetime. Regular maintenance ensures optimal uptime, and identifies possible problems which may arise after installation and due to the client’s daily operations.
“Maintenance should cover all aspects of the installation and products – not only cleaning of equipment, but ensuring that all components of the systems are operational. MST performs an audit on the systems installed twice a year to ensure they are working according to the client’s operational requirements, which may shift from time to time. Maintenance should also include identifying possible training requirements due to staff turnover.”
An SLA should be a win-win
Service level agreements cover more than a typical maintenance contract, by generally adding extra clauses covering issues of liability and penalties. “A service level agreement is part of the maintenance contract, and performance goals and targets need to be maintained,” Pedregal explains. “These need to be negotiated and agreed by both parties, to ensure the client is happy with the services to be performed and that all expectations are met. The maintenance contract should be implemented in order to ensure that the client receives the maximum return on their investment.
“Both parties can benefit from an SLA, as long as the terms are agreed to and are realistic in terms of the procurement and provisioning of spares. Sometimes access to the site or power-related problems can influence turnaround times and these issues need to be highlighted. Sometime health and safety regulations can also affect the SLA.”
While it’s natural for an end user to have doubts about whether the terms and conditions in an SLA will be met in the event something does go wrong, Makatini sees it as a win-win scenario for the service provider and the client. “In my opinion, once you get into that agreement it is actually a partnership because at that point you’re tied to the hip with the customer.
“For us as Johnson Controls, you get into a cycle where you’re in front of the customer regularly, you don’t just install and run away, so you become a part of their whole solution. As a vendor, what those SLAs do for us is they allow us to be involved in new projects at the planning or design stage, since we’re always having those conversations with our clients and they trust us to provide a broad range of knowledge and expertise.”
By its nature, an SLA fosters a more proactive approach, Makatini continues: “Downtime is very expensive for a business, so you don’t want to have to wait until you have to place a call to report that your equipment is not running properly. If you have an SLA whereby someone comes to check things every so often, they’ll often be able to identify a potential problem and run a diagnostic check. Having a technician employee proactively approach the client and suggest there may be a problem, helps to bolster faith in us and strengthen our relationship with the client.”
Having choices is important
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all SLA, and Makatini likens it to offering a buffet rather than a set menu of options. “We drill this into our sales executives to make sure they educate their customers on options. That way the customer can weigh it up and make a decision based on their needs – and their needs are the most important thing. You have to listen to what they want and look at the site, the demands and how it functions – a 24/7 operation has very different demands from a nine-to-five operation,” he says.
Pedregal echoes these sentiments: “MST would tailor the contract/SLA for each particular client and site, as it is not often that all sites use the same equipment and have the same operational requirements. Maintenance is part of the solution proposal and needs to be tailored accordingly,” he says.
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