Before you can accurately compare the fees, services and deliverables of one IT services company to another, you need to understand the predominant service models most of these companies fit within. You have to understand what exactly you are getting. Are you setting up a relationship where you call someone when something breaks, they come out and fix it, or are they treated as an extension of your staff handling issues before you hear about them and helping your employees do their best work?  The model that your IT services company uses is crucial in determining what type of relationship you will have. There are 3 main models. Some companies offer a blend of all 3, while others are strict about offering only one service plan. The 3 predominant service models are:

  • Time and Materials. In the industry, we call this “break-fix” services. Essentially you pay an agreed-upon hourly rate for a technician to “fix” your problem when something “breaks.” Under this model, you might be able to negotiate a discount based on buying a block of hours. The scope of work may be simply to resolve a specific problem (like removing a virus), or it may encompass a large project like a computer network upgrade or move that has a specific result and end date clarified. Some companies will offer staff augmentation and placement under this model as well.
  • Managed IT Services. This is a model where the IT services company takes the role of your “IT department” and not only installs and supports all the devices and PCs that connect to your server(s), but also offers phone and on-site support, antivirus, security, backup and a host of other services to monitor and maintain the health, speed, performance and security of your computer network.
  • Software Vendor-Supplied IT Services. Many software companies will offer IT support for their customers in the form of a help desk or remote support for an additional fee. However, these are typically scaled-back services, limited to troubleshooting their specific application and NOT your entire computer network and all the applications and devices connected to it. If your problem resides outside of their specific software or the server it’s hosted on, they can’t help you and will often refer you to “your IT department.” While it’s often a good idea to buy some basic-level support package with a critical software application you use to run your business, this is not enough to provide the full IT services and support most businesses need to stay up and running. It is highly recommended to pay for software vendor support services as most critical business applications are proprietary and a more general IT firm may not be able to resolve specific issues that arise.

When looking to outsource your IT support, the two service models you are most likely to end up having to choose between are the “managed IT services” and “break-fix” models. Therefore, let’s dive into the pros and cons of these two options, and then the typical fee structure for both. 

You’ve probably heard the famous Benjamin Franklin quote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I couldn’t agree more — and that’s why it’s my sincere belief that the managed IT approach is, by far, the most cost-effective, smartest option for any operation. The only time I would recommend a “time and materials” approach is when you already have a competent IT person or team proactively managing your computer network and simply have a specific IT project to complete that your current in-house IT team doesn’t have the time or expertise to implement (such as a network upgrade, installing a backup solution, etc.). Outside of that specific scenario, I do not think the break-fix approach is a good idea for general IT support for one very important, fundamental reason: you’ll ultimately end up paying for a pound of “cure” for problems that could have easily been avoided with an “ounce” of prevention. 

The fact of the matter is, computer networks absolutely, positively need ongoing maintenance and monitoring to stay secure. The ever-increasing dependency we have on IT systems and the data they hold — not to mention the type of data we’re now saving digitally — has given rise to very smart and sophisticated cybercrime organizations and who work around the clock to do one thing: compromise your networks for illegal activities.

In most cases their intent is to access financial information and passwords to rob you (or your clients), create fake identities for credit card fraud, etc. In other cases they may want to use your computer network to send illegal spam, host pirated software, spread viruses, etc. And some do it just for the “fun” of being able to make computer systems inoperable. These criminals work around the clock in teams, constantly finding and inventing new ways to get around your antivirus software and firewalls; that’s why you must remain ever vigilant against their attacks. In fact, China has 200,000 government employees whose sole purpose is to break into US owned businesses looking for any vulnerability and information. They may not be interested in what you have, but perhaps who else you know and who else you’re connected to.

Of course, this doesn’t even take into consideration other common “disasters” such as rogue employees, lost devices, hardware failures (which are the #1 reason for data loss), fire and natural disasters and a host of other issues that can interrupt or outright destroy your IT infrastructure and the data it holds. Then there’s regulatory compliance for any business hosting or touching credit card or financial information, medical records and even client contact information such as e-mail addresses.

Preventing these problems and keeping your systems up and running (which is what managed IT services is all about) is a LOT less expensive and damaging to your organization than waiting until one of these things happens and then paying for emergency IT services to restore your systems to working order (break-fix). Think about it: the penalty for a breached record in Massachusetts is $100 per record. If a hacker gets 100 records, that’s $10,000 in fines alone, not to mention the legal fees and the loss of business!

The environment of IT is constantly changing, and managed services help keep you up to date with best practices and the best protections. Technology simply moves too fast to take a reactive position. The speed of technology changing coupled with the risk of disaster necessitate having someone constantly monitoring your business’ information system. Now that we’ve gone over the predominant IT support models ,we’ll take a look at the difference in price between the service models based on survey data and what you’re actually getting for your money.