Five ways to rethink your maintenance strategy
Most IT managers overlook their network infrastructure and their associated maintenance contracts. For this reason many maintenance contracts are blindly renewed each year. Why? Because renewing your maintenance and support contracts year after year seems like the safest option.
Blindly renewing your network maintenance and support contracts could put your network at risk. At best you are probably paying too much. You are also likely leaving some critical devices without any coverage at all. We've worked with hundreds of customers over the years and have compiled a simple list of five tips to consider when evaluating your maintenance strategy.
1. Really know your network
You're probably thinking this is an obvious pointer, but we've worked with too many companies where the network has changed so much over the years that current IT managers aren't as up-to-date as they should be.
Let's paint a different picture and think about it this way: Years after constructing an office building, the blueprint doesn't match the current setup. This could happen for many reasons, including internal moves, displaced walls, and other changes as the company progresses or downsizes. Nine times out of ten, these changes aren't updated on the blueprint. Business-as-usual back then isn't so much the usual anymore.
The same situation happens to your IT infrastructure. A network that was once constructed to accommodate specific needs no longer works so nicely with the current state of your business. As a result, IT managers often have little insight into the architecture and the assets, so they don't even dare to map the newfound clutter. This is especially true if there's been an expansion or downsize.
However, each year, when you encounter the question of whether the current OEM maintenance contract should be renewed, you probably think that the safest option is to renew them. Why? Because this supposedly would ensure that all your bases will be covered (just as OEMs want you to think). What you may not realize is that you're probably paying too much for maintenance while still leaving some critical devices without any coverage.
2. Coordinate with your end users
When was the last time you included your business-end users in designing your network strategy? As IT is increasingly under tremendous pressure to keep their systems fully operational, it's crucial that IT managers and their end users are on the same page. At the end of the day, everyone is playing for the same team.
Coordinating with end users means figuring out what they need, what problems they encounter, and where their potential risks are. Once you know what your IT department is able to deliver and the potential problems you can solve, you can better estimate what you need. This insight also allows you to critically review the SLAs of the maintenance contracts, which leads to the next point…
3. Critically review the service level agreement (SLA)
The glaring reality is that many companies are blindly renewing maintenance contracts. We often hear that the reason is something along the lines of "this is the way we've done it for years," or "our predecessor always did it this way, and it worked." But situations change, and so do your needs.
Invest time in finding out whether the existing contract is the most optimal for your company. If it turns out that it is, you're in luck. But it's best to avoid assuming that the contract is worth its weight without critically reviewing it.
We speak from experience: oftentimes we work with companies who pay a good amount of money for a contract that promises replacement hardware within four hours. For some, the four-hour turnaround is absolutely necessary, but when it comes to your needs, is it a nice-to-have or is it a must-have? Sometimes the better option is to have a few backup switches on hand and to increase the hardware replacement time to next-business-day. This could save you more than you think.
4. Differentiate between your needs and the OEM's
Major manufacturers attempt to push the market toward the brand new, expensive series of switches, declare the end of life on a popular line years too soon, or pressure customers to upgrade their maintenance contracts when it's not actually necessary. If you've ever felt pressured to push beyond your means, it's time to differentiate your needs from the OEM's.
A major point of disadvantage to you is that OEMs usually won’t point out potential savings to their customers or recommend alternative methods to maintenance based on what they actually need (case in point: the recent revealing report from a certain state audit). This is essentially why it’s important to invest time in mapping your network and assessing the future needs of your organization, rather than blindly renewing your contract.
OEMs also hesitate to admit to their customers—if at all—that their network equipment has a much longer lifespan than they will support it for (such as the 3750-24TS). Once the support ends, customers are persuaded to upgrade to the new and expensive series or risk no support at all, despite that the existing equipment is still in working condition. Customers who aren't clear or current on their assets and the organization's future requirements tend to follow OEM's "recommendations" and thus pay more than they should.
5. Be aware of good alternatives
As an IT manager, it's your due diligence to be aware of the alternatives out there. How big is the risk you run by keeping network equipment that is no longer on a maintenance contract? If the existing maintenance contract is being used extensively, it's wise to renew the OEM maintenance at the premium rate. But if that's not the case, you could choose an alternative maintenance program for the network. A maintenance program that also maintains end-of-life products allows companies to be flexible with their existing network equipment, because oftentimes, "end of life" doesn't mean "broken."
There are several tools out there that can help you assess your network and thus derive a more effective maintenance strategy. Ask your current vendor about an internet-based contract maintenance system that lets users input their equipment that is and isn't covered by a contract. It allows you to keep all your contracts in one place, preventing unnecessary maintenance decisions. Now you can sleep at night.
It all comes down to the simple task of investing time in mapping the network and avoiding blind decisions made by your predecessors. Situations are always subject to change, as with the needs of your business and its IT infrastructure. Know what you have in store, where your problem areas are, and where you can free up your budget. Choose the maintenance solution that offers the most value for your money.