Best Practices for Service and Maintenance Contracts

It’s an all too familiar story across the country – city leaders and police officials devote a substantial amount of time, energy and resources into deploying a surveillance camera network hoping to replicate the success other municipalities have had with using the technology as a force multiplier and valuable evidence gathering tool. There’s just one problem; they allow the system to fall into a state of disrepair by failing to enter into a comprehensive maintenance and service agreement with the systems integrator that installed the network.

In some cases, however, the integrator is forced to stop performing maintenance on the cameras because the city fails to compensate them for their work. That’s exactly what happened earlier this year in Pittsburgh when the company that was contracted to service a portion of the city’s camera network went unpaid for a year. In fact, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that between one-fifth and one-fourth of the city’s cameras were offline at the beginning of the year because of this.

Security integrators say many of these types of problems can be addressed well ahead of time by simply sitting down with clients and laying out everything upfront so that there aren’t any surprises down the road.

“We feel the most important part of developing a preventative maintenance agreement is to provide coverage on what’s important to our customer. Specifically, we address this subject almost from the start when we’re developing a relationship with a customer if we are asked to put a proposal together to upgrade or replace an access control system, IP video system or any of the products that we’re working with,” explained John Krumme, CPP, president of Cam-Dex Security Corp. “Preventative maintenance is always discussed in that initial call so that the customer knows how important it is to us as an integrator and that we’re developing a long-term relationship with that customer.”           

Joseph Liguori, executive vice president of Access Control Technologies, Inc., said he believes that integrators also need to set the level of expectations in the beginning, as well as cover things that could become sticking points in the future.

“It’s very important to identify the internal processes - who is the contact, how do you get in touch with that person, is it cellphone or an office phone, what is the anticipated response time, where can the technician park, are ladders available on premises if necessary- so you don’t have any unexpected issues the first time you get a service call,” Liguori said.

Whether a customer is a government agency, an enterprise or a small-to-mid-sized business owner, Krumme believes it’s paramount for integrators to have the ability to provide adequate service to their clients regardless of their size.  

“The most important thing is to ensure that, as an integrator, you have the capability to take care of that customer and their product – that you have access to all the product that would be covered under a service contract or a planned maintenance agreement and that you have trained and certified staff capable of servicing and responding to that customer’s needs once that contract is in place. That starts even during the warranty period, ensuring that you have loaner product in place so that if the piece of equipment can’t be repaired in the field that you’ve got loaner equipment as a backup to put into service for that customer,” Krumme said.

Liguori added that integrators need to cover in detail with their clients exactly what is and is not covered under the service and maintenance contract.

“Some customers have a tendency of anticipating that once they sign an agreement that everything is covered because it is a maintenance agreement. Typically, you get onsite and you discover that it is a disposable that is not covered or, in some instances, there are specialized items that are not provided by the integrator - they have an X-ray machine guarding the entrance that was supplied by others – so again, it is comprehensive understanding of what the coverage is versus what you’re providing,” he said.

Of course, advances in technology have also aided the ability of integrators to provide an even greater level of service to customers than they could in the past. Things such as remote diagnostics give technicians access to a customer’s system without requiring them to be on-site, reducing truck rolls and saving time and money for both the integrator and the end user.

“By being able to remote-in to their software we can diagnose, troubleshoot and many times correct a problem extremely quickly; eliminating the downtime that that customer was suffering or if it was some kind of training issue, helping them understand what it is that we did or what box we checked to correct the problem,” added Krumme. “Often, those are self-inflicted issues where someone goes in and makes a change in the software that causes a problem for them and we can correct those very, very quickly.”

From an integrator’s perspective, when it comes to avoiding some of the common pitfalls associated with service and maintenance agreements, integrators say it is important to understand the language of the contract and what the customer’s objectives are.

“Asking questions to make sure that what we think is important or what we think the customer is interested in accomplishing through that service contract is indeed truly what the customer wants. It’s not about us as the integrator, it’s about that customer and making sure that we’re fully aware and on top of their needs,” Krumme said.

Although pitfalls can vary by client, Liguori believes that one of biggest traps integrators fall into, in general, is that of overselling.

“Understanding the complexities of the client’s operation and developing a level of service that best meets the requirements combining an understanding of the needs and coupling that with price considerations (is the best approach), because usually what a client is concerned about when they talk about maintenance is, ‘how much is this going to cost me?’ explained Liguori. “We try to stay away from the cost factor until we understand what is it that you have, what’s the age of the equipment and what’s the level of expectation with regard to keeping the system working? An example of a pitfall is 24/7 service, an all-inclusive service. We have a number of clients that think they need that level of service only to find a year later that it is seldom, if ever, utilized and the cost of it is exponential with respect to the coverage because we’re covering the system for three times the amount of hours.”    

Performing preventative service and maintenance is not only important for end users that want to ensure the reliability of their systems, it can also be crucial for security integrators who want to preserve relationships with existing clients and win future business.    

“Performing preventative maintenance to ensure that the equipment is fully operational, you’re attempting to diagnose potential problems before they occur,” said Krumme. “In the case of battery backup, you’re testing loads on batteries and you’re replacing batteries in advance of those batteries failing, for instance, that might be tied to an access control system. When it comes to electric door strikes and access control systems, physically checking those strikes for mechanical issues so that if something has become loose, the technician can correct that and eliminate that problem before it ever occurs. Once the problem occurs, then obviously it causes an issue for your customer, creating downtime and it’s a cost – not only to the customer but to the integrator to respond because it needs to be taken care of immediately.”

“Maintenance contracts cannot be reactive in that the integrator can’t wait for a call that something is wrong,” said Liguori. “It needs to be a proactive, ongoing evaluation of the system that encompasses preventive maintenance of the hardware, system site checks when a technician is on a call and this often helps to identify minor problems… that can be properly secured.”

The bottom line, according to Krumme, is that integrators need to be able to deliver on what they promise to their customers. “As simple as that sounds, that can be a problem for some from time-to-time,” said Krumme.

“Communication is the key and honesty is the virtue,” said Liguori. “You need to understand what the customer wants and expects and then you price your services accordingly. You need to be candid in explaining what things you think they need, what things will work and what things are necessary.”

 

Joel Griffin is Editor of SecurityInfoWatch.com.

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