There has always been a requirement from end-users for support, whether that support is merely assistance in the initial few months of new equipment or whether it is on-going assistance, especially if the equipment is business critical.
Fortunately, support and maintenance services (as opposed to sales) have been found by suppliers to be a significant generator of revenue in addition to being a continued source of contact with end-users. This direct contact with end-users is important for the purposes of receiving feedback on errors or deficiencies in the equipment, as well as for assessing customers’ additional requirements which can be incorporated into enhancements of the equipment.
Such direct contact also forms the most immediate customer-base for the purposes of selling new equipment, enhancements, training or consultancy services. Thus the support activity has become a distinct business from “sales” so that it can be separately charged for as well as sub-contracted to an independent support contractor to perform (see Contract 33).
However, to provide proper support is expensive and must include a variety of support services, typically in the form of an “Online Helpdesk” (where the customer can message problems and receive a reply via a support portal), and perhaps additional options such as a “Telephone Hotline”, “on-site” and out-of-hours/weekend support for business critical equipment (e.g. servers). The contractor can also, if it has the capability, offer other premium support services such as guaranteed response times (see Contract 4 Appendix C).
The terms of the agreement in this particular Contract are fairly self-explanatory as relating to the maintenance and support of, primarily, the hardware of a computer system.
However, the maintenance contractor must have some knowledge of the operating system software to enable the contractor to diagnose whether a problem truly relates to the hardware or is in fact, a software error. In addition, the contractor must offer some degree of operating system software support, even if this is only to liaise problems directly between customer and software supplier.
For new equipment, the manufacturer or supplier commonly offers a “warranty” period or period of “free” maintenance to its customers. Notwithstanding this “free” maintenance period, the supplier would still prefer customers to sign a Maintenance Agreement either with the supplier or with its appointed maintenance contractor on or as near the date of installation as possible, thus the necessity for an “Effective Date” as opposed to the Date of Installation referred to in this Contract. The Effective Date will be the date of expiry of the warranty period.
Computer hardware maintenance contracts have traditionally included “preventive” maintenance which involves the maintenance contractor visiting the customer several times a year or during the period of the contract to check the equipment; similar to servicing a car to ensure it remains in good operational order. The benefit of such visits is not only to ensure that the system hardware is checked regularly but also to afford the contractor the opportunity to keep in regular contact with the customer with a view to selling more consumables (e.g. discs, printer cartridges); system accessories (e.g. new drives, speakers, modems, scanners, printers etc.) or even contracting to support other equipment which the customer uses at the same location if the contractor has such capability.