How to Choose a Third Party Maintenance (TPM) Vendor

How Does One Choose a Third-Party Maintenance or TPM Provider?

TPM providers, full disclosure much like us here at Top Ten, have 2 principle client bases. One group of clients is made up of VARs (Value Added Resellers) as well as other TPM providers with whom we partner. The other group is end user clients.  These are the small and midsize businesses that have IT hardware for their business and they need quality and cost-effective hardware support. There will be a forthcoming discussion on the VAR – TPM relationship separately.  For now, let us look at how someone with little or no experience in the IT Hardware space can help prequalify and engage with a TPM provider that will best suit their needs.

There are a few ways you can end up looking for a TPM provider. One route is that you can have relatively new hardware and you received your support renewal quote from your OEM, the cost of which may have you looking for some alternative solutions. You can have your IT hardware under support with another TPM supplier.  Be it as simple as a competitive quote scenario to make sure they are keeping you in market with pricing or a more unfortunate situation where that provider is not meeting your expectations regarding support quality, parts quality, or timeliness to their SLA (service level agreement – how quickly they promise to respond to your concerns). Also, you may have hardware that is not under support and you have had a few costly repairs/downtime issues and you are looking for a way to stabilize your budget and hedge against unexpected downtime. Lastly, there is the group of clients that are finding out there is a high-quality option to expensive OEM coverage. Their hardware is working fine and they are being proactive because they know these are machines and machines eventually will fail. The prospect of a well-priced support contract that eliminates cost risks and offers ample support can be especially valuable in these financially uncertain times.

Now that we have discussed routes that lead you to the TPM market, let’s look at a couple of general questions everyone should have. Keep in mind, the key elements of TPM are: ease of communication/response time, technical expertise, parts quality and availability, process simplicity and transparency. Some general things you should want to ask:

Tell me about your expertise in my hardware?  The TPM should have a solid depth and breadth of knowledge regarding the hardware in your inventory. It may well be multiple manufacturers, many different types of hardware (disk/tape storage, server, networking hardware, appliances, etc), and covering both newer and older equipment series.  A quality TPM will have expertise in house in order to provide you with the highest level of service. The caveat to this is that no one company is truly expert in every line made by every manufacturer. This is where transparency comes into play.  Highest quality TPM’s will openly share with you that they partner with another provider to get you the very best coverage available. All service issues and calls are handled by your TPM, they will then bring in a specialist on the occasion one is needed for you. Transparency is key, first in openly acknowledging the obvious (no one is a master of all), and secondly in explaining exactly how your hardware will be serviced and by whom.

How do you obtain the parts you would use to repair my equipment?  Most TPM’s will reach out to the parts market as needed when equipment they support needs parts.  High level TPM’s will actively stock spare parts in their inventory to make sure they and you are protected from market fluctuations at the time a given part is needed.  The highest level TPM’s will not only stock parts but they will test and refurbish the parts in house.  This means they have the machines and the expertise to break down, clean and test any parts needed for your equipment and they stock guaranteed tested parts on the shelf ready to be shipped out to you on demand.

How quickly will you respond to my service request?  This question introduces SLA’s.  Service Level Agreement or SLA is the agreed upon response time you have chosen for support on your equipment.  The more rapid the response, the more expensive the agreement is. This is to be expected. The rule of thumb is production equipment tends to be 7x24x4 and backup, secondary storage or DR tends to be 9x5xNBD.  These terms are describing when you have access to your technicians – either 7 days per week, 24 hours per day, with a guaranteed 4 hour response time, 365 days per year or 5 days per week (Mon-Fri) and 8 hours per day (typically 9am-5pm local time to your vendor) excluding federal holidays. The SLA’s also refer to when your parts will arrive onsite.  On a 7x24 – High level TPM’s will often offer clients an onsite spares kit.  This will have the typically high frequency failure parts for your hardware actually stored at your location for no additional charge.  This allows for you to receive the fastest possible turnaround on your incident. Most 9x5 SLA’s use NBD Next Business Day, to signify that once the issue is triaged, the parts will be shipped for NBD delivery to your site.

Please explain my service ticket opening process?  This is the final piece in the puzzle.  You have discussed technical expertise, replacement parts quality and availability, and the speed with which your service incidents will be handled.  Now let’s make sure your new TPM provider makes it easy for you to open a service ticket.  High level providers will make it very easy for you to open a service ticket on your covered equipment. Typically, they will a toll-free number if you wish to call in your incident, they should also have a service portal or dedicated space on their website so you can easily send out your request for service, and they should also allow you to email them your incident as well.  The best TPM providers will listen to you and what your preferences are and then show you how their system meets those preferences. This is their only chance to truly shine and show you their value.  It’s great news if you have no incidents while under coverage, but you still don’t truly KNOW how good your service will be when needed.  Most high quality TPM’s will look forward to the opportunity to handle a ticket for you so you can see them back up all those discussed promises of service and often exceed your expectations.

Once you know the answers to these 4 basic components of your support, you should have a solid take on the vendor you are speaking with. Knowing they have quality technical expertise, high quality tested available parts, service availability, and ease of use of the process that suits your needs in an excellent path to vetting your next TPM partner.

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