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Why Are My System Support Costs So High?

July 1, 2006

© 2006 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

Our team has had the privilege of working on hundreds of ministry networks around the country.  We are often appalled at the high support costs our clients paid with their prior engineering/support firm.  There are usually three reasons ministries pay more than they should, let’s identify them to help you avoid unnecessary support fees.

Give Me An Example
A ministry contacted us a couple of years ago because they heard my statement that if a ministry is paying more than $3000 annually for high-quality system support, they may be spending too much.  They were paying about $23,000 annually to support a network of about twenty-four desktops and notebooks!  We looked at their situation, made some sweeping recommendations, and they now spend about $2000/year.  And their system runs the software they want with full power, full speed, and 100% reliability.  In fact, they haven’t had a down day since!

There may be circumstances that a ministry should pay more than $3000/year.  They may ask their engineers to manage the system in addition to supporting it, or buy additional services like online nightly backups, etc.  But ministry networks can be engineered and implemented so they cost very little to support.

Why Might I Be Over-Paying?
So why do ministries often pay way too much for system support?  Well, there’s always the possibility that the engineers are charging a lot because they feel they can get away with it.  My preference, however, is to give people the benefit of the doubt and not make this assumption.  There are three mistakes ministries often make that drive support costs higher than necessary.

  1. Short-Term Decisions.  Many ministries make short-term decisions because they lack a long-term system strategy.  Examples of this are buying computers, printers, and other system devices off the shelf from nearby stores.  Stores don’t stock the kind of systems that are best used in a budget-sensitive mission-critical setting like a ministry office, they usually only stock SOHO systems (Small Office / Home Office).  While these may have name brands, SOHO systems are usually price leader items that large companies use to introduce technology so they can watch and see if the new technologies are worthy of being added to their enterprise line (the line that is appropriate in budget-sensitive mission-critical settings).

    These short-term decisions are usually inexpensive to implement, but cause support costs to escalate higher than necessary.  An example is the short-term decision to buy ink jet printers.  The cost for these inexpensive printers’ ink is very high.  That coupled with their slow speed suggest that buying an appropriate laser printer would pay for itself in a few years.  And some laser printers rarely need support, like HP, which means the laser printer may serve well for many years (we still have one in service that’s about twelve years old and works great!).

  2. Believing the Hype.  There are a lot of rumors going around our industry that we call hype.  Here are a few:
    • Locally built computers cost less and are better supported.  Our experience is that they usually cost about the same, sometimes even more, and their support needs average about 50% more than appropriate name brands.
    • It’s a Microsoft world, and we only want to run Microsoft.  As we objectively evaluate products, we can’t say that there’s one company that does it all better than anyone else.  The best way to minimize support costs is to be open to proven technologies that perform at high levels and require very little support.  In addition to the monthly patch updates to decrease their vulnerability, Microsoft network operating systems require a lot of support by people and other software. There was once a giant named IBM that people felt the same way about.  Others came along with better products and served better.  Don’t buy into marketing hype.
    • Local network support is better than long distance support.  That depends on the quality of the strategy and engineering that goes in at implementation.  Local support— even at half the hourly rate of a high-quality national firm— can cost considerably more if the local firm doesn’t have the experience and training to match the national firm’s quality.
  3. Most engineers will do what you tell them to.  If you tell your engineer how to do their job, they’ll comply to keep their opportunity to serve you.  They’ll also know that by letting you engineer the system they’ll make more support money.  The best way to work with your engineer is to establish goals and let the engineer design the system to reach those goals.  If one of the goals is annual support that costs less than $3000 and their costs ends up higher than that, ask them why!  If it’s because of general support conditions rather than additional management and consulting you’ve asked them to do, you may want to consider a change.

Is that $3000 number really attainable?  To be honest, we have some clients who pay more than that.  They usually have multiple sites all connected with one network or have asked us to manage their system at a higher level because they don’t want to have a staff member that is responsible for doing so.  But we have ministry networks with as many as 850 desktop and notebook workstations that pay that or less, so the answer is yes: it is attainable.

Do I mention this because I’m trying to get your business?  Well, we are here to serve, but my real reason is that we’d like to see as much of your funds go toward your mission as possible; we’re Kingdom-minded.  We believe you can talk with your engineering firm and get your costs under control while still having a full-powered, full-speed, highly-reliable system.  And that frees up more resources to go towards building The Kingdom.

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