Block Hours IT Support For Small Businesses: Pros & Cons
When considering options for external IT support, the two choices are break/fix providers and managed IT support. Some break/fix providers offer block hours of IT support. In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of this option.
In my 25-year career in IT, I’ve seen a wide variety of IT support options.
As vice president, engineering services at Kelser Corporation, I spend a lot of time interacting with current and potential clients. While our company provides a comprehensive managed IT support option, I know firsthand that managed IT isn’t the right solution for everyone.
Rather than try to sell you our services, we are committed to providing honest information about all of your IT support options so you can make an informed decision about the best IT solution for your organization.
We’ve been told this is a different approach than many other IT service providers use. We couldn’t agree more, but we firmly believe in honesty and transparency and this is just one of the ways we bear this out.
The truth is, we may not be the right fit to work together and we’re okay with that. It doesn’t do either of our organizations any good to engage in a relationship that won’t ultimately work out.
Our commitment to honesty and transparency is one of our key business principles and it’s one that we value in all of our business relationships.
So, with that in mind, let’s explore the pros and cons of a block hours support contract, so that you can make an informed decision when it comes to your organization’s essential IT support.
What Is A Block Hours IT Support Agreement?
Block hours support is often described as a “pay-as-you-go” model. It is a break/fix option in which you contract with one IT support provider to fix things as they arise within certain parameters such as a specific number of hours, a project, or a dollar amount.
For example, you might sign a contract for 500 service hours that gives the IT provider permission to conduct all service work necessary within that timeframe.
Or, you might agree on a $10,000 or other overall dollar amount commitment with stipulations that the provider notify you of any service exceeding a certain dollar amount.
Or, your agreement may be based on the completion of a project.
These are just some examples. You might have a completely different arrangement.
Related article: What Is A Break/Fix Provider? The Pros & Cons
How Is A Block Hours Agreement Different From Traditional Break/Fix Support?
Rather than contract with one IT support provider, some very small organizations choose to contact any provider they choose when something breaks. This is what we think of when we talk about traditional break/fix support.
These small organizations may think they will get a quicker response or a less costly solution if they shop around as they need service. Or, they may not be in a technology-driven business and might be able to afford to wait a little bit longer for service.
From my experience, this approach is ultimately more time-consuming and frustrating for the organization because they start from scratch every time an issue arises.
What Are The Advantages Of Block Hours IT Support?
Many organizations opt for a block hours arrangement for IT support due to the following advantages:
When you sign an agreement with one provider for block hours, you know what you are paying for upfront and the overall cost will be lower than hiring internal staff.
Whether your contract is based on a certain number of calls or hours, you know what to expect and the terms aren’t different every time you need service.
Working under a block hours agreement may also offer you the option for a volume discount if you pay for a certain number of service calls or hours up front.
For example, you will likely pay a higher rate per hour for 100 hours of on-demand service than you would when prepaying for 200 or 500 hours.
You may be able to get a volume discount even if you don’t pay up front.
Find out before signing an agreement if there are options for savings at different service levels and how you can maximize your purchase without overspending.
Working with an external IT service provider under a block hours agreement can be less expensive than other IT support arrangements, especially for organizations with very minimal security risk and very straightforward infrastructure.
Make sure that you truly understand your risk though.
Cyberattacks used to primarily target large, international companies, but that is no longer the case. Small and medium-sized businesses are now often equally at risk. All it takes is one breach to put your company’s reputation and ability to do business at risk.
Related article: What Is Employee Security Awareness Training? Do I Need It?
2. Ongoing Relationship
When you have a contract with one IT support provider, even if you don’t see them often, you begin to establish a relationship. The provider may or may not send the same technical expert each time you request services, but when they fix your issues over time that builds trust.
They also may have a way to track service calls so that no matter which service engineer comes to fix your issue, they can look back at your service ticket history which may help them pinpoint the source of the current problem (or an effective solution).
The ongoing relationship may also lead the provider to a certain level of familiarity with your business, users, and hardware, making fixes more efficient over time.
Rather than calling a new provider every time you need service, you know who to call, approximately how much you can expect to pay, and (hopefully) when they will be there.
Under a block hours agreement, you pay for what you need. Overhead and other expenses are added to your service hour fee from the beginning. You don't have to hire extra internal staff and still have the resources to call on when you need them.
4. Hours Don’t (Usually) Expire
When you sign a block hours agreement, most providers will not include an expiration date in the contract. (Having said that, some providers may include one, so make sure you understand the terms of your agreement.)
What Are The Disadvantages Of Block Hours IT Support?
As all successful business leaders know, life is a constant assessment of pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, and costs and benefits.
To ensure that you have all of the information you need to make the best IT-support decision for your organization, here are some cons of block hours IT support that I’ve encountered during my career:
Although some providers will tell you that their break/fix offering is productive, even at their best these solutions are inherently reactive. Let me explain.
There may be elements of a break/fix offering that can detect when a problem happens, but that is already reactive. In other words, the detection of a problem means it already exists.
Since the provider isn’t alerted to the issue until after it is detected, the response and resolution are often delayed by 24 hours or more.
Read this article to learn about proactive IT support.
Because a block time arrangement is reactive, repairs need to be scheduled once an issue arises. This can lead to delayed service and potentially longer downtime.
If your business can accept these possibilities then block time arrangements may work well for you.
If time is of the essence in your industry, you might want to look for a proactive IT support solution.
Related article: Important Characteristics Of IT Support: 3 Must-Haves
3. Hidden Fees
While block hours can be a cost-effective way for very small organizations to provide user support without hiring internal staff, the terms of your service agreement bear scrutiny. Depending on the provider, there may be hidden fees to watch out for:
Providers often bill a minimum for each service call no matter how long the fix actually takes. So, even if the technician is only there for 30 minutes, you may end up paying for an hour (or even two!) of service.
Your contract may include a certain number of calls to the help desk (or site visits from your provider for service) in a given period or you may pay a low basic service fee and incur an additional charge per call or visit.
Again, be sure to read the terms of your agreement carefully so you can avoid hidden fees. Each agreement is structured differently and you want to know exactly what is and is not included in your contract.
4. Lack Of Knowledge Transfer
Depending on the size of the provider and the issue that needs to be fixed, your service provider could send different people for different fixes.
While sending the first-available service person might seem efficient, it can often lead to delays in service as the person providing the service has to learn the quirks of your unique IT infrastructure before even beginning to resolve the issue.
To further complicate things, that person may not have the specific expertise your issue requires.
WIthout an effective way to transfer knowledge from one engineer to another, you run the risk that every service call will start from square one.
To compensate, some IT providers use a ticketing system to track your service call history. Ticketing systems are a great way for IT providers to ensure that anyone who responds to a service call can see how previous issues with your infrastructure were resolved.
But many smaller IT support service providers may not have this resource.
Is A Block Hours IT Support Agreement Right For Your Organization?
While we can’t make the decision whether block hours is a good solution for your organization, we have provided all of the information you need to confidently make the decision that is best for you.
After reading this article, you have a full understanding of the advantages of block hours IT support agreements. You know that these agreements offer cost advantages, ongoing relationships, and flexibility. The hours are often evergreen since most don’t have an expiration date.
We’ve also walked through the cons of block IT hours. It is reactive. It needs to be scheduled. There may be hidden fees. There may be a lack of knowledge transfer. All of these issues can lead to delays in response and resolution.
If you are a small organization with current devices and an up-to-date infrastructure, block hours may work for you. But, keep in mind that at their best, block hours are a reactive solution.
Wondering what other options exist for IT support? Read this article to explore the similarities and differences between break/fix solutions and managed IT.
Thinking of pursuing outsourced IT support? Learn 6 common problems with it and how to avoid them.
One of the reasons companies look for external IT support is cybersecurity. Wondering if your organization is prepared to stand up to the latest cyber threat? Click on the button below and download the proactive cybersecurity checklist to identify gaps and learn 10 actions you can take today to protect your organization’s data.