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Adam Stahl

By: Adam Stahl on April 20th, 2021

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Break/Fix vs. Managed Services - Which is Right for My Business?

Managed Services

Technology is central to your business. You may not associate your business with having an “IT” department or “IT” needs but your technology would disagree. The desktops, laptops, mobile devices, machines on the line, network modem, router, switch, and more all need to be kept running so your business can keep running.

I'd bet this scenario isn't unfamiliar: you or one of your employees is typing away at a spreadsheet or invoice when suddenly the screen freezes up. No input received from the mouse or keyboard. You perform or hear that familiar sound of someone doing the mouse slam equivalent of hitting the side of an old TV set. Finally, the screen goes blank and the system goes offline for the foreseeable future.

Technology is important to your business, but your business isn’t technology. You try a few things you’ve picked up along the way to fix it – a hard restart, swapping the mouse or keyboard, attempting to boot it in safe mode. Perhaps someone on your staff also doubles as the “office IT person” but even their attempts to fix this machine aren’t working.

You’re down a machine and though your business is still running, it’s going on three wheels. You’re not getting invoices out, orders processed, or whatever work that machine helped perform.

At this point, you've got two main options to get your technology repaired - break/fix (sometimes called break fix) or managed services.

What if you don’t have one of those services today? What if you have one but have never heard of the other? Which option is a good fit for you?

Those are the questions we’re going to tackle in this article. I understand what it's like to be asking those questions in those moments. I've been that employee at a small business that isn't the formal office IT person but covers it as one of their hats. I've also been the employee to work alongside the independent IT professional that swings by when something breaks, and even brought on break/fix providers in previous roles.

Now at Kelser, a company that used to provide break/fix services but is now a managed service provider (MSP), I've seen both sides of the discussion so I'm well equipped to be your guide. We’ve worked with hundreds of businesses like yours to walk through what each of those options involves as well as their benefits and drawbacks.

There’s not an out-of-the-box right answer. It’s going to come down to which type of service is the right fit for your business, needs, and budget.

After reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of which one is likely the better fit for where you are today.

What is Break/Fix?

At its core, break/fix is exactly what it sounds like. When some part of your technology breaks or needs attention, you call an IT firm and they fix it for you.

Your computer is frozen, crashing, or won’t start? Call an IT firm or bring that broken hardware to their location for repair. That may be an oversimplification but that’s basically how the arrangement works.

What’s the goal of break/fix services?

The goal of break/fix is to reduce costs and decrease downtime by responding to and fixing issues as quickly as possible. With that goal in mind, the approach to break/fix is a reactive one. When something breaks, then it is repaired as quickly as possible.

In this way, break/fix aims to reduce the time between something going down and needing remediation. The shorter that time frame is, the less that downtime is costing your business.

Who offers break/fix services?

Many types of companies offer break/fix services.

Some common ones are:

  • Independent IT professionals and consultants (sometimes refer to themselves as “computer repair” people)
  • Electronics and office supply retailers (like Best Buy and Staples)
  • Smaller IT firms and consultants (local computer or IT service providers)
  • Larger IT firms and consultants (national computer or IT service providers)

Your experience may vary between the different types of companies that provide break/fix services. For example, you’ll likely have a different walk-in experience with an independent IT professional or retailer than with a nationwide IT firm.

On the flip side, retailers and those larger IT firms likely have more immediate access to hardware and deeper discounts due to their relationships with vendors. Those larger firms may also ask that you sign a contract with them or be a customer before dropping by or calling for repairs.

What things are typically covered by break/fix?

Services offered as a part of break/fix will vary between some providers.

Here are some typical services you can get from a break/fix provider or under a break/fix agreement:

  • Hardware configuration
  • Hardware installation
  • Peripheral setup
  • Software configuration
  • Virus/malware scanning and removal
  • Data recovery

Some of these services can be carried out remotely/virtually. Typically, these services are also based on hardware.

For example, you might have a laptop that these break/fix services would be applied to. Due to the nature of break/fix services, you typically wouldn't be an ongoing customer or a managed customer. That partly determines what services can be offered as a part of a break/fix arrangement.

What do break/fix services cost?

Break/fix service can vary depending on the type of services you need, how many devices you want to be covered, how frequently you need support, and what type of company you are getting them from.

Retailers list their services between $30-400 per device per year for break/fix coverage but additional fees are separate for things like if additional service hours or on-site visits are needed, and hardware replacement costs aren't typically included.

Other types of break/fix providers will likely base their pricing on similar factors:

  • Number of devices covered or being worked on
  • Type of service being provided
  • If additional hardware is needed for the repair
  • Number of hours the repair or service will take
  • If they are going on-site to your location
  • Recurring, license, or one-time cost of software if needed

Though some break/fix service providers may have small recurring fees (like the retailer example above) it’s more likely that you’ll be paying when work is performed and not in between. It’s more of a capital expense rather than an operating expense.

Who are break/fix services a good fit for?

There are some specific aspects of break/fix arrangements that tend to work better or not as well for some businesses.

If your company:

  • Can absorb unexpected cap ex hits
  • Can afford some level of downtime
  • Has a comfortable handle on the rest of your IT environment
  • Doesn’t have much technology in your environment
  • Doesn't want to sign an ongoing agreement for a length of time

A break/fix arrangement may be a good fit for you. For example, if you’re a landscaping company with a single desktop back at the office for billing, break/fix services may be the better option.

Does my company size or if I already have IT employees matter for break/fix?

There’s also really no size restriction for a break/fix fit. I've seen small, one-person shops utilize this type of service as well as larger businesses that just want things like imaging handled rapidly.

Whether you have any IT staff today doesn’t impact whether you should consider a break/fix arrangement. If you do have IT employees today, you could use break/fix to handle lower cost or less time-intensive troubleshooting while saving your in-house IT resources for larger projects.

If you don’t have any internal IT staff today, break/fix could handle some of those typical IT responsibilities listed in the previous section for you regardless, though a provider will still likely want a point of contact within your business.

What’s in my IT environment?

I've used the term "environment" or "IT environment" a few times so far. Before moving on to covering managed services, we must cover what makes up your IT environment.

When discussing break/fix it's straightforward because break/fix services are typically applied to devices. Computers, laptops, mobile devices, etc. However, those are only a few of the things that make up your IT environment.

Even for small businesses, your IT environment is comprised of your:

  • Workstations (computers, laptops, mobile devices)
  • Server (physical or virtual)
  • Data storage (physical or virtual)
  • File/data backup (physical or digital)
  • Networking equipment (switches, wireless access points, routers, modems, firewalls, wiring infrastructure)
  • Software (operating system, office productivity, and other third-party apps)

There may be more things specific to your type of business that would also be included in your IT environment. For example, if you’re a manufacturer your CNC and production machines would also be considered workstations. The above list gives us a good foundation for discussing managed services.

What are managed services?

Managed services are typically technology or IT environment-related services that are centrally managed by a managed service provider (MSP) on a proactive, recurring basis.

Typically, these services are subscription-based meaning as long as you are subscribed to that managed service, all those attached services are covered for you.

Managed services also typically carry a service level agreement (SLA) that specifies expectations for the timeframes within which you can expect certain issues or services to be resolved.

What’s the goal of managed services?

The goal of managed services is to reduce costs and eliminate or reduce downtime by proactively addressing issues before they arise. This is also achieved by reducing the time to resolve tickets as well as reducing the number of support tickets overall.

This approach differs from break/fix in a few ways. They are typically compared to the concepts of fire fighting vs. fire prevention.

Break/fix would be fire fighting in this case. Break/fix assumes that issues (or fires) are always going to happen so all the effort should be put into being able to respond to and put out those fires as quickly as possible when needed.

Managed services would be the fire prevention in this case. Recognizing that issues (or fires) can be prevented altogether in some instances so putting most of the effort into preventing issues before they can spark up.

A difference here would be that managed services also accounts for responding to issues as quickly as possible when they do arise. However, the ultimate goal being to reduce those issues significantly if not eliminate them completely.

Who offers managed services?

Managed services are offered by an IT managed service provider or MSP.

Other IT firms or IT consultants may offer managed services as well, but these may not be the complete suite of services that a formal MSP would typically deliver.

In a previous article, we covered extensively what an MSP is and the typical services you can expect from them.

What things are typically covered by managed services?

Services offered by an MSP will vary between providers. Some typical managed services that you can expect from an MSP include:

  • System patching and updating (including workstations, servers, and mobile devices)
  • Monitoring and alerting (to determine and be notified if something is wrong in your IT environment)
  • Technical support/help desk (for when tech support is needed for day-to-day issues)

Other premium managed services that may be included in a managed services plan:

  • Centralized anti-virus or anti-malware with licensing
  • Email and messaging support
  • Managed network
  • Cybersecurity training
  • Data backup
  • Disaster recovery
  • Virtual chief information officer (vCIO) consulting
  • Compliance needs or goals

And others depending on the specialties of the MSP and your needs.

For example, Kelser includes automated third-party application patching, managed servers, managed DNS-based protection, managed spam filtering and protection, automated maintenance, unlimited technical support, and a dedicated vCIO, TAM (technical alignment manager), and SDM (service delivery manager) team in each managed services plan.

What do managed services cost?

The cost of a managed services plan will vary based on the MSP you choose, the services they include, and the number of employees (or seats) that you want to be covered in the plan.

Beyond those factors, some MSPs will have their managed service plan as all-inclusive with everything they offer in the plan. Others may have a core managed services offering with additional add-on services that may increase the price.

This is more of a predictable operating expense like your internet or phone service. With managed services, you'll pay the same, single monthly fee each month. That price may change if you add or remove seats from your plan, but it will also be a predictable cost because you’ll know what you’re paying per seat.

Most MSPs will also have you sign an agreement for managed services to extend for a number of years. An agreement between 1-3 years is typical.

Who are managed services a good fit for?

Due to the nature of managed services, there are aspects of the arrangement that work well or not as well for some businesses.

If your business:

  • Wants a predictable IT expense that can be in place for a few years
  • Wants an ongoing business partner to collaborate with on technology and business goals
  • Has more in its IT environment than can be handled day-to-day regularly
  • Has compliance needs or considerations (HIPAA, NIST, CMMC, etc.)
  • Can’t afford much downtime and relies on technology to keep it moving
  • Doesn’t want to deal with technology – just wants it to work

A managed services arrangement may be a good fit for you. For example, if you’re a manufacturer with more employees on the floor than in the office and need to be NIST or CMMC compliant, a partnership with an MSP may work better for you.

In that scenario, an MSP would likely have more resources with cybersecurity and compliance backgrounds than you have in-house to help you identify specifically where your business needs to be compliant as well as the included managed services to get you to that compliance level and maintain it.

Does my company size or if I already have IT employees matter for managed services?

There’s really no company size restriction on managed services. It’s more influenced by what you need from your technology.

To use the manufacturing example from above again, you might be a 10-person shop, but you have contracts with the Department of Defense, so you need to be NIST and CMMC compliant. It’s unlikely that you have the IT, cybersecurity, and compliance experience on that 10-person staff to meet and maintain those compliance standards without an ongoing herculean effort.

It also doesn’t matter for managed services whether you already have in-house IT resources.

If you do have in-house IT staff, managed services could take care of the necessary day-to-day work to keep the lights on like patching and maintenance as an extension of your team. This would free up your in-house IT employees to work on other more strategic technology projects to help your business.

If you don’t have any IT resources at your business, managed services through an MSP could act as your IT department. The MSP would perform the usual day-to-day activities needed to keep your business running while also handling support tickets and consulting with you on more strategic goals.

No matter your choice, make sure your technology is well supported

When it comes to keeping your business running, the most important thing is that you’re getting the technology support that you need.

At some point, you will have hardware that fails, software that doesn't behave the way it's supposed to, or forget the password to an account. Make sure that in that moment that you have a plan in place to have your technology issue handled in a timeframe, budget, and with a level of service that’s right for you.

If you’re a company with one or two workstations that can get by for a time if they were to go down, break/fix may be a good fit for you.

If when a system goes down, your business feels the weight of that downtime as orders go unfulfilled or your customers can’t be served, managed services may be a good fit.

Kelser used to serve as a break/fix company but we’ve moved forward from break/fix and evolved into a managed service provider.

Across the hundreds of businesses that we’ve helped since 1981, we’ve identified a few key areas and needs that show that they may be a better (or worse) fit for managed services than others.

We’ve compiled those key areas and questions into a short online quiz to help you get a better idea about if managed services could fit your business needs. Take this 5-minute quiz before you have one of those technology-not-working moments and you'll be prepared to tackle your technology challenges head-on.

Are IT Managed Services Right For Your Organization?

About Adam Stahl

Adam is Kelser's Digital Strategist who invites boundless creativity to achieve outcomes that inspire confidence.

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