You spent much time researching, finding, procuring, receiving, and installing the right computing equipment for your warehouse operation. You have an efficient, well-oiled operation, a system that gets the job done. Everyone is well trained, everyone knows their job, productivity is right up there where it should be. Until something breaks.
Today’s mobile computing gear is mostly robust, rugged, and reliable. But it is used on the job, in all sorts of environments and under all kinds of conditions. Your workforce relies on it indoors, outdoors, on routes, in vehicles. In industrial workplaces there is wear and tear. Accidents can and will happen, and devices break or get crushed. Screens crack, buttons fail, there’s leakage, the battery goes bad, the backlight is out, or the device won’t turn on at all.
That means downtime. And when your workforce relies on computers to get the job done, downtime must be avoided at all costs. That’s what maintenance and service agreements are for. No one particularly likes service agreements because it’s an often-substantial cost for something that you may or may not need. But service agreements are like insurance; they protect your investment and guard against loss. The key is to get the right kind and level of protection.
But why get a service agreement in the first place? Aren’t break-downs what warranties are for? True, all computers, rugged or not, come with a warranty. But it is generally a limited manufacturing warranty for a limited period of time and may only cover certain parts of the device, like the battery, display or storage. If those fail as a result of a manufacturing flaw within the warranty period, you may be covered. But even if approved, warranty repairs and/or replacements can take time. Time you don’t have.
And that is where service agreements come in. They are a contract between you and the manufacturer, distributor, vendor, or their designated entity to quickly and reliably fix or replace things for you so that you will not incur unacceptable downtime. Most vendors offer different levels of service agreements, and it’s up to you to figure out which is best and most cost-effective for you. So let’s look at things to consider:
1. What exactly do you need?
Perform an assessment of what kind of service requirements you expect to have. Is it breakdowns due to regular wear and tear? Is it unavoidable drops and spills? Is it harsh environments that may do damage (water, salt, frost, heat, etc.)? Do you need software support too, such as remote diagnostics or software reinstallation? Do you need spare parts at your locations? Do you need a guarantee that spare parts will remain available for years to come?
2. Who (and where) is the service provider?
Who is going to provide the service? Is it the manufacturer or vendor itself that will do repairs, or are they using a third party contract service provider? Depending on where you are and who you are dealing with, that’s important.
3. What is covered?
Make sure you know exactly what is and what isn’t covered. This may range from certain parts or certain types of failure, all the way to everything. Assess the risk. There is no need to pay for coverage you may never need. On the other hand, if wear and occasional damage is likely, true “bumper-to-bumper” all-included coverage is the way to go. There is peace of mind in knowing a device is covered no matter what.
4. What is the turn-around?
If a handheld computer or scanner is required to perform a job, that job can’t be done unless there is a backup, or the broken unit is repaired. You should also ask: Is there acceptable downtime? For how long? Is there guaranteed turn-around for units sent for repair? Are there priority repair options? And can repair status be tracked online 24/7?
5. How are units shipped?
Shipping logistics are crucial for reliable turn-around. How is shipping handled? Are units picked up? Can you drop them off at one of the major global shippers? How are they returned to you? Does the contract cover shipping?
6. Is the agreement cost-efficient?
Vendors generally offer different levels of service agreements. All-included, no-questions-asked, accidents only, etc.. Examine your equipment failure and accident patterns and then decide what service contract level offers the best cost-benefit for your operation.
7. What are the terms?
Once you know what you need and have found a good service provider, examine the contract. Not just proposed services, costs, duration, payment terms but also the responsibilities, indemnifications, liability, waivers, termination, dispute resolution and so on. Fine print is tedious to read and understand but go through it anyway. There may be provisions you are not comfortable with. Some may have to be clarified, changed or removed. Do make sure you’re on top of all that to guard against unpleasant surprises.
A good service agreement is worth its weight in gold. It keeps the operation running when your gear goes down. Use the steps above to get it right.