A Cure to the 4-Hour Break/Fix Problem

Bell Micro and HP Unveil an Authorized Support Partner (ASP) Program Designed for OEM

The last thing anyone usually thinks about is the details of the service contract when they purchase a new product. Companies at a high level may know they are signing up for next day or 4 hour break/fix support. But, in practice, there is no guarantee in the contract in terms of when they will actually get their product repaired and their application back online. All that the 4-hour service level guarantees is that a qualified technician will be on-site within 4 hours.

Support contracts for pre-assembled systems like a medical MRI device or a server embedded in a satellite television unit only further confuse the issue of who to call and what to expect. In these situations, it may not even be clear who to call for support since the company first needs to figure out which component within the unit is malfunctioning, who manufactured it and if that is the manufacturer they need to call for support.

It is this last example that is particularly problematic. The qualified technician who shows up on-site may need some help to find the computer system, which may be a server blade only after the faceplate of the MRI is unscrewed and the device opened up. This gets beyond the comfort level of most technicians as they are rightly concerned with invalidating the warranties and service contracts of a myriad of other components also embedded into the device.

In the meantime the manufacturer of the MRI is usually in the impotent position of refereeing between the uncomfortable technician and the unhappy customer. In point of fact, the warranty and service level contracts belong to the end-user – which means that the manufacturer is not even authorized under the terms of those contracts to place phone calls on their behalf. Whether the custom system is an MRI or a television satellite device or something in between, the OEM or custom systems manufacturer is likely to get caught in the middle when a break/fix problem arises.

That was until now. Bell Micro and its strategic partner, HP, recognize that pretending that this issue does not exist is not really an option and have come up with a way to solve this dilemma. Bell Micro is uniquely positioned in the value chain to solve this problem: not only does Bell receive equipment and sell it to OEMs or embedded systems manufacturers, it can also manufacture custom solutions and drop-ship them to end-user customers.

What occurred to the business leaders at Bell Micro was that they could supply a replacement for the MRI or satellite television device from inventory – and immediately fix the problem for the end-user customer. With this approach, the troublesome device can be taken off-site from the customer. Troubleshooting to diagnose and fix the problem can be done in the background, without delaying the customer. Then, the fixed device can be cycled back into inventory with no problems nor losses.

Sounds good, but as it turns out there is a fair bit of complexity to managing all of the warranties and service contracts involved in this approach. To make this work Bell Micro teamed with HP to make it possible for their OEM and embedded systems partners to perform break/fix on behalf of their end-user customers. HP made this possible by redesigning their Authorized Support Partner program for OEMs.

So what Bell Micro and HP are doing to resolve this support issue is two-fold.

  • First, HP now authorizes Bell Micro as an ASP on behalf of any OEM/embedded systems manufacturer working with Bell Micro. When a break/fix problem occurs, Bell is authorized to immediately replace the system from their inventory and then work with HP on behalf of the customer to diagnose and correct the problem. Warranties and service contracts are reassigned along with the new equipment.
  • Second, HP also now offers ASP authorization to OEM/embedded systems manufacturers who may be interested in obtaining that status. In this case, the OEM team can immediately replace the system at their customer’s location and then work with HP on the correction. Again, warranties and service contracts are all reassigned transparently to the end-user customer.

The end-user problem is actually fixed within the 4-hour service level agreement window, and the end-user makes a single phone call. All of the complexity of working through the break/fix process has been removed from the shoulders of the end-user IT team.

Most companies don’t really take the time to think about the details of service contracts and most just assume that when they need support that these situations will just take care of themselves. The fact of the matter is that making such assumptions about support, especially when purchasing support for pre-assembled systems, can lead to unexpectedly long service times and lengthy outages later on. It is only through recent initiatives from distributors like Bell Micro and its partner HP that both embedded system manufacturers and their customers are starting to see some resolution to this issue.

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