Chapter 7: Knowing How to Support and Maintain Your Technology Solution|
Routine, preventative maintenance of computer hardware can help ensure proper performance. In addition, software upgrades and other software maintenance help keep the system up-to-date and meeting staff needs.
What kind of ongoing technology maintenance will be needed?
Your computer system should have an overall maintenance program established as soon as it is implemented. There are several components of this program that will play a role in the system's efficient and effective operation. The basic components are similar for all types of education organizations, be they schools, districts, or other agencies.
Keeping Hardware Working
Car manufacturers always recommend having your car tuned and the oil changed regularly to keep it running as efficiently as possible. Similar maintenance is required of a computer system. You don't want to wait until there are problems; you want to avoid problems. Often an organization will carry out its own routine, preventive maintenance (checking data base size, purging outdated records, deleting user accounts that are no longer in use, etc.). For hardware and network components, maintenance includes periodic cleaning for proper performance. Despite the best preventive maintenance program, problems do occur. To deal with them, many organizations have a maintenance agreement for fix-it-when-it-breaks service with an outside contractor or agency, particularly for hardware. The key parameters of such agreements are response time to a trouble call and the availability and proximity of spare parts. In other words, you want to know how long it will take to get the problems fixed.
If your organization's computer system includes a commercial software package, you will probably have a maintenance agreement with the vendor. Product maintenance agreements should be negotiated at the time of initial purchase or at the time the software application is being developed. Such agreements usually begin either when you purchase the software or when your system is initiated, as long as you pay the vendor the stipulated monthly or yearly maintenance fee. In return for this fee, the client organization (i.e., you) typically receives solutions for errors in the application, changes, additions, and further documentation. Maintenance agreements can also provide for copies of new releases (upgrades) at no or at reduced cost.
Providing Internal Maintenance Support
As an alternative to a maintenance agreement with an external provider, an organization can weigh the risks and benefits of in-house maintenance, assuming that the expertise is available. Paying for time and materials only as repairs are needed - as opposed to a monthly fee - can, under some circumstances, save money. In other cases, the staff time necessary to complete repairs may make the in-house solution much more expensive than it first appears. Losing access to critical systems can be even more "expensive" in non-financial terms. It is obvious that a payroll system cannot be down for long. It's also obvious that a lost server at a school site can be disruptive to the educational program and demoralizing to teachers learning to use a technology-enhanced classroom. Thus, it is imperative that you perform a cost-benefit analysis before deciding whether to pay a vendor to provide maintenance service.
Establishing External Maintenance Agreements
Maintenance agreements are like insurance policies. You must weigh the relative and absolute risks to your organization. Honestly assess your in-house capability to deal with any potential problems, and make your decisions accordingly. Some useful questions to ask are: