Seven Questions to Ask Service Providers Before Signing Your Next Contract

Selecting the best service provider for regularly scheduled preventative maintenance is important for the health of your data center, writes Bhavesh Patel of ASCO. Here are seven questions to ask service providers prior to signing your next contract.

Bhavesh Patel is Director of Marketing and Customer Support at ASCO Power Technologies, Florham Park, NJ, a business of Emerson Network Power.

At a data center, the health, maintenance, and monitoring of the emergency backup power system are of paramount importance. You want the backup power system to kick in and run flawlessly as soon as it is called for. There is a direct relationship between thorough, regularly scheduled preventative maintenance on system components and the reliability of that system to operate and deliver peak performance when called upon. Selecting the best service provider for that maintenance is an important process.

Generally, it is preferable to hire a specialty service provider directly who can address your needs and priorities rather than rely on the property management firm, which wears many hats. Adding a layer of responsibility and dealing with an intermediary can result in delays and misrepresentation or misunderstanding of issues.

Property management firms are a good choice for maintaining grounds, A/C and heating systems, elevators, pest control, and vending machines but less suitable for maintaining a facility’s critical power, including stand-by generators, transfer switches, and UPS/power distribution. In this age of specialization and evolving technology, you want to make sure your service provider is the best choice for all your needs.

Here are seven questions to ask service providers before signing the next contract. The responses will help you hone in on the best qualified (not necessarily least costly) service provider to forestall problems and, should any develop, fix it as quickly and efficiently as possible. (And that’s the ROI that you are really looking for!)

Before You Sign on the Dotted Line

What is the size your organization? How many crews, and how many techs trained and authorized to work on my critical equipment, and do you respond 365/24/7. You don’t want the phone answerer to also be the person who goes out in the van to service your equipment and then need to rush off to respond to the next call. Understaffed operations can leave subsequent callers to reach only voice mail.

How long have you been in business? Does the company have a track record with data centers or other critical facilities? Will it provide references to current customers, especially those running equipment from the same manufacturers of your equipment? Check out the website and links for company background and associations, as well as business review sites.

How do your crews respond to service calls? The answer you’re looking for is “quickly in a well-stocked truck” and with quick and easy access to all needed parts not already onboard. If there is a needed part not in their inventory and not available locally, how long will it take to get it? The logistics of delivery could greatly hinder the repair. And if the service provider is relying on the manufacturer to have the part available, that might prove not to be the case. If the provider is the OEM, then the tech likely could have access to the warehouse off-hours.

Are your technicians trained specifically to handle repairs on installed equipment from my manufacturer and will only those technicians be sent in response to my call? System components may relate to one another differently among manufacturers. You want technicians trained on your equipment to fix your equipment. Quality service providers often require technicians undergo initial mandatory factory training on specific manufacturer equipment and periodic “brush-up” training every year to keep up with new equipment and protocols.

Alternately, or in addition, a service provider could require its technicians to earn certification in an industry-neutral program that entails both classroom learning and hands-on work experience and which may require renewal annually. (The service division of the OEM may have the most informed technicians, with the quickest knowledge of service bulletins and upgrades and the most vested interest in preventing failures of system components.)

Do your field forces use tablets? Yes indicates keeping up with technology. Instant access to data such as customer history, notes on past service calls, maintenance schedules for critical equipment, access to technical data from a service library, and the ability to query technical experts offsite can speed up repair time and enhance accountability on service calls.

At large data centers, a service provider might even have access to an electronic map showing locations of equipment along with history of service of that equipment. Furthermore, inputting data such as arrival time, length of service call, and/or invoicing on the spot is a lot more accurate than relying on hand-written (often illegible) service tickets and notes.

Will you train my personnel at my facility on the basic operation of critical components of the backup power system so they can recognize developing problems and quickly and accurately inform you about them? Ideally, the service provider should educate a few key in-house “first responders” as possible points of contact who can understand issues that may require a service call.

How do you structure fees for comprehensive annual preventative maintenance and emergency repairs around the clock? How are repairs billed – per visit, per length of visit, immediacy of response, day of week and time of service or other parameters? Are optional upgrades offered?

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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