On November 3, IBM improved its service contract and, in a related move, increased the pressure on third party maintenance companies by changing the way it treats equipment that has been taken off IBM service. IBM maintenance was formerly provided between 7am and 6pm, Monday to Friday, unless customers paid for additional assistance. Now, these customers will be able to get service on their computers around the clock, seven days a week at no additional charge. Some equipment is not covered by this new policy, including machines that are repaired on a carry-in or exchange basis like Personal Computers. However, all mid-range and mainframe processors and peripherals (with the exception of terminals on a budget service plan) are covered. At the same time, IBM is ceasing to provide per-call service outside of what it calls normal business hours. This means that customers without contracts who call an IBM repairman will no longer be able to get a response after 6pm or before 7am, or on weekends. Some third-party service organisations had formerly profited by having their customers pay them a flat rate for service less than IBM’s contract maintenance charges. These organisations would instruct their customers to call IBM when equipment failed and then IBM billed the third party on a time and materials basis for the work done. Because the average charges accumulated over time were significantly less than IBM’s contract service rates, both the users and the co-ordinating organisations came out ahead. Another result of the new IBM policies will be that third party maintainers who provided their own service personnel will now have to offer comparable coverage, or at least lower their rates for prime-time service in order to offset the increased availability of IBM maintenance. At the same time, IBM changed the way it handles maintenance on computers that are relocated, reconfigured or refurbished. When it installs most equipment, IBM will now take down and re-install the IBM gear that was displaced, so long as the re-installation occurs within six months. Higher costs for third parties However, if the equipment has been modified, refurbished or otherwise opened up by third parties, IBM may charge for re installation. IBM may also seal equipment that it takes down in order to be sure it has not been tampered with while not covered by an IBM service contract. Most processors are reconfigured when they are moved, and third party leasing companies have the lion’s share of this work done by independents. The result will be higher costs for most equipment handled by third parties, and, possibly, a decline in the business of independent refurbishers. The wealthiest leasing company, IBM Credit Corp, has IBM perform any reconfiguration on equipment that is remarketed, and it will not be penalised by the new policies. Similar policies apply to equipment taken off IBM maintenance for six months or more, which heretofore was almost always accepted for IBM maintenance again without charges (except for necessary repairs). In some cases, IBM may provide a letter that guarantees free reinstallation on equipment. The company will charge a fee for this letter; IBM officials have told third parties that the fee will be set at one month’s maintenance charge. Similar changes are expected for Europe early next year.
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