IT Support Options: Comparing Break Fix to Managed Services


Welcome to the first installment in our blog series about IT support options for small to medium businesses.

When most business owners think about IT support, they think about calling for help when something breaks. After all, when you’re having problems, you just want to get things working again. You might not be thinking any further ahead than: “I just need my email to work! I have customers waiting!”

In the IT industry we call this short-sighted model of IT support “Break/Fix.” When you want things to work, this model seems to make sense. If it’s broken, you need help. If it isn’t, there’s nothing to fix. Right?


The problem with being focused on fixing today’s problem is that you’re not preventing problems from reoccurring tomorrow, and you’re not positioning your business to adapt and grow.

Your IT Support Options

Fortunately, “Break/Fix” isn’t the only option for IT support. What are the other options?

Do It Yourself – When things go wrong, one option is to try to fix everything yourself, but unless you’re a technology expert this typically takes a lot of time away from your business and doesn’t provide much confidence in the solutions. It’s very limiting as well, since just as soon as you figure out how to solve one problem, new problems and new technologies arise that you must become familiar with. It is a very steep learning curve that ultimately takes away from your business and impedes your growth.

Break/Fix IT Consultants – When you don’t have a full time IT person on staff or expertise in house, and you don’t want to do it yourself, a break/fix IT provider gives you someone to call for help when things goes wrong. But typically, they will only repair the immediate problem, leaving you vulnerable to other issues later.

In-House IT Staff – When you hire a person to handle your IT, you now have someone on staff when a problem arises. Unfortunately, he’ll still only be able to fix the problems he knows how to repair. If something outside his area of expertise arises, you’ll still need outside help. Worse, you are still not positioned very well to adapt to changes in the IT industry. Of course, if you have a lot of money to spend, you can hire an entire team of IT people so that you have all your bases covered, but for most small businesses this is out of reach and unnecessary. Even for larger businesses, it may not be the most cost effective solution.

Managed IT Services – This model gives you access to an entire IT team with expertise in a variety of IT disciplines, such as networking, security, cloud storage, mobile integration and business productivity applications, but rather than hire them all full time you can access them at the level that is right for the needs of your business, and pay for the services you need on a monthly subscription basis.

Comparing Break/Fix and Managed Services

When you engage a Break/Fix consultant to assist with your IT needs, you’re dealing with someone who only makes money when you have problems. This can create an inherent conflict of interest between the consultant and yourself. There’s even a name for this conflict in economics circles, where it’s known as, “the Agency Problem.” Some in the IT industry have even humorously likened this relationship to Munchausen By Proxy syndrome, where parents manufacture problems in order to receive the rewards from doing so.

The main advantage of Break/Fix from the customer’s point of view is that the consultant charges an hourly rate, so small fixes can be fairly inexpensive. The disadvantages of Break/Fix include:

  • Hourly rate, so IT costs are unpredictable.
  • No guarantees: Fixes might not work, you pay whether they work or not.
  • No service time agreement. You waste time waiting. Meanwhile, your systems aren’t working.
  • More problems for you means more money for the consultant.
  • Fixes may not address underlying problems, resulting in multiple calls to fix the same problem.
  • No incentive to provide better solutions or enable business improvement.

With managed services on the other hand, you get a company that provides guaranteed solutions and is incentivized to keep your IT problems to a minimum. The advantages of managed services for your IT include:

  • Fixed monthly fee, predictable costs.
  • Guaranteed level of service each month to monitor and keep your systems running smoothly.
  • When you have problems, you’re guaranteed help and a resolution in a specific period of time.
  • Monitoring systems to spot and prevent problems before they impact your business.
  • IT strategy and plan to support your business instead of cobbled together tools.
  • Better ability to leverage cloud tools and software and take your business mobile.

What about disadvantages? When measured in small increments of time such as a month or a quarter it might seem as if the cost for managed services is higher – until you get hit with a big bill you didn’t expect. It’s also important to remember that your business has a long term need for technology that helps you meet the demands of a changing customer base that is increasingly mobile and tech savvy.

Why Small Businesses Choose Managed Services

Many companies find that over the long term, the ability to minimize disruptions to your business from IT, while meeting the demands of customers and supporting future growth, offsets the higher monthly cost. A recent survey by CompTIA supports this theory: it indicated that companies with less than 100 employees choose managed services for the following reasons:

  • Improved efficiency and reliability: 47%
  • Enhanced security and compliance: 38%
  • ROI / Cost savings: 28%

In the next installments of this series on IT Support options, we’ll be comparing managed services to in-house IT staff and doing it yourself. Make sure you don’t miss it – subscribe to our blog now!