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Tips for Considering Various Service Options

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Before buying computers, or at least before the customary 90-day warranty runs out, school officials should consider the cost-effectiveness of available service options.

These include a pay-per-call arrangement, which many school officials say is extremely costly; a yearly contract with vendors that can include such options as on-site repair and one-day service; and the use of third-party servicers.

Many school districts have or are establishing in-house maintenance programs to beat the cost of outside servicing.

Those involved in computer maintenance offer the following suggestions:

Take a systematic look at current problems and consider them in deciding on future computer purchases. Check the computer's track record with other school officials.

Limit the hardware mix. Different brands require different training and, sometimes, different software packages. Also, buying in bulk might reduce the cost of a maintenance contract.

"I don't necessarily think that every piece in the district has to be compatible, but you should purchase with the thought of creating an aggregate that's large enough to allow you to adequately support it with software, training, and maintenance," said Patricia Sturdivant, the assistant superintendent in charge of technology in the Houston Independent School District.

Never structure a bid for purchase without requiring information from the vendor about service and maintenance costs. The high bid may actually be the lowest when the "hidden" costs are factored in, specialists note.

Do not rely solely on the vendor. Conduct an independent investigation to determine how well a manufacturer will stand by his product. One way to do this is to read industry reports and trade and business publications.

Minimize maintenance costs by training school-based troubleshooters. These people should be able to identify minor and major problems and determine what kind of service--if any--is needed.

Consider offering courses in computer maintenance and enlisting students to help service computers.

Do not automatically assume that the person in charge of audio-visual repair is the person best suited for training in computer maintenance. Those chosen should be familiar with programming and hardware.

Provide ongoing training so technicians are up to date on the latest equipment and servicing requirements.

Manufacturers' Programs

Apple, ibm, and Commodore are among the firms that offer training for schools establishing in-house maintenance programs.

Participants are usually trained to use diagnostic equipment, clean computers, adjust and realign disk drives, and swap troubled boards or chip-level components.

Apple offers "level-one" training for a fee to school districts that have a certain number of machines, choose trainees with the necessary technical ability, and purchase a designated number of "spare parts" kits. Each kit is actually an Apple machine in parts.

For information, contact the Apple support center where the school's computers were purchased.

Commodore offers free training to school districts employing a technician with an electronics background, on-site diagnostic equipment, and 100 or more Commodore computer products, including disk drives, printers, and keyboards. Schools can then buy parts directly from Commodore.

Participants must pay travel expenses to the training site, which is in Schaumburg, Ill. Additional training sites are being set up. In some cases, Commodore officials will conduct the two-day training programs elsewhere.

For information, call Commodore's toll-free number for service and maintenance: (800) 247-9000.

ibm also offers computer-maintenance classes for a fee to independent servicers. For information, call (404) 980-2100 and ask for service training.--lck

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