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Who eats the bill?

DDI4U asked
Attention IT Consultant,

I have come across this issue many times and I have yet to find a solution that makes everyone happy. In our company, we are IT consultants but not independent contractors. We work for Company X Consulting. We are paid a base salary as well as a bonus based on the amount of billable hours submitted for the month. So obviously there is incentive to accumulate billable hours. So let me give you an example to preface my question.

The Scenario:

Client A hires us to install a new server. We purchase the server and the client is billed for the hardware/software. We then install and configure the server and the client is billed for the labor. However, during the installation we encounter a few issues that takes days to figure out. This includes a technician to be onsite Friday until midnight, all day on Saturday until 5am, and Sunday another tech is onsite until 8PM. It is discovered during this time that the issue is caused by a faulty hard drive in this new server which is replaced and all is well.

The Question:

Should the client have to pay for all of this time spent debugging an issue that ultimately turns out to be faulty hardware in the new machine that we purchased for them? If not, should the technicians that spent their weekend working on the issue be robbed of their time that they spent discovering the issue? Who should ultimately eat the bill on this? How is this situation handled within your company?

Thanks in advance for your comments.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

My projects have gone flat fee with stipulations regarding problems that are beyond our control. If we recommend the hardware and the hardware causes a problem like the one you describe, then I eat the cost. If the client bought the server without consulting with us or against our advice, then the client pays. In the former I would follow up with the vender and make sure they are aware that their poor quality assurance program just cost me a lot of money and this will reflect negatively on my future decisions to go with their product.
Sorry guys - it's your problem - suck it up!

You cannot seriously expect a client to pay for your time diagnosing defective hardware, unless that hardware became faulty after delivery and into production time.

Take the thing to it's obvious conclusion -you buy a car, say and the garage prep it for delivery. During that time they realise that the engine is misfiring, and the electronic ignition is faulty.

They bill you for diagnostics and repair.

Would YOU pay it?

Your technicians presumably work for YOU and are salaried -why the h*ll should they lose pay?

It comes out of what is laughingly called "profits" - ie the money left over after the job is done to specification, and to the customers reasonable satisfaction.

You don't do that - you don't keep your customers.



Good points Lee, and i concur in regards to when the client purchases their hardware on their own. Unfortunately this is not the case, so on that premise I assume both my company and the techs who did the work would have to eat the cost. It seems however that the only one really eating the cost is the tech considering it was weekend work... so it cost them their weekend.
If it is faulty hardware that is new, then no that is a warranty issue and the client should not be billed for this.
If they purchased the hardware from you then there should do a burn in on the server just to ensure that all hardware works correctly.  Yes I know that hardware can crap out a little later, so I would have to eat the cost.  Been there done that.
kelly W.
The obvious answer as has already been said is "Not the customer" :)

Opinion alert:
However I would also keep my eye on the tech(s) to make sure there is no pattern of "taking too long to figure it out" .  :)

Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013
To those saying not the customer, I really think you have to qualify that based on criteria like I suggested. I'll add that any time an issue is taking longer than expected you do need to advise the customer and allow them to make the call *if* it's something you expect to bill the customer for.

In the case of the server with problems, this is why I buy only major name brand servers.  Could there be issues with them?  Sure but probably not and probably not lasting days.  Plus,  my own policy is to go virtual with everything possible. As such,  I could easily configure the hardware off-site and during regular business hours. Then you can bring it in and your only concern is the software setup (for the most part).

As a point of reference, I want quality and happy techs and happy customers so though I'm a one man shop right now,  as I grow I am expecting to give a bonus based on the number of clients visited/issues resolved. I don't want incentives for my employees to work on a single task at a time,  I want them trying to accomplish as much as possible as quickly as possible without sacrificing  quality.
Brand name, or Viirtual  server is mostly  a false sense of security, a "good bet" that thigs will go OK or at least trading one set of possibilities for another.
There are examples of Brand name servers with dead NICs, power supplies that didn't survive an overnight burn-in after the machine was taken out of the box and even loose screws caught between the case and the motherboard. And that's just from my own experience :)

The problem could have been a kinked network cable, pinched on the server closet door, around back where no one can "see" it until they realize what the problem is.

Troubleshooting is as much of an art as it is a science, not for everyone and some might even argue that it is more of a trait than a skill :)

Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

I can build systems for clients... but I don't want the support headaches.  On the rare occasion I've had problems with Dell systems (what I buy) I can call them and I get things worked out sooner than later.  

Troubleshooting is something you get better with with experience and with participation here and with talking to other IT pros exchanging stories.  The problem with IT Certs and training sessions is they are typically very light on troubleshooting and very heavy on proper setup techniques, based on industry standards that can sometimes NOT apply.

I'd also argue that a virtual server will be more easy to determine a hardware or software issue since you can move the VM to other hardware and see if the problem persists.

Absolutely, you CAN have issues with name brand systems, BUT, a name brand system is using components that the vendor as vetted and generally trusts.  The more returns the vendor has to process (for parts or complete systems) the more it eats into their bottom line.  Along the lines of what I said earlier, when there are a high number of problems you MUST make the supplier aware because logically, you SHOULD be re-evaluating your decision to use that supplier - but one incident shouldn't change your mind, especially if you've had an ongoing relationship with them.  It'll be costly to establish a new vendor relationship as you'll need to get familiar with the vendor's P&Ps as well as the nuances of their technology.


Thanks for the comments!

The conversation seemed to steer towards "Use this product, not that technology, etc" which is a bit off topic. Thanks again for your input and Merry Christmas!