Who are you going to call?

If you read sites like TechCrunch, then it is a fair guess that your friends and family probably think you are some sort of computer expert, someone they can turn to when they need computer related help and advise. This is often a blessing in disguise because once you’ve been successfully identified as an expert, often what was supposed to be a five minute quick question soon becomes a time consuming reinstall and/or virus health check etc. After a while you begin to fear the knock on the door or the phone ringing, feeling you will never be left alone again!

Well thankfully help is at hand, more precisely thousands of hands. Last week BT announced their new home-based broadband customer support service, BT Home IT Visit.

BT Broadband customers can now arrange for an engineer to visit their home and install broadband from £50.00 per visit. In addition, anyone with a BT line can request a Home IT Visit for assistance with any IT-related problem or situation for £75.00 for the first hour and £25 for each subsequent half-hour. said Emma Sanderson, Director, Value Added Services for BT Retail

Following three months of successful trials, BT now has a team of up to 2,000 specially trained engineers nationwide who can visit customers in their homes to help them get on-line and get the most out of their broadband. Customers, for example, can request an engineer to help set-up a wireless router or network, and attach printers or other devices. An engineer can also give your computer a health check and show customers how to back-up data. In addition they can give help and advice with installing and configuring a new PC, including backing-up and transferring data across from an old PC.

The Home IT Visit service follows the launch in March of BT Home IT Advisor – a service which gives customers a single point of contact with a team of BT trained advisors dedicated to providing comprehensive support for customers’ PCs, networks, applications and up to 20 devices for the home. The service can even create a ‘virtual engineer’ in your home by enabling an advisor to securely ‘log on’ to a customers’ computer remotely and troubleshoot a problem for no additional fee, above the £9.99 a month subscription.Great news then, you’re off the hook. So when the next door neighbour calls round with “just a quick question”, you can politely point him/her to the BT service(s) and get back to what you were doing before but wait, like London buses it seems there has been a rash of Home IT services launched recently and now that neighbour wants to know which service you think he should call!?

One new service is Geeks on Wheels (GOW) which was formed by Jamie Shaw and Michael Scates. It provides a “no fix, no fee offer and 10% discounts for silver surfers”. The service is similarly priced to BT but GOW seems geographically restricted to Sussex and London and appears more expensive than BT on some of the same services it provides e.g a wireless network setup costs £199 +VAT

Next there is Steve Moore’s Digital Plumbers service which again provides a home IT help service. Steve was once chairman of CEDIA and after leaving set up his own high-end audio and lighting installation service called SMC which targeted the £1m homes of the rich and occasionally famous. Digital Plumbers is Steve’s new consumer service aimed at mass marketing what he learnt from SMC. It appears that Digital Plumbers can offer a nationwide service and have in fact recently branched out into Ireland. Once again the installation and service costs are comparable to BT but once again fractionally more expensive. And talking of BT, Digital Plumbers have recently recruited Andrew Burke from BT to head up their operation.

Next up is the newbie on the block called DT3 which was set up by Darren Turnbull and Toby Treacher in April 2006. Once again DT3 is a home IT support service with a menu of standardised “fixed cost” services which seems to be the cheapest/best value in this review. DT3 “guarantee that they will setup, upgrade or fix your problem, and if you are not 100% happy, you don’t pay a penny”.

Finally there is DSG (Dixons Stores Group) have also decided to enter the market for home IT support services by forming a new operation called The TechGuys which already has over 3,000 experienced advisors available throughout the UK capable of doing 16,000 home visits per week! Over the next five years DSG expects to invest £50 million into The TechGuys. The aim is to open 200 standalone service locations in the UK and service points at 150 PC World’s, as well as a number of concessions, creating potentially 2,000 new jobs. This is a substantial investment because the DSG estimates that the market for digital home support services is currently worth £1billion in the UK alone and could even double in size within 5 years.

The range and costs of the services are again comparible but the phone support is based on two grades of telephone: a general enquiries line financed by a national call rate (0845) number; and a PC helpline charged at £1.50 a minute. The latter is a rebranding of PC World’s current PC phone support. Hands-on support such as drop-in clinics and home visits are priced from £10 upwards on a no-fix, no-fee basis.

Of course all of these services are based on the original US Geek Squad which recently announced that they will be creating a 50:50 joint venture with the CarPhone Warehouse to create the European Geek Squad and expect to launch in January.

So who do you call … well clearly it depends on the level of service you require and the length of time it might take? I would add that having started a business like this myself, aimed at the new home market in 2004 and experienced first hand the issues of providing home IT services, I would say the biggest issue facing each one of these services are scalability and profitability. Providing the right level of quality service on a nationwide scale whilst remaining profitable will be difficult.