Choosing your Managed Services or IT Support partner, a few tips to help you on your way.
Netcom have been supporting and guiding businesses in Sheffield for over 14 years, working with them, to ensure the technology meets the business needs and any challenges can be quickly overcome. We’ve mopped up the fallout from shoddy IT Support companies and have first hand experience in turning IT systems around after so called professionals have tied businesses into unsuitable systems and agreements.
I hope this article will help to offer some guidance when choosing an IT Support or Managed Service partner. Of course, I have a vested interest as MD of Netcom Technologies but I also have an interest in upholding standards within a profession i care for greatly. There are too many bad IT companies out there, overcharging and underperforming. There are also some very good IT Support and Managed Service providers who love doing a great job and seeing their clients succeed. I hope that if you follow this guidance then you will be able to choose the latter.
In a recent study by the IDC for Acronis, it was found that the average cost to an SMB for even one hour of downtime was significant at £11,500. Divide this by a company of 25 people, and for every hour an employee can’t work, the cost could be around £460 per hour. Choosing the right IT Support is a not just sensible, its a key business decision.
With the vast array of companies offering IT support and managed services with a range of options, what are the key things you should look for when it comes to finding the right IT Support partner?
Check the geographical areas they cover.
It is important to choose a partner that can react and rapidly deploy to deal with any emergency situation that may occur. Check with your potential supplier that they can deliver the services needed to your area. As well as being able to fix remotely they should have a local presence so go and see them, ask to see their technical department and meet the people who will be working on your systems and make sure it feels right for you. If they decline then what are they hiding?
Understand the different levels of support they offer.
You have a lot of choice when it comes to support, especially around service levels and budget. However don’t be fooled into thinking that just fixing things when they break is the most cost effective solution.
An overview of the common types of services are below;
Whilst PAYG may seem like a cheap solution, over the long term it will probably work out to be the most expensive option. If you are looking for ongoing support, and the guidance and mentorship around what technology will work best for your business, it won’t be the best option, especially as you pay an hourly rate and cannot forecast what your needs will look like for the longer term.
Break fix support is a little like an insurance policy. It can provide an agreed service level at an agreed price and is normally tied to specific IT equipment and can be charged hourly or in advance. Think of this like your RAC cover, you pay a monthly fee and in return you know that if your car breaks down, someone will be there to patch it up or get you home. Break fix support in IT is similar, if your computers break the IT support company will fix them. This is usually at a fixed monthly cost per PC, user or server which includes labour only however there are also options to cover the cost of hardware too so you have a fully inclusive IT Support insurance policy against your IT breakdowns.
Managed Support delivers the most comprehensive and tailored support for your business. Your support company tailors what is needed to meet your business needs and plans. They actively monitor and manage your systems, to minimize and identify potential risks. You will have access to a team of professionals to resolve challenges when they occur, which can be 24 x7 dependent on your business needs.
Managed support involves an annual contract and a good company will also deliver monthly reporting and a quarterly business review along with the guidance and expertise to allow your business to use technology to achieve your business goals. As a tip you need to be mindful of the renewal date for renewal contracts, as these often have a 90 day (sometimes longer) notice period and can roll over making it difficult to change or exit from poorly performing providers.
So, you’ve decided on the support model. You have a shortlist of providers eager to win your business. You now need to ensure that you’re going to get the service you expect. Here’s how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Ask about response times.
When problems occur it is vital that these can be resolved with minimal impact to your business operation. All companies should offer guaranteed response times or Service Level Agreements (SLA’s).
These represent the time you will have to wait when a problem occurs. These will vary from company to company so ensure you check the SLA’s your service provider offers, and ensure these will match your requirements.
How will your account be managed?
With most companies, you will have a team of IT experts/technicians to support your business. Often you will be able to raise problems over the phone or by email, sometimes using Skype, a portal or other texting means. You will ordinarily also have an account manager who will oversee your contract and make sure that everything is running smoothly and you are happy with the service provided. On this point, be weary of one man operations as often they are busy fixing things rather than managing service levels, in addition experience of new and ever changing technologies can be limited.
Ask about the technologies they support?
I would guess you probably already have some IT and technology and this is changing at a fast pace, especially with more access to cloud services and software. Check with any provider that they can offer support for your systems, although many will make recommendations to ensure that your IT is fit for purpose and robust.
When I have a problem, how do I let you know?
Problems will always occur and when one arises you want it resolved as quickly as possible. There is no greater frustration than being unable to reach someone to fix it. Make sure any potential company has a dedicated support line and one that is not a mobile number. Ask about how calls are logged and support times and if support is available 24/7/365 which might not be needed for you at the moment but might be a future requirements. Some companies also have the ability to log support calls by email or directly through web access.
Will you be monitoring my network or equipment or fixing overnight?
Some IT support companies offer a proactive monitoring service, meaning they constantly monitor and evaluate your IT network for threats and challenges. Using clever tools to monitor and remotely fix and upgrade your systems. This helps to minimize any failures and reduces the need for potential charges for onsite visits. Does the IT support company or managed service provider offer an overnight fix service? Some companies include a regular nightly repair day to fix issues overnight minimising disruption and inconvenience to your company. A 24/7/365 breakfix support model might be available which will allow the support company to remotely fix problems if they arise outside office hours without the need for you to call and report the problem. Often this does not add much more to the monthly fee so is worth considering.
Ask for references or testimonials.
All good support companies will have no objections to providing you with a number of references to follow along with testimonials and case studies to back up the work they have done. Ask any potential supplier whether they have these? And if not be cautious. This reluctance maybe an indicator of poor quality of service or lack of experience.
What value added extras do you get?
Its one thing fixing and servicing your technology but an IT partner should also have your back. Its the small things which help. Things like ensuring you have the right IT policies in place and to help implement them if required. Do you have a data protection or system continuity strategy? Ask the potential IT Support provider if they can help with these? Another commonly overlooked area is print costs, ask them to check your print expenditure to ensure you are not paying too much for your print and that you have the right printers for the job and not just the printers your stationary provider can make the most margin on. Your quarterly business review should cover this along with giving you the opportunity to raise queries with your supplier and letting your IT support provider know about any changes to your business plan so they can help you adjust your IT strategy.
What organisations are they members of?
If they are in the British Computer Society you’re onto a winner, that’s the governing body for IT professionals. If they aren’t then why not? Perhaps they seek peer guidance and meet regularly at one of the IT related peer groups like Network Group to share best practice and innovative ideas with IT peers? Are they aligned with local government to be able to update you on local initiatives? One example would be the Sheffield City Region and North Yorkshire £24,000 grant scheme at www.digitalfunding.co.uk which was announced in March 2017 and ran until April 2018 providing 50% funding for IT projects.
I do hope that this guidance helps you to choose the right fit for your company. As always, we’re here to help so if you need any help or have any questions related to this or any of our other articles please contact our friendly team at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0114 321 6146.
Mark Kindred – Managing Director, Netcom Tech.