If you’re like most small businesses, you rely on your workstations, laptops, servers and technology to keep your business running. Unfortunately, that means when your IT stops working, you and your business stop working. Anything from computer problems, network glitches, viruses, or software issues can bring your work to a halt very quickly and cost you money to fix. Even a relatively ‘simple’ problem or question could involve many hours of troubleshooting, resulting in unplanned downtime and expenses.
To keep your employees productive, you need to keep your PCs, printers, routers, servers, network, firewall and applications and other systems running like clockwork. Managing your IT technology may not be the business you’re in, but it is important for your success as a whole. Not only do you need a way to minimize the frequent tech issues that drag down productivity and drive up costs, you also need to maximize the tools and technologies that increase productivity and help your business grow.
So where do you turn if you don’t have the time to manage it on your own or the money to keep a dedicated tech team on staff? You look to an IT services provider – a partner that can give you access to your own IT team. Also known as a Managed Services Provider (MSP), an outside MSP can take over the day-to-day management of your IT needs. A good provider can offer set-up, maintenance and proactive IT management, as well as solutions for simple, but important questions or fast-breaking problems whenever they arise. Put simply, an MSP can give you a better way to manage your technology and support your business. If you feel outside IT support makes sense for you, here are a few key questions to ask when choosing an MSP.
1. Do they understand your business?
You want a provider who already works with businesses like yours – who knows the technology, software, and hardware you use within your industry. An association or a non-profit has entirely different IT needs than a manufacturer. When speaking with an MSP, be specific about your set-up, applications and your concerns. Ask directly, do they understand and already support a business like yours? Are they familiar with the software applications you work with day in, day out? Can they work with PCs, with Macs, with servers? What about mobile devices or combinations of different printers, scanners, and routers and firewalls?
2. Can they support you remotely or On-site? How fast can they respond?
While it may seem comforting to have a technician come to your office with tools in hand, the convenience and speed of remote service and support is invaluable. Remote support is faster, and more efficient. For example, if you’re experiencing a problem, you call your provider, who walks you through some diagnostics, resets, or other procedures on the spot. This can often resolve many issues without an in-person visit. Remotely delivered support is remarkably fast. In other cases, a provider can access your systems and networks remotely (with your permission, of course). They can reset routers, change network settings, scan systems for viruses and malware, or reinstall software and handle many other problems in far less time. Why wait for a truck to arrive if you can do it now?
Just ask: What are your remote capabilities?
With that said, there will be times when you need on-site support. Such as when you’re setting up new equipment, resolving physical issues with networks, moving equipment around the office, or when problems can’t be handled remotely. You need a provider who can deploy on-site technicians promptly, wherever you happen to be.
3. Do they work nights and weekends 24 hours a day 365 days a year?
When do you most need service and help? If you are in retail, hospitality, manufacturing, transportation, or any other business where 9-to-5 doesn’t apply, you need a provider who is 24/7. Or maybe the only time you can stop for service is outside of your working hours. A provider who is daylight-only may provide only limited services, or slower response after regular business hours. Who has time for that? Look for a provider who keeps hours for your convenience. And who doesn’t have a slower response time or charge more just because it’s dark out.
4. Do they offer Proactive Support?
It’s always best to have a relationship with an MSP before something happens. When your network crashes or your computers go dark, that is not the time to start hunting for help. You want a resource you know, and who knows your IT environment before there is a problem. Ask the MSP what preventative services they provide, to help spot potential problems before something breaks. This can involve scanning your computers for rogue code, troubleshooting your network, testing your network for performance issues. All to prevent problems before they happen. Can the MSP show you that over time through their proactive processes that you will have fewer issues? Ask their references if the MSP has been able to lower their IT issues over time, after all isn’t that what you are trying to accomplish?
5. Do they offer an unlimited amount of Support Desk incidents?
Beware the MSP who tells you how much support time you require in hours or in incidents and then charges additional for anything you use over their allowance. This can lead to unforeseen monthly charges, and end up costing your business much more than you originally thought you were going to pay. Ask the MSP if they offer an unlimited support option; ideally, if the MSP is doing their job well, there will not be a lot of support incidents. Ask the MSP if they have outsourced their support desk. Is the support provided from a call center overseas? Do they offer 24 X 7 support? Can they demonstrate that reactive support desk issues go down over time?
6. Has the MSP’s policies and practices been audited? Do they have SSAE16 Type II accreditation?
You wouldn’t use an accountant who was not certified, nor would you go to a doctor who was not certified, so why outsource your IT services to someone who is not certified? The SSAE16 Type II accreditation insures that an independent IT expert, against a stringent set of policies and best practices, has audited your MSP. Ask to see their SSAE16 opinion letter; it should be issued without any contingencies or exceptions. Don’t rely on the MSP saying hey have been in business for X amount of years, without an audit, there is no way of you to determine if they are actually operating their clients in a best practice manner.
7. How do they charge? What do they provide?
While it may seem prudent to arrange for support on an a la carte basis, only when something breaks, that practice can be unpredictable and costly.
That’s especially irritating when the problem could have been prevented. Or a simple question could have been answered in no time. A better option, more and more common, is an all-inclusive monthly subscription fee – priced either per device or for the entire business.
Depending on the provider, this monthly fee can include whatever immediate services may be required, along with some combination of proactive and reactive services that can include performance tests, scanning for viruses and malware, along with data back-up, hosting or other ancillary services. The advantage is that the costs are more predictable, and usually nominal, no matter what issues may occur during the month (even if there’s a major problem requiring on- site service, or you need equipment replacements). What’s more, proactive and preventive maintenance can help address potential problems long before they can cause downtime or customer inconvenience.
In addition, the costs of adding more users, and additional computers are easy to predict. As a business owner, you may decide you only want added support for yourself and the select employees who manage your most critical business data. As your business grows and you bring more critical roles into your company, you need a solution that can scale with you. With a monthly subscription model, there is little uncertainty.
Is it time for you to consider outsourcing your IT services?