In a small business, it’s not uncommon for technical problems to be handled be whoever happens to be the most tech savvy person on the team. That can work for a little while, but it’s not a sustainable practice.
Your team should be focused on meeting your organizational goals – not dealing with technology problems. Outsourcing your IT needs can help alleviate the burden so you can get back to business.
Here are five things to look for when looking for an IT support company:
1. No Long-Term Contracts
Some IT companies will lock you into a two or three year contract. This is great for them and bad for you. Think about other companies that lock you into long-term contracts. Most people aren’t exactly thrilled with their cable or mobile phone providers. Do really want to that experience with your IT company when you have a server down or can’t log in to your computer?
If you’re unhappy with a vendor (or if you just have a change in your business and need to reevaluate vendors), you should be able to change your contract or leave at any time.
Look for a company with month-to-month contracts with an out clause of 30 to 60 days. Most modern IT companies are moving towards this model, but you’ll still see long-term contracts for some IT companies.
2. Proactive Management
Some IT companies just work on reactive break/fix service tickets like fixing broken printers and troubleshooting email problems. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these kind of tickets, and these will make up a hefty chunk of your IT support needs, no matter what IT company you choose and what tools you use.
But the right IT company can reduce the amount of break/fix tickets you see in the first place by proactively managing your network. At a minimum, this typically involves monitoring your network for outages (in some cases, they may know you have an outage before you do!).
Proactive management should go beyond just monitoring, though. Your IT company should be familiar with your environment and your industry and help you choose tools to make your team productive and reduce downtime. The best IT companies will do that and regularly meet with you to discuss your business goals and form a technology plan to help you meet those goals.
3. Experience, Certifications, and On-going Training
Your IT support company should be experienced in the systems they’re supporting – not learning on your machines (and your dime). A good way to get a gauge on their experience level is certifications.
Most technology vendors, including Microsoft, offer certification programs to IT companies and other professionals who service their products. These are typically at the individual level, so you’ll probably need to ask a potential IT company what certifications their employees hold and how often they are renewed.
Employees should be getting on-going training to stay up to the date with the latest technology. Ask them about training – do they have a budget set aside for employee training (and is it being used)? Are employees crossed trained in different systems? An IT support engineer with a certification in a backup system is great, but not if they don’t know anything about the other apps and systems the backups interact with.
4. Data Security Expertise
Strong data security is no longer optional. It should be wrapped into every part of your business – especially your technology. Look for an IT company with data security expertise who can craft a security plan to fit your needs and your budget. If you’re in a regulated industry, they need to understand the industry and how to help you stay compliant.
Data security is a place where on-going training is critical – cyber security threats are constantly evolving. If your IT company isn’t keeping up to speed, they aren’t going to be able to help keep you protected.
Remember, even with the best tools and training, there is never a 100% guarantee when it comes to data security. Any company who promises you will not experience a data breach is either lying to you or doesn’t know what they are talking about.
5. Clear Response Times
Your contract with an IT company should have clear guaranteed response times (usually called service level agreements or SLAs). These should be outlined in your contract (along with what happens if they don’t meet the SLA for some reason). You shouldn’t be left wondering when your issue will be addressed.
Please note, SLAs typically refer to when they will start addressing your issue – not necessarily when it will be fixed. If they guarantee they can fix issues within a certain amount of time, that should actually be a red flag.
Unfortunately, some IT issues can take a while to fix, especially if it involves dealing with another vendor (like an internet service provider) who isn’t bound by an SLA. If your IT company is promising to fix any issue within a certain amount of time, it’s possible they are just using band-aid solutions – not addressing the source of the problem.
Final Notes: Transparency is key
When looking for an IT support company, if a company won’t give you a straight answer on any of these – run away. Don’t listen to anyone who hides things in the name of “trade secrets.” Your IT company will have access to your systems and data. They should be transparent about who they are and what they’re doing. Anything less is unacceptable.