Welcome to the IT Support jungle, it gets worse here day by day!
Small and midsize enterprises often struggle to balance the necessity of solid IT with the demands of running a business. While larger companies can afford to support an entire IT department, it is often unrealistic for a smaller company to hire even one or two permanent IT staff. When your business is growing rapidly, you need to focus your full attention and resources on your core activities. This makes it hard to maintain your IT systems.
A good option is to outsource the IT component of your operation to a specialist company. Outsourcing provides you with access to highly trained expert staff without the expense and upheaval of trying to recruit and maintain an in-house staff.
Guide to Choose Perfect IT Support Vendor
Approaching a potential IT Vendor
When outsourcing any function, especially one as crucial to the proper running of your enterprise as IT, it is vital that you get the best possible service. While you need to have realistic expectations of what an outsourcing company can and will provide, you also need to establish certain minimum acceptable levels of service. By following some key guidelines, you can ensure that the company you choose will be able to fulfill all of your requirements.
Asking the right questions
When approaching an IT Support Company, it is useful to ask them some basic questions about their company. These should include how long the company has been in business, how big they are and what their plans are for expansion. This will give you a good idea as to how well established a company is. Large companies can offer a broad knowledge base and many staff, while smaller companies have the advantage of the personal touch. If your business operates out of different areas or even different countries, it is a good idea to find out whether the company you are considering will be able to cover all of your premises.
Once you have a general idea of the size and capabilities of a vendor, you should find out more about the services they offer. In particular, ask if they offer different levels of service.
Some businesses will only require occasional support, meaning that a pay-as-you-go service with an hourly rate is acceptable. You can arrange for a company to fix your systems when something has gone wrong or engage them to actively manage your IT systems.
In some cases, you may be able to arrange for a specific account manager to handle your IT needs. You may also be assigned a dedicated engineer.
When establishing your minimal service requirements, you and your company will agree on what problems they are obliged to fix. For example, you may wish to specify that they will support any third-party hardware and software that your enterprise uses, instead of just the items set up by the support vendor. You should also discuss what kinds of issues the vendor is obligated to help you with.
Acceptable Service Levels
Your service level agreement should also specify response times. A vendor that takes too long to respond to requests for IT support can end up costing you valuable business. It’s good to have a firm assurance that you will be compensated in some way if the vendor doesn’t meet the required response time. Wikipedia has some great information on Service Level Agreements – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_level_agreements
It is realistic to expect that an IT vendor should provide you with agreed-upon levels of support in a timely manner. You should, however, expect to pay more if you need your vendor to provide services that are outside of the terms that have been agreed to by both sides. For example, if you need an engineer to work outside of the hours your contract specifies, you may be billed more than your normal hourly rate.
Do they have different types of IT support services?
IT support can be conducted on-site or remotely. Increasingly, remote support is the fastest, most efficient and most cost-effective form of IT service. Everyday IT problems can often be resolved with a brief phone call or email. Instead of having to wait until an engineer can get to your physical premises, you can often access help within minutes.
As well as conducting support via email and instant messenger or over the telephone, your vendor’s staff can log onto your systems from a remote computer. Using special software that allows them to see what is happening on your systems, they can fix your problems just as if they were on site.
Arranging for an engineer to visit can often mean paying for that individual’s travel time. Remote support is often far cheaper than on-site support, as well as being less disruptive to your normal operations.
It’s frequently more secure, too: instead of having to allow a person physical access to your business premises, you only have to allow them limited access to such computer systems as you deem appropriate.
What contract length is acceptable for an IT support?
Support contracts may be for a fixed period of time, frequently either 12 or 24 months. Alternatively, you could opt for a rolling contract that you renew for shorter periods. While a rolling contract offers you a degree of flexibility, the security of a 12 or 24-month contract may be attractive if you are impressed with a particular vendor. Your costs may also be lower if you agree to a longer contract.
What accreditations does the company have?
It is important to check that your vendor’s staff are properly certified. For example: if your company makes extensive use of Apple Macs, look for Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP) certification. Windows users will need someone with Microsoft accreditation, such as Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) or Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) accreditation. If your vendor will be supporting your networked systems, they should be able to show you CompTIA Network+ or possibly A+ certification.
Look over your vendor’s past performance. In the case of an individual, this would mean examining their CV and discussing their work history to gain a sense of their experience level. For a company, this might mean asking to see references or testimonials from other clients.
Finally Go with your gut!
Sometimes, intuition can be a good thing. If you have a good feeling about a certain IT Vendor then sometimes you should just go with your gut. Remember, most IT Vendors offer their services on a trial or short-term rolling contract, mitigating the risk of commitment. Choosing a vendor is only a risk if you decide to sign up for a long term contract!
David Jones is currently writing for Our IT Department Ltd, a London based IT Support Organisation. David enjoys writing about technology, with a keen interest in writing product and service reviews.