IT support providers are unique in that unlike other partners (accountants, marketing consultants etc.), they work alongside your team day-in-day out, to help you achieve your business’ objectives.
As such, it is important to choose the right provider first time. Selecting an IT support partner is often the first major commercial decision many businesses take.
Before selecting a provider, it is of paramount importance to consult with your team and nail down precisely what you require in terms of support. For instance:
- What areas of your IT operation do you need help with the most?
- How much contact do you require with an Account Manager?
- What is your annual IT support budget?
- What security concerns do you have?
- How much day-to-day support do you need?
When sifting through support proposals, relate each one back to your business’ needs.
Here are the top 5 factors to consider, when choosing an IT support provider.
1. Background checks
Given that an IT support provider will have daily access to your business-critical systems, data and intellectual property (IP) over the course of a 12-month contract, you need to ensure that they are a fit and proper organisation before conducting an initial meeting.
Here are a few important factors to consider from a compliance perspective:
Ensure that the provider is not a sole trader and is a registered company with Companies House. Also, consider using credit check resources such as Company Check. You can’t afford to entrust your systems to a one-man band.
It is also imperative to ensure that any prospective IT support provider has been operating in the marketplace for the requisite amount of time.
If an IT support provider has a bad reputation or has operated suspiciously, the Internet probably knows about it. Google is your friend. Research their name and company history to expose any bad reviews or incidences of misconduct.
Whilst the industry has no official regulatory body, IT support companies should be compliant with a number of accepted global standards:
- ISO – An internationally recognised series of operating standards. IT support companies generally focus on two industry specific areas. ISO 9001 relates to quality management. ISO 27001 deals with information security management.
- Microsoft Partner status – There are two main types of partner status awarded by Microsoft: Silver and Gold.
- ITIL – A globally-accepted method of delivering IT services and handling asset management.
After ensuring your prospective IT support company is legitimate, you should focus on the people that will be delivering the end product – its staff.
Ask for a video call or face-to-face meeting with the following key team members before signing a contract, to gauge what kind of personalities you’re going to be dealing with:
- Account Manager
- Service Desk Manager/Service Delivery Manager
- 3rd Tier Engineer/Senior Engineer
It is important to remember your own staff will not be familiar with industry terminology. With that in mind, make sure that anyone you meet with can articulate key IT concepts in plain English, without overloading on technical terms or acronyms.
You need to have a firm grasp on an IT support company’s underlying ability to offer a service. Make sure you ascertain how many people they employ, how many offices they work from and what their staff retention levels are like. An IT support company that employs more than 50 people in multiple locations are unlikely to be able to provide a personalised service.
3. Reviews & references
The Internet provides many ways to check on the kind of service an IT support company provides to its clients. Google, Trustpilot, and Feefo are all globally renowned review resources that provide an invaluable insight into how a prospective IT partner does business. Rather than glossing over the number of stars provided, be sure to read individual reviews and anecdotal accounts of support.
Ask the provider for a set of references that are relevant to your industry. If you are a legal firm, ask for a letter of recommendation from another firm of solicitors. If you work in the public sector, make sure that you speak to other public sector organisations that the provider has worked with. Ask questions about day-to-day support and industry-specific software that you use.
Perhaps the most important part of the entire tendering process is being sure of what you’re signing. The IT support industry is awash with tales of unwitting businesses who have committed to a contract that ties them into unwanted services or extended contract lengths.
Here are some things to watch out for:
- Contract length (they should only be 12 months long)
- Unwanted pre-packaged services
- Unfair termination clauses
- Unspecified account management procedures
- Unspecified/vague operating hours
As well as the legalese, be sure to scrutinise the company’s published service SLAs (support level agreements) that govern their accepted response and resolution times. The contract should clearly outline how the IT support company prioritises incoming support requests and deals with change management. Most companies operate under a priority system for individual support tickets and adjust their response and resolution times accordingly.
5. Onboarding process
Last, but by no means least, is the onboarding process. Whether you are switching between IT support providers, or contracting one for the first time, it’s important to understand precisely how they are going to integrate you onto their support and monitoring platform, and how they plan to deploy any software after the contract has been signed.
IT support companies should never charge for this service. Make sure you ask for a dedicated point of contact who can furnish you with an official onboarding schedule, so that you can forward-plan for any disruption to your business.
An onboarding process should also include site visits to your company offices. This enables the support company to tag equipment with a unique asset number, take photographs of key pieces of hardware such as servers, firewalls and switches, and introduce themselves to members of the Management Team.