If your business is evolving beyond your own handling of its IT, you know that it’s a lot for one person to manage. Many businesses, especially those in smaller markets, turn to small IT shops, getting the benefits of many hands and many minds.
In fact, a survey by Clutch disclosed that within the U.S., roughly two-thirds of all small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) hired an IT services provider (also known as a managed service provider or MSP) during 2016. But customer satisfaction falls short. Recent customer satisfaction survey results (by SWC Technology Partners) suggest that only one-third of respondents would recommend their IT services provider to a friend or colleague.
How do you tilt the scales more in your favor, with the goal of finding that exceptional IT firm to engage in a win-win partnership? Cutting through their assortment of promises (even the occasional “alternative fact”) is essential. Herein are seven misconceptions or obfuscations to avoid, or at least understand.
24×7 Doesn’t Always Mean 24×7
Any IT firm will have tools to remotely monitor your IT devices around-the-clock (servers, workstations, network equipment). This is not 24×7 support. A true always-on service provider should have a capable technician available at all times. Scheduling a system administrator for on-call after-hours support is the industry standard for 24×7 availability. Although rare, true 24×7 (“always on” or “always there”) active operations is the gold standard.
You Will Be Assimilated
IT service providers have been gaining efficiencies by forcing customers to conform to one standard package (vendor, model, architecture, and process)—one size fits all. But one size doesn’t fit all. Each industry is unique, and each business within it is unique. Don’t hesitate to ask for what you need.
ROI: All the Cool Kids Are Doing It
Beware the boast: “We use the latest technology.” It’s human nature to want the latest/greatest thing, but that isn’t always best for your business. You must be concerned with your return on investment as well as your tolerance for risk (the newest products will have the most bugs). Ensure that the provider maintains a focus on your business and its goals, not technology.
There is No ‘Perfect’ Pricing Model
There are lots of pricing models: hourly, flat-fee, per person, per device, etc. Each has its pros and cons.
- Hourly billing is good for clients who only want to pay for exactly what they get, who already have stable IT systems, and who are okay paying variable amounts as issues arise. The biggest downside: the IT company makes more money the more problems you have.
- Flat-fee: you pay a regular (typically monthly) fee, and your IT company supports your systems. IT services providers following this model are called managed service providers (MSPs) because they agree to manage your systems for one consistent price. Before agreeing to an MSP-type agreement, make sure you understand what’s included, and what’s not. The biggest benefit of a flat-fee engagement is that the service provider is motivated to get it right the first time.
Hardware Has Become a Commodity
Don’t choose a provider based on the brands they carry (computers, workstations, servers, and network equipment). The differences among brands are minor, and a year or two from now, those will leapfrog and be shuffled differently than they are today. Choose your next IT services provider based upon their service, not on the hardware they resell.
Plan for the Worst
You will have technical issues; they are unavoidable with software. Every device on your network will require regular maintenance (e.g., weekly or monthly); the complexity of IT systems dictates that problems will occur whether or not anyone has done anything wrong.
It’s More Expensive, But Is It Better?
Some service providers believe they add prestige by overcharging (“choose the most expensive wine, it must be good”). While some psychological studies support this technique (human nature being what it is), don’t be fooled. Read the service agreement, understand it, and weigh your options on their merits, not price alone.