Today's trends for tomorrow's business
Hiring a Service Provider?
October 30, 2019
4 ways to approach it
IT support shouldn’t be a DIY endeavor. Luckily, professional help is within reach even for small businesses. Here’s how to find it.
The technology that runs your company can’t feed and care for itself. Yet, countless small business owners neglect to seek expert help with the computers and printers they depend upon every day.
Paying for professional tech support may seem like a luxury. After all, if you’ve already invested a fortune in gear and software, who wants to pay more for things that don’t seem broken. Right?
However, it’s only a matter of time before deferred maintenance adds up to a long-term crisis – and we all know disaster always seems to strike just before a critical deadline. A single cyberattack, for instance, can cost a small business almost $55,000 on average, according to a recent survey by security services provider Continuum. Even a small hiccup, such as a network crash or a cockeyed printhead, eats up precious time and money.
That’s why it’s critical to consider a service provider to perform the regular tire-kicking and oil changes, if you will, to prevent a business breakdown. Dependable, ongoing support should minimize disruptions and reduce costs, freeing up work hours. It’s no wonder that 78 percent of SMBs told Continuum they will outsource their digital security in the next year.
Thankfully, outsourcing your core IT needs is not just for enterprises anymore. The options are increasingly plentiful and affordable. But how do you find the right fit?
These tips will help you get started to choose the right service provider.
1. First, know thy business
Get a head start by identifying your tech assets and weaknesses so you know where you need help. Inventory all the equipment, applications and subscriptions that touch your work, including any mobile devices and apps that colleagues and contractors bring from home. How often is each system used? What hums along, and what crashes every other day? Be honest: Do you have adequate backups and security protocols, or do you procrastinate on updates?
Next, fine tune your wish list. What do you want a service to help you achieve? A year from now, how do you hope business will have improved, thanks to the service provider? Glance at this documentation regularly to track progress.
2. Next, know the type of service you need
If you’re a confident grease monkey with time to handle equipment onsite, remote tech support might be the right fit. It may be that you’ll only need a service provider for specific functions, such as disaster recovery, or printing and copying. As SMBs continue to rely heavily on the printed page, for instance, managed print services (MPS) are becoming increasingly popular. MPS can beef up your document security while reducing the number of printers or multi-functions in house.
More generally, managed service providers (MSPs) offer ongoing support for a wide array of functions, including network management and security; data storage, backup and recovery; software maintenance and more. They’re usually independent. Some offerings, such as HP Subscription Services, combine MPS and MSP functions with security and productivity assistance.
3. Look in the right places
If you need a technician to tune up a printer fleet or a server closet in person, search locally for a service that makes house calls. CloudTango offers a global database of MSPs that includes client reviews and is searchable by location and topical areas, such as data storage, managed IT or email security. You might also consult the local Computer Repair listings on Angie’s List or IT Services reviews on Yelp. Ask other well-oiled businesses in your area who they use; you can even solicit neighbors’ recommendations via NextDoor.
Bigger MSP names include IBM, Accenture, Cognizant, Datapipe and HP Enterprise, some of which have expanded their offerings for SMBs in recent years. Consumer electronics brands including Best Buy’s Geek Squad and even Apple tout services for small business, but make sure a provider can grow as your business expands. If you’re tempted by a value-added reseller (VAR), just beware of the upsell.
4. Talk to them
Don’t sign up with the first tech mechanic you meet. Once you’ve jotted down some names, do an informational interview. Share your tech inventory with them (minus confidential data, of course), and find out how they plan to manage it all for you.
Safety First: Ask how they will monitor your network, backup and restore data, and protect against outside threats. Also determine how they’ll tackle a data breach, malware attack or other worst-case scenarios. Finally, ask them to describe their own data center and its backup systems.
Communication: Ascertain if their 24/7 support offer a guaranteed response time. Also find out if they will contact the brands you use, so you don’t have to. Here’s where your checklist and your gut check come together: Watch for red flags, such as mismatched communication styles; maybe you prefer to reach out with text messages, but the rep keeps leaving voicemails. If the provider pooh-poohs your initial concerns, will you trust them for a midnight emergency? Don’t be afraid to question what sets them apart from competitors, and look for an informed, diplomatic response rather than a defensive, brittle one.
Expertise: Explore how many people work with the service and determine their level of training. Is the friendly know-it-all you initially chat with always available, or will their intern ultimately show up at the door? Can the service scale along with your business?
Compliance: Can the company handle technical, security and compliance needs for your legal, healthcare or investment firm? If they hem-and-haw when you ask about how they’ll help you satisfy HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) demands for your pediatric practice, run.
Way out: Finally, don’t lock into a long-term contract without an exit clause; look for a guarantee of customer satisfaction and the chance to cancel at any time without penalty.
Keep in mind that enlisting a service provider for your critical IT needs is a partnership, an ongoing give-and-take of information and trust. Just as your IT systems need regular maintenance, you should check in regularly with your consultant about how things are working, even when there’s no obvious disaster in sight. That level of communication will help you both to make small, ongoing tweaks to systems that can prevent workflow disruptions and ultimately may give your business a competitive advantage.