Understaffed? As your organization grows and your servers need more attention, you may want to consider outsourcing your IT management. But how do you know which IT management services is right for your business? How do you know which IT management services company can provide everything you need to continue growing your business? Here’s a top ten list of tips you can use when searching for an outsourced IT management services company.
- Understand How They Work – Not all IT service management companies are the same. Even if the description of the services is identical, how they handle issues, response times, resolution times, and methods of accessing your support may differ. For example, I know of one IT management company that requires you to ask for updates to be applied to your server. If you don’t ask, they do not update. If you are not checking their update notifications system frequently, then your server could be out of date. In contrast, other companies automatically update your software within a defined schedule. So check to make sure the IT management services you are considering applies updates or at least offers the option to apply updates without you having to ask.
- Review Scope of Services – Some IT service management companies have very narrow, strictly defined programs. For example, they may offer monitoring and updates for specific control panels. But they may not offer advanced email solutions, managed backup and recovery programs, or strategic consulting solutions. If you find yourself needing these other IT management services, then you have to look for another provider. You need to be sure the provider you select can handle your needs today and as you grow.
- Look for Positive Company History – A good indication of a reliable support company is longevity. Companies who make their money from delivering support will not last long if they deliver poor support. While discussion forums such as WebHostingTalk may provide quick and easy searches about a company, you will want to turn to better moderated review organizations such as RatePoint or the Better Business Bureau to get a broader picture of the company’s history. Look for reviews in the last six months. If a company is touting a review or reward that is years old, it could be a sign that their services have slipped over the years.
- Read those SLAs – If a management company cannot provide you with a Service Level Agreement (SLA) or written terms that describe what they are going to do for you, then look elsewhere. The SLAs should describe what the company will deliver and what happens if they fail to meet those promises. Similar to hosting providers with downtime, management providers should give you some type of compensation if they fail to meet their obligations. If there are no penalties for not meeting objectives, then the SLA is simply a promise that could in turn have serious consequences on your business.
- Contact Methods – Email, chat, web and telephone based support are all common. If you are a person that must pick up the phone, make sure the company’s support system is geared for phone support. This is very difficult to judge so ask about it. What is the preferred method of communication, and what are the backups and alternatives if the preferred method is getting you nowhere on a support case. Study all the communication options the company has to offer. If you feel comfortable with the communications process, your customers will feel comfortable as well.
- Do They Support Similar Businesses? – This is a great question to ask any IT service provider. While servers may share similar technologies, business concerns may vary significantly. If you are running a large discussion forum web site, the technical challenges you face will be very different than a small web development site producing five page business web sites versus a shared hosting company supporting 1000’s of domains.
- Off Hours Support – While most companies will tout 24/7 support, you need to drill into how they deliver this service. Having staff on-call is not an issue provided the person that gets called can fix your issue. Often, companies will saddle new, entry-level staff with the graveyard shift. You will want to make sure you don’t have to wait around until the next business day to reach someone with more advanced knowledge. Doing so could make your customers angry and possibly damage your reputation.
- Full Scope of Support – If you are running a complex web operation that involves many different technologies, make sure that the provider can support your full stack of operations. Having terrific skills tuning an Apache web server will not help you if your database fails and the company does not offer database management. You will want to lay out all of the technical items required to run your operation and be sure the IT provider you select can cover the critical times.
- Cost Structure – If you browse around the Internet, you will find huge ranges in costs for IT management services. The costs often reflect underlying differences in how the companies do business, but even within the same company, you will need to be very clear about what any subscription based plan covers and what it does not cover. You don’t want to find surprises on your invoices, so be sure you get a clear understanding of monthly fees, one time fees, and billing terms before signing up for any service.
- Cancellation – A server is basically a hardware commodity. You can easily source an identical system from another provider. The same is not true with IT management firms. They may have installed tools on your system, altered configurations, setup security systems or other items that can impact your ability or another IT services management company’s ability to take care of your IT services. Ask up front what happens when you cancel. Does the company revert any non-standard changes? For example, do they remove any added software that they installed? Are they willing to assist with the transfer to a new provider? These are key questions to assure that should your initial outsourcing provider choice not work out you can easily move to another one.
By following the top ten tips above when choosing an IT management services company, you can save your company time, money, and reputation. Make sure you follow each tip thoroughly in order to find a company that will take care of your specific needs. You will be thankful you did in the long-run.
Writer’s Bio: Jeff Huckaby is the CEO and founder of rackAID, a managed service provider based in Jacksonville, FL. He has been working in the hosting and IT support community for nearly 15 years. When not working to fulfill rackAID’s mission of making IT easy for small businesses, Mr. Huckaby enjoys cycling, wine and traveling.