IT Support | 15 Tips On How To Choose an IT Managed Service Provider
Selecting an IT technology firm to assist your organization with projects or ongoing support is a huge decision. In an ideal world, your IT solutions partner is an extension of your company and a vital asset that is strategically aligned with your business’ processes and growth plans. When done poorly, it can have a disastrous impact on your entire organization’s morale and even its financial health. Here are 15 tips that will assist you with a smooth and successful transition to a Managed Services Provider (MSP):
1. The three rules of real estate are… location, location, location. However, does that rule apply when choosing your IT partner? Just because there is an IT firm that is one mile from your office, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll react to your needs more promptly. A solid IT services firm can remedy most situations remotely and, even further, will be able to identify issues before they are a crisis. As far as location goes, decide on an acceptable service location (60 mile radius is usually the norm) that is acceptable to you and choose a vendor within those parameters.
2. The selection committee is usually not comprised of technical experts. That’s why you’re reviewing options to contract with an IT services firm in the first place! In conversation, ask your potential IT services partner about their last few engagements… size, industry and type of work performed. First of all, can they provide this information? More importantly, can they relay this information in a manner that is concise and that’s not too technical? Does the sales person use continuous industry jargon and acronyms? You can safely assume that the IT company’s support personnel will be extremely technical if the sales person presents in that manner as well.
3. Ask for references and feel free to qualify them very specifically. “I want a reference from a law firm with over 5 partners, specializes in immigration law and is located in Philadelphia”. They may not have an exact match but you can gauge their reaction and see how close they come to providing this.
4. Bigger isn’t always better. It’s great to leverage the economies of scale that you can get from a larger IT support organization. However, the larger the organization, the further removed from the strategic minds in the company, and closer to the resources of a commoditized Call Center. Also, large companies have more overhead… managers, non-billable support staff, investors, compliance concerns and real estate to name a few. You can expect to pay more if you contract with a large firm in most cases.
5. Don’t choose an IT support vendor that is too small either. You’re obviously going to get the personal touch that you’re looking for but you’re locked into their specific skill set and your business will eventually outgrow their availability. The “what if he gets hit by a bus” analogy is the most overused in business but it definitely applies here. It’s a risky move to put your business in the hands of a very small firm for potential cost savings. On this note…
6. Always ask your prospective Managed Service Provider for a Certificate of Insurance and take note of the coverage limits that are selected. Smaller operations will not have one at all, which should automatically preclude them from any further consideration.
7. It’s important to know what your contracted service will include. It’s equally as important to know what your monthly service does not include! Most service expectations and billing arguments can be remedied with a very straight forward conversation on day one. “If I get a new computer, is setting it up included in the monthly service?” This will ensure that there are no surprises when you get your first invoice.
8. Ask to schedule a site visit to the IT provider’s local office. First of all, if they refuse, something is amiss. This is a great opportunity to meet some of the people that you may work with and get a sense of company culture. It’s also important to see if they practice what they preach… Is the server room neat? Are there VOIP phones on the desk? Do they take pride in their achievements by hanging their certifications and plaques from their charitable causes in the office? Is the call center orderly and organized? Are the phones ringing off the hook chaotically?
9. Does your potential MSP sell hardware and software? If so, this is not necessarily a bad thing as many of them do. However, you should be careful of the “margin shell game” where they may decrease hardware costs in order to increase their recurring monthly services costs, or vice versa. Also, some providers will push the solution or product that yields the highest margin as opposed to choosing a “best of breed” solution that meets your business requirements.
10. Is there a delivery process? How do they typically engage with a new client? These are common questions and there should be a well-developed answer to this question.
11. Are the MSP’s owners or C-level personnel engaged in the sales process? This may not be possibly for all organizations. However, if the ownership or upper management doesn’t engage in this process, will you be able to reach them if you need to escalate an issue or provide feedback?
12. Is your IT vendor strategic? Do they bundle in quarterly visits to review your account, reports and work orders? An effective MSP should align with your business, not try to fit you into their business model. This is the business equivalent of jamming a square peg into a round hole and is indicative that this may be a one-way relationship as opposed to a true partnership.
13. Are you being presented with a multi-year contract? When this happens, you have to wonder why. It’s understandable when a telecom provider mandates a multi-year contract as they have to make commitments to their ISP and other carriers on the back end. In reality, what does the MSP have to commit to? There isn’t much merit in locking in long term contracts besides the lure of a small discount. Most reputable IT Solutions providers will ask for shorter term commitments and seek a renewal by consistently meeting or exceeding their service obligations.
14. During the sales process, are there any scare tactics employed? It is well known that fear can be a motivating factor in sales. However, this approach is an attempt to prey on an emotional reaction rather than a logical one. An IT consulting firm that is truly interested in partnering with your organization will look to educate and inform, rather than scare.
15. Do you trust the person / company that you’re interviewing to provide you with IT services? All relationships are based on this simple premise. In some cases, if there is an immediate need, this trust has to be established quickly and then built upon over time. The Managed Services Provider that you choose will have access to all of your data, your financials, passwords and, in essence, your reputation. Risks can be mitigated by thoroughly researching your vendor and ensuring that contractual terms protect both parties. However, at the core, the success of this relationship will simply be based on trust.