Have you ever had to interview someone for a position, but knew very little about what their job does or even if what they are saying is correct? My hope is that you haven’t, because a situation like that would be stressful. How would you know you hired the correct person? Would your final decision come down to who was willing to work for the least amount of money? If so, you most likely wouldn’t be 100% on your choice and are silently praying it works out. Unfortunately, some people select their managed IT services provider the same way. Luckily, I’m here to help by giving you some important questions you should be asking every IT provider who walks through your door seeking your business.
In a hurry? Skip to the Questions
The Importance of IT – Not just for enterprise
It feels like nearly every day there is a cyber-attack on a major company, but the fact remains that smaller and medium-sized companies are still the number one target. For every large company that is attacked, there are thousands of smaller businesses. Unfortunately, many of these businesses never recover from a cyber-attack. They simply don’t have the capital. The truth is, smaller businesses are easier targets, but not ever small business owner believes hackers are interested in attacking them. “I’m a small fish; why would a hacker waste his time on my business?”
Because it’s easier.
Hackers understand that smaller businesses often lack the resources to properly protect themselves. Furthermore, these same business owners aren’t aware of the simple solutions they can employ with or without IT services. In today’s digital climate, you can’t afford to be caught without comprehensive IT, because it isn’t a matter of if your company will have a security or equipment issue, but when. Securing your company’s future with some level of IT support isn’t just a good investment, but an invaluable one. Knowing what questions to ask when it’s time to decide on a managed services company will save you a lot of headache down the road.
Questions to Ask Your IT Provider
Do you work with our IT specialists, and if so, who is their point of contact?
- There are many IT companies out there who do not work with internal IT support because it can be a liability for them. If you are looking for a company who can supplement your in-house support, then this is the first question I would ask them. You don’t want to get to the final meeting only to discover that they want to serve as a replacement to your in-house support.
How and when am I billed?
- Each IT company has their own way of billing customers, but there are generally three versions: fixed-price, variable, and break-fix. Fixed-price is the easiest when it comes to budgeting because it is full-service and keeps you from being nickel and dimed to death. Break-fix is often the best looking on paper (from a price standpoint), but usually comes with steep additional charges if you require anything outside of your service agreement. READ: How Much Do Managed IT Services Cost?
- Pro Tip: By going with a full-service, fixed-price option, you can avoid having to manage multiple IT vendors, which often leads to finger-pointing when something goes wrong.
Could I review the terms of your service-level agreement?
- A lot can be promised by a sales person, but the only thing that is concrete is what is in your SLA. Make sure to have someone from legal review it, as well, because you need to know what is being provided, and what is open to interpretation. SLAs can be amended before signing, but you need to make sure that you are comfortable with the agreement, first. This is where some IT companies will get you by charging premiums for going over their limits (like contacting the Help Desk too often).
Do you keep your Help Desk in-house, or do you use a third-party?
- There are many IT companies who do not use in-house support when it comes to the help desk. This is because in-house support in the United States is often much more expensive than utilizing an overseas option. The benefits to in-house support are significant, though, because they can train their own people and can address any issue in a much timelier manner. This ensures you are receiving the best possible service, but keep in mind, this often results in a higher service price.
What is your model for avoiding downtime?
- The techy term for this is “high availability,” and this one is critical. According to the National Archives and Records Administration, 93% of companies that experience more than 10 days of downtime filed for bankruptcy within a year. 10 days is a long time, but what would one day of downtime do to your bottom line? A full day of lost productivity can cost tens of thousands of dollars to a small business when you consider salaries being paid, with no work being done – not to mention unhappy customers because they can't reach you. The main cause of downtime is the result of hardware and server room failures. Make sure your MSP’s backups have backups.
Do you use more than one internet service provider (ISP)?
- It doesn’t matter how many tools your IT support has at their disposal; if they get disconnected from the internet, their remote operating fixes (80% of the work they will do for you) are pretty worthless. By a MSP utilizing more than one ISP, they avoid the "single point of failure" scenario.
- Pro Tip: If you can swing it, this should also be a practice for your business. As we discussed above, downtime in any form can be the kiss of death for businesses. Try and avoid it at all costs.
What remote monitoring and management solution do you use?
- This is more of a “permissions to play.” There aren’t many serious IT providers out there that don’t offer some form of 24/7 support, but the type of support is what’s important. Any provider you are considering should be able to provide automated and remote monitoring, always. If not, you open yourself up to extended downtime.
What third-party vendors do you (the MSP) use?
- More than likely, your third-party vendor uses a third-party vendor for specific functions. This could range from cloud back-up, to various security protocols. It is important to know this before signing a SLA, because even though this is common, you need to do your due-diligence and find out what security measures the third-party vendors take. It isn’t good enough to understand the MSPs security standards. Who owns your data in that scenario and what protections do you have if something goes wrong with a MSP's third-party vendor?
Who has access to my company’s sensitive information and customer data?
- Obviously, a company that manages your network and data is going to have access to your information. All of it. Make sure to find out who in the MSP will have this access. Is their network operations center and servers secure behind a sealed room? Your company may have compliance standards that must be met, and it is just common sense that you need to keep your customer’s sensitive information, private. No one wants to be the next Equifax.
How many employees work for your managed services department?
- Bigger is better, right? Not necessarily. Although a single individual working out of his basement isn’t going to get the job done, firms that are very large run the risk of losing the personal care you need and expect. If you liked the concept from our earlier question of having a non-outsourced Help Desk, then consider a mid-sized staff. A team of 16-20 professionals can easily get the job done for most companies who utilize third-party IT. Decide what you want from your provider, then decide if their answer to this question is satisfactory.
- Pro Tip: Make sure to be specific when asking this question. A general question about employee size will illicit a general answer. Ask questions about the specific employment of their Tier 1, 2 and 3 support staff.
Is there a dedicated account manager to serve my business?
- This is important because a dedicated account manager will understand your business better and will be the IT provider’s “face of the company” to you. It is always easier to work with a company when there is a more personal relationship built. Simply signing up for a service sets you up for a very cold experience where you are just another number.
What if my business grows?
- Ideally, this is the goal of any business. Most providers have a business model based on the volume of users they can handle. Make sure they are planning for your growth and can grow with you (or are already there). It would be unfortunate to pick a provider that serves you well, only to let them go down the road because they can’t meet the growing demand of your company.
Posted by Kevin Kendall
Kevin Kendall is the VP of Services for Standard Office Systems and has built a career of assisting businesses with their office technology needs. He has decades of experience with products and services like copiers, business phone systems, and managed IT services. Mr. Kendall is driven to see others succeed and help them develop to achieve results beyond ordinary expectations.