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How to choose the best IT support company for your business

written by Business Beetle

It is always a tough choice to decide to outsource your IT needs and with it comes a lot of questions and concerns about where to start. As with all key decisions if you do your research correctly and find the right company to match your companies’ requirements, the process will become a lot smoother.

Of course, the first question most companies will want to know is cost, it’s a natural and also important question. However, it is vital to look past the bottom-line figure and ensure you are fully aware of what this includes and also ensure you don’t get caught out.

As a business websites we have talked with a lot of customers and had to answer a lot of questions, so to give you the best start in choosing the best IT company for your needs we have put together a list of the most common questions you should be asking to ensure the best possible fit. You may be tempted to skip straight to the cost section, but we have purposefully placed this towards the end to make sure you have a much clearer idea of whether the cost is reasonable, and it entails. We have also broken the article down in to sections, grouping the similar questions to help make this easier to digest and also to help you decide which are the most important for your business.

The Company

Firstly, you need to find out all you can about the company you are talking to. You may be talking to a number of companies or potentially only one. Either way without knowing about the company you are talking about and finding more about them you may open yourself up to a number of risks.

What kind of client are you?

Like all companies, IT support companies come in a range of sizes and with particular target markets, to save you wasting yours (and the IT companies time) it’s imperative to ask yourself what you are looking for. If you are a small business, look for a small business specialist that not only understand the issues of a small business but also reflect this in the cost they are likely to charge. On the flip side if you run specialist applications it’s important to make sure the company can handle these.

How long has your company been running?

A simple question but often overlooked, is to make sure that the company you hire is going to be able to support you when you need it and an vital factor is to establish how long the company has been running. A company that’s been around for a while brings with it experience but also reassurances. However, much training somebody has, experience is worth its weight in gold.

Can you evidence your skills?

IT is a constantly evolving field, computers and systems quickly become out of date and new solutions are constantly being introduced such as the advent of cloud computing which totally changed how IT systems run and are supported. As such it’s important that any potential company can not only show evidence of their skills and experience but also look out for any relevant qualifications that can highlight this.

Any customer referrals can talk to

A company with happy customers should be comfortable with you talking to someone they work with. Don’t rely on written testimonials, try to talk to the client on the phone or email so you can get a much better picture. A company will never put you in touch with a customer they aren’t confident will give them a glowing review, but you will at least get chance to ask any follow up questions.

How big is your team and what area do you cover?

If you have multiple offices, it’s critical to make sure that all your areas are covered and that they can sufficiently support you. At the same time, you want to make sure they have the man power to help you when you need it.

What are the company’s specialisations?

IT is a massive field and so it’s beneficial to know what the company focuses on, it’s always better to ensure that your IT needs match with what the company focuses on as it will highlight the likely skill in that area. It also shows you what else they could help you with in the future.

What are they able to offer you?

What kind of support to you offer?

Not every company needs a full-service IT support company, you need to be realistic of not only of your companies needs but also how much you can afford. It also depends on your level of experience handling your own IT or any internal IT resources so that only certain areas needs to be covered.

IT support companies typically offer either of the below support options.

  • Ad-hoc or break-fix – You agree to an hourly rate, or a block of hours which can be used when needed. This is the most flexible option but normally the most expensive but if it’s just a piece of mind if a situation your current cover can’t handle this may be the best choice.
  • Managed support – This typically is based on an agreed retainer, where you commit to a monthly fee in return for an agreed amount of work, such as monthly guaranteed hours, monthly maintenance plan and/or a number of support calls/hours. This can offer the most assurance as it’s in the support companies’ interest to learn more about your IT systems so they can more easily support your systems and ensure an ongoing relationship.  It also allows you to control your finances which is especially important for companies on a tight budget.
  • Desktop or Server Support – If you have a growing IT system you may have one or more servers which need supporting differently to a smaller company with a few desktops. Make sure that the support level offered is suitable for all your devices. You may decide you can handle the desktops and purely want server support, so be clear with the company what your real needs are.

Do you offer proactive support?

What kind of help do you need? You may just need someone to back up your current internal team in times of need, you may want to hand all over your IT needs to the company and get their help with moving your IT forward. If you want help in developing your IT, you need to make sure they offer proactive support and are keeping a close eye on your systems. It faults can develop quickly and often give some warning signs if the systems are looked after such as a failing hard drive in a server, if the company are proactive they may be able to stop any issues before they occur or at least help you prepare for them.

Do they offer an initial audit?

Every IT system is different, whether it being the type and state of the equipment or the way it is put together. Before a company can realistically offer you, they need to know how your systems are put together and what state they are in. Most companies will offer some form of initial audit often for free, where they will analyse the work required to bring your systems up to the required standards for your needs and also the likely amount of work needed going forward. If the company isn’t doing this there is a chance they are under or overestimating the amount of work which isn’t good for either and increases the risks of any unexpected costs.

Do they offer remote management and support?

It’s often not viable for an IT company to come to your office for every issue and it’s also not cost efficient for you. Make sure that they have the ability to support you from remote where possible. If they are including desktop support for your users, this can often be handling via controlling the computer from remote, stopping the need for a visit.

Do they have out of hours emergency cover

Most companies work 9 to 5 and so it might be fine to go without out of hours support which can often result in a larger cost. But if your company works unusual hours it may be necessary that you have a place to call if an emergency comes up. Also, if you need a large install doing can this be done out of hours to ensure minimal disruption?

Do they offer any SLA’s / Guaranteed Response Times?

If your IT systems are critical to your business, any downtime means money so it’s essential to ensure your support company offers some reassurances over how quickly they can get you up and running. This can be in the form of a service level agreement or guaranteed response times, both for general support calls and for emergency support. You must balance the cost of the support with your needs.

Do they have experience in your systems?

If you have any specialised systems such as databases, finance software, management systems etc can the company support these? It’s key to know what the company can and can’t realistically support. Without knowing this you are open to issues both with a lack of support but also with potentially inexperienced support. If the company can’t support a system, you need to consider if the company is a good fit or if this can easily be supported elsewhere such as the software providers.

What other services do they provide?

IT is a wide-ranging field, it’s always useful to know what other IT services apart from support they can offer you either initially or in the future. For example, could they help you with your phone system, or a move to cloud computing? Although it may not be part of your initial thoughts, it’s useful to know what else they can offer you moving forward to help your system develop and provide suggestions. It also gives you an idea if IT support is a key service to them or just an add on to other core business which often reflects the type of support you are going to need.

How they Work

Do you have a dedicated account manager?

If you are working with a company on an ongoing basis you want to know that someone has a good knowledge of bot your company and your systems, so you don’t have to start from square one every time you have an issue. As such it’s often useful to ensure you will have an account manager or specific team looking after your account so they can quickly solve your issues where possible.

How to log calls

IT issues can go from simple questions about a printer for or can be something more urgent such as a server failure. Some issues can wait for a response some need to be answers asap. As such it’s essential to know what options you have for logging calls and how to get the required response. Often non-critical issues are handled via a helpdesk system so that they can be monitored and tracked whereas you want to know that in terms of emergency you know who to call!

Who answers the phone – do I talk to a technician or a call handler?

There’s nothing more frustrating than getting put through to a call centre and passed around when you ring your bank. It becomes even more frustrating when you have an issue with your IT and need help. It’s prudent to ask who is going to answer the phone and are they going to be able to assist you.

The finances

Once you are aware of the details often involved with an IT support company, now you must establish what all of these questions result in, the price! The reason this is put last in this article is because without understanding what you are being offered it’s difficult to make a truly informed decision. Once you know the details you can also better balance your needs with the costs and then find something that can suit your needs at a level you can afford.

How much will it cost me?

Hopefully by now you realise all of the above are likely to affect the cost. But even then, you must be clear about how this cost is put together. Is there a start-up cost for the initial load of work? How much is the monthly cost for the agreed service and what is the cost for work that falls outside of this? Answering these questions early can protect you against any nasty surprise bills!

Also, you have to be realistic, in an ideal world everyone would have instant IT cover with 5-minute response times, but there is a cost for this. Make sure you are realistic in what you can afford but also ensure you are being sufficiently covered. The cheapest price will always look attractive but after asking the questions in this article, are you really being covered to the level you need?

How long is the contract for?

As with many services, it’s important to ask how long you are tied into a contract, better terms are often linked with longer contracts as the initial work can be offset but you need to ensure that you aren’t over committing.

How is the time billed?

If you are being billed or paying for a set number of hours, how are these recorded? Also, at which point are you billed? There may be a minimum increment of time recorded, such as 15 minutes. This means that ever call will use a minimum of 15 minutes for example or you may even get the first 15 minutes free. It’s wise to understand how this works so you can make the best use of the hours, if there’s a minimum charge try to get multiple questions sorted at once!

In Conclusion

Hopefully this article has given you plenty of idea of the kinds of things you should be asking when looking into IT support, so you truly understand what you are looking for. Nothing is worse than matching yourself with the wrong company and only finding this out when trouble arises!

This article has tried to put together the most common questions but as we have mentioned every IT system if different and will have its own special requirements and questions. Also don’t be afraid to ask anything else you may think of to a potential IT company they will have heard them all before and a decent company will be more than happy to answer.

To finish off there is one aspect this article hasn’t mentioned that you need to decide upon based on all the questions above and following discussions with the company, trust. Based on all your research, questions, and dealings with the company you are in discussions with. Do you feel comfortable that they are the right fit for you? Do they put you at ease that they will be there to support you when you need it and also help you in the long term? Your IT system is often at the back bone of your business so it’s important that you feel at ease with the company you ask to take care of it for you!

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