10 Questions to Ask Before Signing a Managed IT Services Contract
If you go to a restaurant and there’s an all-you-can-eat buffet, you’re probably not going to be able to get four plates of food, and then fill a to-go box for lunch tomorrow. Why? Because there are limits to what the restaurant is providing. If the restaurant has had trouble with customers taking “all-you-can-eat” literally, you might find a disclaimer to this effect on the menu, but often it’s implicit.
Managed IT Services isn’t exactly like a buffet, but when you’re getting ready to sign a contract, you should make sure that you understand exactly what’s included and what's not included so you’re not surprised later.
Ask These Questions to Avoid Surprises When Reviewing Managed IT Services Contracts
1. What is included in the scope of the agreement?
Details of the scope of services is often called a Service Level Agreement or SLA. Use the SLA to compare what you heard in your sales conversations with what the managed IT company promises to provide. Instead of listing specific services that you’ll be getting, the SLA outlines the expected level of service.
2. What does "unlimited" mean?
Make sure you clarify that "unlimited" really means unlimited. For example, some IT companies might say that you will get unlimited support, but what they really mean is that you’ll get unlimited remote support, and a set number of hours of onsite support each month.
3. Are prices based on devices or users?
"All-in" contract pricing is usually based on the number of technology users, since employees generally have more than one device. Some contracts are priced per device since the IT company may only be responsible for specific technologies; not end-user support.
Servers and network equipment that will be managed will also influence pricing in either scenario. Either pricing strategy can be okay depending on your situation, but it's important to know which it is so you know when costs will fluctuate.
4. Are all of your locations and remote staff included?
If you have multiple locations and employees who work from home or satellite offices, make sure that they are all included. Be clear on who is covered.
5. What software or licensing is included in the price?
Some managed service providers include spam filtering and anti-virus in their device pricing, and some do not. Some IT companies include monitoring and service tools in the device pricing.
If there’s a big price difference between two companies that you’re considering, this could be the reason.
6. What is the process for updating pricing due to a change in covered devices or users?
One of the benefits of using a managed IT services provider is that you can scale services up or down to meet your needs. Make sure you about their billing cycle and when price changes will take effect. While you’re at it, ask how the IT company will help you to on-board and off-board employees when you have changes in staffing.
7. Are your technicians located in-house or do you use outsourced help?
The use of outsourced help shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for you on it’s own, but it’s good to learn more about how the managed IT service provider runs their business. If some of their core functions are outsourced, it may be difficult for their support to be consistent since they aren't in control of the experience.
8. How quickly will you respond to support requests?
Check for response times for user issues, but also for different possible scenarios, such as downtime issues, and after-hours availability.
9. Are backup and disaster recovery included?
If your contract includes offsite backup, that doesn’t mean much without recovery procedures. Be aware that backup and disaster recovery are customized processes that take some time to determine based on your business needs. You probably won’t get a firm price until you start working with the managed IT service provider and they can take you through their process to create your solution.
10. What happens if you’re unhappy with their service?
No one wants to be a hostage in a situation that isn’t working. Learn about your options to leave the relationship if you’re not happy.
Managed IT Services Contract Red Flags
Beware of blatantly one-sided managed IT services contracts that assign minimal rights to you as the client. You’re going to get the most value and have the best experience if the company views your relationship as a two-way street.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide legal advice. Please consult your attorney for interpretation and advice on any contract you’re considering.
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About Courtney Casey
In an industry dominated by men, Courtney Casey, Director of Marketing for Accent Computer Solutions, Inc., is making her mark on the world of information technology. Courtney has been immersed in the IT field most of her life and has been molded into the tech savvy expert she is today. She began working for Accent while earning her Bachelor's degree from California State University, Long Beach. Known in the Inland Empire as the "Tech Girl," Courtney is a regular columnist for the region's newspaper of record, The Press-Enterprise. Her columns address topical news trends, new technology products, and offer advice on how to embrace technology or avoid common IT pitfalls.