IT Untangled: A Small Business's Guide to Outsourced IT Support
You’ve probably heard the term “managed services.” You might have wondered what it meant and if it had anything to do with your small business. You’ve also probably heard the term outsourcing. Those words are often used interchangeably.
In a nutshell, outsourcing or managed services, means that a third-party acts as your IT department. Or in some cases, supplements your current in-house IT department. Do you have an IT department? Is your in-house IT team limited on time, resources, or ability? It might be time to check out what outsourcing can do for you.
What Qualifies as an Outsourced/Managed IT Service?
The best part of outsourcing is that there are endless possible services. If you have a need, there is a service that can help. Here is a list of the most popular services small businesses use:
- Infrastructure or Hardware as a Service (HaaS)
- Backup & Disaster Recovery
- The Cloud or Hosted Services
- Help Desk or End User Support
- Data and Network Security
- Partial IT Support & Management
- Full IT Support & Management
When to Start Outsourcing
A lot of companies don’t consider managed IT services until something is really wrong internally – like an IT person quit unexpectedly or a major virus attack. While IT companies can help with disasters, it’s ideal that you explore your options before the house is on fire.
Choosing to outsource your IT services is a business decision and should not be rushed. Spend some time thinking about what technology results you’re expecting, what areas you’d like to improve in, and any concerns you may have about your current arrangement. Ask your IT team about how they’re doing. Talk to your employees about whether they’re getting what they need from an IT perspective.
Use this brainstorm to address issues when starting the interview process.
What to Expect From Your IT Contract/Service Agreement
Once you have narrowed down your selection of services and a couple of providers, it’s time to compare contracts. Each contract will have similar properties, but every company has different processes to get results.
If at any point you have questions, by all means, ask. Your managed IT services company should be more than willing to explain and help you through your decision process. If they are not willing to help, they might not be the team for you.
Here is the quick-and-dirty list of things that should be addressed and understood in your contract:
1. Services – What services are they providing to you? What are the parameters and extent of each service?
2. Response, Reliability, and Availability – Who do you call? Who do you call if they are unavailable? And is this a 24/7 service or not? What is the plan for service outside of normal coverage hours? This should include the amount of time you can expect to hear back after reporting an issue.
3. Proactive System Maintenance Procedures & Best Practice Standards – Expectations for proactive measures and best practice standards should be documented in writing. Including the regularity of maintenance checks and who’s responsible for their upkeep.
4. Operations & System Requirements – Escalation procedures and minimum standards of quality for services.
5. Onboarding Process – What is their process for onboarding you as a new client? Every company’s process will be different. Ask for a plan in writing.
Develop a Fail Proof Communication Plan
The saying goes, “you plan to fail, if you fail to plan.” Picking the right company to manage your IT needs in only half the battle. Next is learning how to work with them and communicate properly.
To ensure you are getting the absolute most out of your service, a communication plan is a must. Each new project will have its own communication plan. But don’t overlook the importance of day-to-day communication.
1. Communication Expectations – Be clear with your IT support provider about what kind of communication you expect, and at what frequency. Some executives like to be kept in the loop on every ticket. Others only want updates on major issues or ongoing projects.
2. Communication Breakdown – This could be a calling tree, a list, or an escalation flow chart. Whatever works best for you. Your IT team may need to communicate with different people, depending on the need. Make this as complete and itemized as possible to avoid wasted transfer times. This ensures calls go to the right places. This works both ways. You may need to reach out to different people for different things. Make sure it’s clearly laid out for you.
3. Communication Methods – This is not limited to phone calls, emails and service tickets. This could be post-meeting recaps, work summaries, etc. Pick the ones you think are most efficient for your company and set a standard of when they should be done.
Outsourced IT support, or managed IT services, really are a great resource for small businesses. You can easily get more bang for your buck. Think better, more capable infrastructure and support. Fail proof backup and recovery. The possibilities are nearly endless. Using this guide, your business can excel at picking the right people to work with. Take that first step to itemizing what you want to work on today.
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IT Untangled aims to provide clarity on IT topics for business people. This weekly blog series will explain and discuss the complex world of IT, in words you understand.
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.