10 Questions to Ask When Choosing an IT Support Company
Choosing an IT support company is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Bear in mind that, due to the deep dependence of modern businesses on their IT infrastructures, the choice of IT support company can make a substantial impact on business processes. In this post, we outline 10 important questions you need to ask when choosing from a list of candidates.
What do their service level agreements (SLAs) look like?
Your service level agreement defines your minimum expectations for the provider’s services. It lets you set guaranteed response times, for example. It also lets you define the third party’s accountabilities and what you can expect if something goes wrong. What indemnifications or penalties can be imposed on them if they fail to meet their side of the agreement?
It goes without saying, any SLA should be thoroughly reviewed by both your CIO (or whoever’s in charge of your IT infrastructure) and your legal counsel before sign-off.
What types of support are provided?
Different businesses have different IT support needs. Some organisations are suited to certain pay-as-you-go models, while others require a fixed-price managed services model. Pay-as-you-go IT support services are usually reactive in nature, wherein problems are fixed as they arise.
Managed IT services, on the other hand, are more proactive in nature. This means that issues are addressed before they can have any significant (adverse) impact on the business. It’s important for the support company to have the flexibility to offer a wide range of services to cater to your specific needs.
Do they deliver both remote and onsite services?
Most issues can be evaluated and addressed via remote sessions. This would typically entail a screen sharing session over the Internet, wherein the support engineer will have remote control over your system. However, there will also be some instances (like if the problem involves hardware) in which the support engineer will need to conduct the troubleshooting onsite.
As you will most likely encounter a wide range of problems that can involve hardware and/or software, it’s important that your IT service provider is able to offer both remote and onsite services.
How experienced are they?
Support engineers who are familiar not only with the technical aspect of a problem but also its implications to your business will be more capable of taking the right approach to a business-impacting problem. You can’t expect this level of familiarity from engineers who are new to the job. Look for an IT support company with experienced senior engineers. If they’re experienced in your particular industry, then that would be perfect.
What certifications and partnerships do they have?
Another criterium you might want to consider is the certifications and partnerships they’ve acquired. They should match the characteristics of your IT infrastructure. If you expect support to be dealing with a lot of networking, then they’ll probably need CISCO certifications. If they’re going to be setting up controls and cyber defenses, then you should be looking for cyber security-related certifications like CEH, CISSP, and CISM.
In addition to certs, you will also want to look at the partnerships they’ve forged. If they’ll be managing your virtualised infrastructures, then partnerships with Citrix, for instance, would be beneficial.
What are their references saying?
While a laundry list of certifications and partnerships can certainly help you gauge an IT support company’s level of competency, nothing beats perspectives from actual experiences. Ask for a list of current and past customers and try to schedule a short meeting or call with those companies. If you can get them to share testimonials, you should be able to get a clearer picture of the organisation you’re about to deal with.
What provisions do they have to ensure data security and privacy?
The moment engineers from this IT support company start managing, troubleshooting and maintaining your IT infrastructure, they’ll have almost unmitigated access to whatever sensitive data you have. If your organisation is operating in a regulated industry, you need to ensure the security of your data.
Ask what provisions the support company has in place to preserve the confidentiality of your sensitive information. Do they perform background checks on their engineers? Are they going to implement an access control policy? Will they be encrypting data that needs to be transported?
Can you get a dedicated engineer?
Some IT issues require extensive knowledge of your organisation’s inner workings in order to be resolved. In these situations, it would help to have a dedicated support engineer to cater for your specific needs. Although not all businesses require a dedicated engineer, it’s a big advantage if you can be provided with one should the need arise.
Are the costs well defined?
Hiring a third party to address your IT issues under a break-fix model can lead to unpredictable costs. Before you know it, your IT spend will have already messed up your cash flow. You can manage your finances better if you deal with an IT provider whose services are clearly defined. Providers who offer a cost calculator and multiple service levels can go a long way to helping you budget your IT spend more effectively.
Is the termination/cancellation process acceptable?
Should you decide to terminate your provider’s services, perhaps because you’ve decided to keep all your IT inhouse or because you found a better provider — whatever the reason, you’ll want a termination process that’s as painless as possible. You’ll want a reasonable grace period that will allow you to transition to the new arrangement. More importantly, you’ll want provisions that ensure the security and confidentiality of your data even after you’ve terminated the contract.