Guide: How to select an outsourced IT provider
By Carl Mazzanti, CEO, eMazzanti Technologies
1. Are you happy with the IT support you’re now receiving?
Though this question is very simple, it’s also enormously helpful to ask yourself at the beginning of a search for an IT resource. It’s an interesting question to ask if you’re faced with an internal IT department or team where a “build or buy” decision is looming. If you have a great IT resource that’s meeting all of your needs, don’t fix what’s not broke. However, if you’re the slightest bit unhappy or concerned about how IT is getting handled inside your company, below are a few more questions that might be helpful in finding the perfect IT partner.
2. Are they available 24×7?
Your business needs 24×7 IT coverage. The key to getting the right answer for this question, however, is what KIND of coverage? Great coverage consists of around the clock monitoring and repair of problems; even better, some IT consultants have the tools to “anticipate” and fix IT issues before they cause damage or downtime.
3. Does your IT provider have a target or guaranteed response time?
A good IT consultant will be able to guarantee a response time. Further, they should be able to provide historical proof of how they take care of current customers. We all realize when your network or computers are broken or down, you’re out of business or, at the very least, crippled in terms of workflow and productivity.
4. Do they offer cost-control guarantees that include “all-you-can-eat” IT support for a fixed, monthly fee?
All IT consultants are happy to charge you by the hour and it’s easy to compare typical hourly rates with a quick phone survey. However, what’s very difficult to identify is how many hours a project or repair takes. There is no industry time and materials guide all IT professionals refer to when estimating because of the number of variables including the level of expertise of the engineer or consultant. That said, if you elect to hire an IT consultant by the hour, they should be able to give you ranges or example so you’re not completely at their mercy. However, the best way to hire an IT professional is on a flat monthly fee, all-you-can-eat basis. This approach allows a business to manage IT costs and not be surprised by an invoice.
5. Are they recognized by several of the OEMs they support as top-tier IT providers?
This is an “IT pedigree” issue. If software and hardware manufacturers think highly of the IT consultant, then it’s a good sign they are competent and well-trained. Look for credentials that include gold certified partner, small business specialist, premier partner, partner of the year, etc. Various IT partner recognition awards also tend to indicate a higher level of competency.
6. Are they recognized in the industry as top-level IT professionals?
Industry and peer awards and membership in professional organizations is another great indicator of expertise and desire on the part of the IT professional to stay engaged in the industry.
7. Do they have satisfied customers that are similar to your business focus and size?
All IT consultants can pull a couple of references out of their hat. Ask them to talk about long-term customers or give you the contact information so you can check the level of satisfaction yourself. Ask to review their customer case studies as well.
Another great indicator of competency and professionalism is how they track customer satisfaction. If they don’t systematically track it, then that should be a huge question mark in terms of doing business with them. If they do track it, dig deep into what that means and how (exactly) they do it. Tip: Customer satisfaction monitoring is often integrated into the IT consultant’s trouble-ticketing system. Ask to see it in action.
8. Do they provide on-site and remote IT services?
A professional IT consultant should have both onsite and remote IT capabilities. These days, there are numerous software tools to make remote trouble-shooting very easy. Obviously, remote diagnosis and repair is less faster and cheaper than onsite visits by a technician. If the IT guru doesn’t have remote IT support capability, they are not technically savvy enough to help your business.
9. Do they offer finance programs for equipment and software?
A professionally run IT business will have a number of payment and finance options available. You may not need them, but they indicate a well-run business that is prepared to take care of its customers whatever the circumstance.
10. Do they train and maintain current credentials and certifications?
This is hugely important. Great IT consultants invest in themselves and stay current on OEM and vendor certification and training. Technology is evolving so fast that not having current training screams problems you’ll likely pay for in their inability to solve IT problems fast… or at all.
11. Are they invested in customer education?
Training customer to use software and hardware is part of full-spectrum service. However, in-depth training is another matter and may best be handled by accredited trainers not typically associated with the IT consultant.
12. Do they have a sophisticated job ticketing system?
Referred to above, a job-ticketing or trouble-ticketing system is a must for an IT consultant and its customers. It automates and tracks each request for support so that it virtually eliminates jobs falling between the cracks. Ask to see the job-ticket solution in action. Some IT consultants have the trouble ticket system tied into a whole monitoring system that can be viewed real-time in their offices. It’s rare, but some IT professionals have the customer satisfaction tracking system tied into the job-ticketing system. You can choose that IT professional with confidence.
13. Are they experts in your industry?
If you can find an IT partner that has in-depth experience in your specific industry, great. However, if they do not, they should be able to demonstrate expertise in your type of network and computer issues.
14. Do they have a rapid response team or solution?
Faster is better when it comes to resolving IT problems since downtime affects the viability of a business, and its customers and employees as well. Ask for a lot of details about who and how problems will be fix.
15. Do they have in-depth experience in security?
Security is often the number one issue companies have. A breach in security can cripple or kill-off a company faster than almost any other event or circumstance. A good indicator that an IT professional is an expert in all types of security are the certifications and training that have been completed. There are business certifications and personal certifications. Make sure you know about both.
16. Do they understand your business problems?
Just as some doctors can listen you talk about what’s wrong and “nail” the diagnosis and treatment, good IT consultants should be able to do the same with your business. They should be able to quickly grasp work and information flow, identify data bottlenecks or issues and rapidly prescribe the most effective solution.
17. Will they do a free or low cost network audit and assessment?
IT professionals should have a lot of tools that will quickly evaluate your network and help zero in on what’s wrong or areas of weakness. You want to avoid spending a lot of money on diagnosing problems than solving them.
18. Do they recommend solutions that have a specific ROI and lower your total cost of ownership (TCO)?
Almost all IT solutions can be monetized in some form or another given the right information. Sometimes that level of knowledge is hard to come empirically, but reasonable guesses or assumptions can help put a ROI on a IT expenditure. For example, if anti-spam software will speed the review of email each day by 15-30 minutes, the ROI to an office of 10 to 20 people is significant on a daily, monthly or annual basis. Ask the IT consultant to help you identify and calculate the potential ROI of his recommendations.
19. Do you like them and like the engineers that work on your account?
This may seem like a frivolous question, but gut impressions are often as valid as more concrete evidence. Nobody likes a grouch or airhead or someone who can’t communicate well. You should expect a professional that is reasonably pleasant to deal with.
20. Have they lowered or helped control your costs?
For most of us, hiring a consultant boils down to value: the quality of service/product and the cost. Ask for bottom line evidence that the IT solutions being implemented will save you money by reducing or avoiding problems.
21. Have they demonstrated how to be more productive? More secure? Better connected?
The operative word here is “demonstrated.” Demonstrated means customer stories or case studies, industry trends, research data or test results. Depending on the IT problem being addressed, some IT consultants can create a test or pilot environment to simulate how a specific hardware or software solution will work within your business before deployment. Essentially, you get a chance to test-drive the results without actually installing the technology.
22. Are they knowledgeable about the newest technologies?
This is very important. If they don’t know what’s going on in terms of the latest technologies, you don’t want to trust them with your network or computer problems. Technology is changing daily. In fact, they should be using the technology themselves, either to run their businesses or in a test-bed scenario.
23. Do their IT recommendations give your business a competitive advantage?
Technology is a tool that should impact your bottom line and help create a competitive advantage. Further, asking your IT professional how to best utilize the technology that’s been deployed in your business is important as well. Just because you own Photoshop doesn’t make you an expert. Similarly, just because you own the latest version of an operating system or office program doesn’t mean you know how to maximize its potential. Your IT consultant should provide the right tools and the right knowledge so there is a competitive advantage.
24. Do they have a disaster recovery solution that matches your business needs and budget?
Disaster recovery (also known as business continuity) is another critical area of IT. Fail to find a comprehensive solution here and you risk your business. A good IT professional will be able to design a disaster recovery solution to match the need and budget. Look for a variety of options from your consultant.
25. Do they have IT solutions that support a better, healthier environment?
Also known as green computing, being sensitive to the environment is a priority for a lot of businesses. New hardware and software technologies are constantly coming to market to reduce the carbon footprint of computers and networks. Your IT professional should be able to address these issues as well.