An IT infrastructure you can trust is a prerequisite for any business. You rely on it for everything from sending a simple email to protecting your company’s most valuable data, so it makes sense to ensure it’s in safe hands. The same can be said of good IT support. Finding an IT partner in London who can guarantee the smooth running of your day-to-day operation, and expert crisis management when required, is essential for businesses that can’t afford to stand still if the wheels come off.
From a tender perspective, that means asking the right questions up front, so you get the support you need, a price you can afford, and no nasty surprises down the line.
Before putting your IT support out to tender, it’s important to ask yourself one question:
What level of support do you need?
IT management companies generally offer one or more of the following levels of service:
- Break-fix support: This is an on-tap resource for when things go wrong. The IT company won’t monitor your systems on an ongoing basis, look at things such as operating efficiency, or make recommendations on how to improve with tech upgrades, but they’ll come to the rescue if things go belly up, and restore your operating system to ‘business as usual’, as quickly as possible.
- Pay-as-you-go support: This usually means paying an hourly rate or a fixed price to look at issues and development needs, as they arise. It’s not as robust as full managed support, can prove more expensive because its ad hoc, and you won’t get the rates a longer-term contract might offer. But, you get what you pay for, and that suits some smaller businesses who are happy to pay for a reactive, rather than a proactive, service.
- Managed service support: This works more like a partnership. Your outsourced IT service provider will actively manage your systems, work with the business objectives and IT roadmap to make recommendations to help you achieve your goals, and find operational efficiencies and costs savings - all of which will help future proof your IT infrastructure and reduce the risks of things going wrong down the line.
When you know where you sit on the ‘service need’ scale, you can start talking to companies who might fit the bill. Trust and rapport are essential for any good relationship, but experience is what will get you out of an IT pickle every time, so it’s important to ask the right questions and resist the urge to go with a provider because ‘they seem like a nice bunch’. You can get both, so be choosy and don’t settle.
10 Great Questions to Ask Potential IT Partners
1 - Do you offer a full range of services from break-fix to full service?
You might have made a call on what you want before going to tender, but if not, be crystal clear about your needs, and ask the provider how proactive they can be, and the best price they can give you for that level of service.
To get a sense of how that works in practice, it’s worth asking for examples of issues they’ve managed recently for other clients, so you know the response times and budget they usually work to.
2 - Do you specialise in a particular industry, and what does a typical client look like for you?
If you need specialised expertise, locking that down should be your priority. Typical clients will also give you an idea of the industries they’re most familiar with. Working with key competitors for example, might mean there’s a conflict of interest, or it could mean they’re best placed to help you - having learned from the mistakes of a rival.
You could ask who their biggest and smallest clients are, to get a sense of the range of businesses they cover. Nitty gritty details might include asking about customer retention, and if they’d be happy for you to contact another London-based client of similar size or structure, for feedback.
3 - Do you have one key client?
This is important for a few reasons. You need to know if they will be prioritised over all others, or if they have enough resources to service multiple clients at the same time. Over-reliance is something to consider too - if their key client also generates the bulk of their income, is there any risk that losing them could jeopardise the business?
4 - What does your account management look like?
Get into the detail on this one, and ask whether you’ll have dedicated resources and a single point of contact or virtual CTO who oversees and documents all support.
Ask about record keeping and reporting, and how they would keep you informed too – if regular catch ups or emailed reports are more likely, think about whether that would work for you.
5 - What processes do you put in place to manage IT support, including day-to-day tickets and urgent service requests?
Any provider should be able to explain the process they use on their service desk, and be specific about response times. You want to come away from your meeting confident about their workflow management and how they interact with employees who need help. For example, do they favour phone, email or instant message? Do they run a ticketing system to follow every tech problem and solution end to end? And what are typical turnaround times for the most frequently asked requests?
It’s a good idea to ask about service level agreements too, so you know best and worst-case scenarios up-front.
6 - What kind of positive change could you create for a business like ours?
Give the IT company a chance to shine, and allow them to inspire you with ideas that could improve the way you do business or create opportunities for growth. Even if you’re only planning on a break-fix service, it costs nothing to ask the question, and the answer might encourage you to explore an avenue you haven’t thought about before.
7 - Have they had any training ahead of the GDPR deadline in May, and do they understand the importance it will have for your business?
Customer data, company financials and sensitive client information can be the lifeblood of an organisation. They can also bring about a sharp demise and massive fines, if the information finds its way into the wrong hands. So, an IT company that understands the gravitas of security and the new challenges ahead, is a must.
Ask the company if they can educate your staff to help create a cyber security culture, if they can perform security audits to find and then plug gaps in your cyber security, and enquire about the kind of support they’d recommend to keep your business safe, secure and compliant before the GDPR deadline of May 2018.
8 - What’s your experience with data backup and disaster recovery?
‘What-if’ scenarios are a great way to find out more about a company’s real-life experience. Back-up and recovery are essential services, so you want to know they’re confident about managing issues like these, quickly and efficiently, and can put in place an effective business continuity plan.
9 - Can you explain your contracts and the costs involved?
Not everyone likes talking about money, but it’s imperative you know exactly how a company charges before you agree to anything, so you need to get granular. Understanding the guaranteed level of service, and when and how you’ll be charged, is essential to a good working relationship and management of your IT budget.
10 - Why should we choose you?
It’s the question most of us dread in any interview situation, but the answer could be the thing that separates one provider from the rest. It gives the company a chance to tell you about anything else they feel is important, so they might even welcome the opportunity to prove why they are the right IT support solution for you.
At pebble.it, we provide a range of IT services and support to businesses in London and across the UK, and are certified GDPR practitioners, so you can be sure that we can provide the IT support you need to stay ahead of the pack and be compliant with new regulations.
Find out what we can do for you by getting in touch, and download our eBook on The Role of IT In Your Growing Agency: