How to Find the Right IT Management Company
This week in our Daily Tips for technology, we discuss how to find the right IT management company. No two computer support companies are the same. The level of service that you receive can be very different from one to the next, even when they describe their services in the same manner.
What Are Their Priorities?
Customers, and even some IT companies, tend to commoditize IT services. They speak in terms of technical qualifications, referrals, the number of staff, and price. While all of these are important, they are qualifiers, not result indicators.
When interviewing a computer support company, spend time focusing on what their priorities are. Fit is important when selecting an employee. They wrong employee can have a negative impact on team performance. The right employee can improve team performance dynamically.
It is just as important to select an IT company that is compatible with your company. Chances are, they will be working closely with your staff. There will be conflict if their method of network support does not fit with your company’s goals and daily activities.
If your company is fast-paced and efficient, you would not want to partner with a network management company that does not place a priority on the dollar value of time.
A company that works to refine their customer experience would not want to work with a company that doesn’t share the same view.
IT companies may choose to focus on selling hardware, delivering cloud services, fast response, or a specific industry. They may be the low-cost alternative. Some IT companies focus on sales and growth, grabbing market share while worrying about the customer second. Any one of these may be a great fit for your company, just be sure before you engage with them.
The best time to discover if you idealistically align with a prospective IT provider is in the first meeting. Before you begin discussing the technical details, find out their business priorities. Ask what their perfect client would look like. Any company working to improve their business should be able to describe their initiatives in detail the same way that you can. If it resonates, you may have found a fit. Now, it’s time to ask the technical information.
What is Their Model?
Computer support companies generally fall into two categories:
- Break/Fix: The company waits for a problem, then fixes it.
- Managed Services: A proactive approach that focuses on avoiding problems.
Break/fix may be fine for many companies. We were a break/fix company for a long time. The problem with the business model is the nature of the transaction. The customer benefits when there are no computer problems, the IT company benefits when there are problems. It is an adversarial relationship.
Even worse, the workload is unknown every day. You can staff for 20 potential appointments and only get 5 calls. The break/fix vendor then has to find a way to maintain profitability. If they get 25 calls, the client suffers from slow response times, or “emergency” fees to compensate for overtime or bumping another customer.
True managed IT services are focused on avoiding problems. Managed services companies get a flat monthly fee. For that fee, the client gets unlimited IT support. In order for the IT vendor to maintain profitability, it is in their best interest to reduce problems. Done correctly, it is a win/win scenario. Both companies are happy when the customer is running problem free.
Problems arise in two forms. The first is when managed service providers, or MSPs, price themselves too low. They need to take on too many clients to operate correctly. As the MSP manages too many clients per technician, they pay less attention to being proactive. This, in turn, raises avoidable, reactive issues and a downward spiral begins. In effect, the MSP turns into a glorified break/fix IT company. The client ends up paying more for somewhat better results than pure break/fix support.
The second scenario that causes problems for clients is when an MSP attempts to also provide break/fix or hybrid support. We have all experienced trying to service a client that falls outside of our target. We struggle to do the job well. Usually, the provider or the client leave the transaction with a bad taste in their mouth.
In any business, disruption of the daily routine and process has a negative impact on results. Properly delivering managed services takes dedication to being proactive. Managed service providers plan for a certain level of reactive issues with a help desk. A well run MSP can accurately predict their ticket level for each day. When the rare unanticipated disaster occurs, there is a plan in place to resolve it quickly.
How Flexible Are They?
A company that tries to be an expert in everything will not be. When speaking with a company, ask about their standards, preferred vendors, and flexibility. Most companies will support any vendor’s product but will specialize in and recommend those that offer the most value.
There is a finite amount of time that each technician has in each day. Every product comes with hours of training, continuing education, practice, maintenance, and quirks. Learning every product could be a job in itself. Being flexible can be an advantage but it brings diminishing returns.
A great MSP will focus their training efforts on the select products and service offerings that will deliver the best results.
What is Their Price Point?
Price is always an issue. When evaluating IT companies based on their technical deliverables, the price ends up being a primary selling point.
MSP’s can price themselves in a variety of ways. Some price per user, others per machine. Some managed service providers price based on the number of PCs, tablets, phones, printers, switches, servers, and so on. In the end, monthly cost and what is or is not covered are the most important metrics. It can get confusing. The best MSPs will keep pricing as simple as possible.
Once a monthly price is established, there is still variance in quality of service. As mentioned above, pricing too low can create chaos and diminishing returns. What is the right price? Honestly, it depends on the level of service that you expect.
First, we accept the fact that costs are the same for all MSP’s. All network support companies have the same basic costs of doing business. All IT companies have payroll, tools, software, and basic business expenses. The differences are in service delivery and where they dedicate their resources.
There is a difference between an MSP that charges $1,500 per month and one that charges $2,400 for the same account. The less expensive MSP has to have almost twice as many clients to maintain the same revenue level. Their software costs are going to be higher to account for the additional licensing for more clients. They will need twice the equipment. Their people are going to have twice the workload.
One can argue that maybe they have better, more efficient technicians and engineers. In fact, that would push costs higher as they pursue higher salaries. There is no way for a budget MSP to deliver the same results as one at a higher price point. It’s not possible.
The client needs to decide if they require more than the budget MSP has to offer. Sometimes being in a better position than the current situation is good enough. A client may not need everything that a higher cost MSP delivers. That’s a perfectly logical situation.
What can you expect from an MSP that charges up to twice as much per month? If they are doing it right, a lot.
- Process and Standardization
- Immediate Response to Issues
- Lower Overall Business Risk
- A Greater Sense of Knowledge and Control
- Fewer Problems and Roadblocks
- Proper Disaster Planning
The added time a high-quality MSP gains by having fewer clients allows them to stay focused on the proactive and planning side of the coin. A high quality managed service provider will spend their time getting to know their clients’ businesses, evaluating risks, and preparing for any scenario. They will partner with their clients’ to plan for their future growth.
Examples of Process and Procedures
Ask a prospective IT management partner to show examples of their process. Ask how they will be different than the others. A quality MSP will be able to show you or describe situations in detail that enable them to improve your business. Good processes, in even mundane tasks, can reduce response time and errors to save hours of work.
Ask about specific situations. If this happens to me, what will their response be? How long will it take to accomplish a task? When given a time, walk through the timeline to establish how realistic it may be.
It is better to find out that someone is exaggerating their results before you work with them. You don’t want to find out that the major encryption virus scenario you were told would take a few hours to resolve, actually takes 3 days due to “unforeseen” issues. Ask the hard questions now.
If you could not tell, we lean strongly in one direction. We often hear that another company can do what we do for half the price. In one case, only a month later did we hear that our prospect lost 3 days and significant data due to a major virus.
As we interview prospective employees, we hear about the state of our competitors. Tasks that never get done. Backups that are never audited, only to find out they are not working after a disaster. Lack of support, working long hours without overtime, constant fire drills as reactive issues rise. We hear it in every round of interviews.
We don’t work that way. Our office is calm and quiet. We respond quickly. We minimize disruption by focusing on a repeatable process that we test constantly. We take the time to ensure that we are doing what we need to deliver the results we promise our clients.
We are more expensive than most. Once a client lands with us, they never leave. Once they see the other side, the difference, they never choose to go back to the chaos and problems that they experienced before SNAP Forward.