How to choose a good IT Partner

How to choose a good IT Partner

IT systems have become such an important and integral part of our daily lives and everyday business that even the slightest problem can have a very lasting impact on business performance. It is therefore very important, that your IT systems are designed to run as stable and safely as possible and that if it does go wrong you have the confidence that they will be fixed ASAP and effectively.

Unfortunately, not all companies can afford in-house IT support managers and technicians. Having a reliable IT support company on your side that you know and is only a phone call away and will go into immediate action for you is not so much a luxury, but a necessity. But what exactly should an IT support company provide you?

  1. Well, for starters they should be there for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a weeks to come in and fix problems if they can’t be fixed remotely. There should be a single number to call by which you can ask questions, report errors or check the status of an item of equipment. There should also be a secure online system where you can make requests and check the status of work that is being carried out on your behalf.
  2. Their support should be flexible enough to resolve any problem rapidly and with as little disruption to the company as possible, from providing an emergency piece of hardware on a Sunday afternoon, to taking an employee through a software programme step by step over the telephone or remotely taking control of their PC and showing them.
  3. The support should include assistance with the operation of all peripherals, including printers, switches, hubs, routers, wireless hardware, Blackberries, I-Phones and Smart Phones.
  4. The IT Support should include support for all types of PC’s, Servers, PDA’s and laptops, whether they are Compaq, Dell, HP, IBM, Apple, Fujitsu or Intel. Equally software support should include all Microsoft products and operating systems, Exchequer, ACT, Sage, Salesforce, CRM and all telecommunications.
  1. It is also worth investigating the chain of command that any request you make goes through and how urgently the request is attended to, in other words the SLA (Service Level Agreement). Will you be put through to a support engineer who specialises in your problem immediately after making your request or just to someone who will take a message? Will that support engineer stick with the problem until it is resolved and you have tested the “fix”? If the issue cannot be fixed whilst you are on the telephone, will the details of the fault be noted down and escalated on to somebody specialising in your problem who will call you back as soon as they are free. How long will this to take?
  2. How proactive and involved will the IT Support company be to ensure your IT Systems stays up and running? For example, will an account manager from the IT Support company visit your office regularly and make recommendations about the various ways you can improve your IT Systems in respect of your business needs and suggest ways of cutting costs? Will this service be inclusive of their annual fee? Will they offer training for your staff on all the day to day software such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft PowerPoint?
  3. At which intervals will the IT Support company monitor your servers to do a complete health check on the performance of your system including the utilization of IT Hardware resources? Will this include maintenance tasks such as software updates, defragging hard disks and restoring deleted files, deleting old users, data backup, disaster recovery procedures, log monitoring, re-setting passwords, bug fixing and ensuring there is enough disk space?

Other potential issues that need to be monitored on an ongoing basis should include Internet and Network bandwidth status to avoid slowness and assist the efficient flow of data and security checks to ensure that there are none of the possible 68000 listening ports open in your firewall. Will this monitoring also identify future problems before they arise, and will it be performed remotely, without affecting your daily business operations?

  1. Does the IT Support company have the necessary and up to date vendor accreditations (Intel, Microsoft, Veritas, Fujitsu, Symantec, Compaq) to carry out work on your IT Systems and programmes without affecting the warranty?
  2. Be clear with your IT Support company to identify the areas of support they do not cover. For example, the support offered may not include laptops that are remote to the office or support to any software upgrades and new implementations you may be thinking of carrying out. Many IT Support companies will also not support any 3rd party software products.
  3. What about the different levels of support on offer? It may be that you just want a one-off network clear up visit or a quick clean up after a virus or hacker has infected your IT Systems. Maybe you have some level of in-house IT skills and only require the occasional help on an ad-hoc basis. What will the a charge structure be for each offering, alongside with packages that will give you the choice of paying annually, quarterly, monthly and will it be in advance or in arrears? When you are negotiate this, ensure that there are no additional charges for travel or hotel costs where reasonable and possible.

This article outlined a range of services that any prospective IT support company should be able to offer you, alongside the various grey areas and additional services it is worthwhile clarifying during contract negotiations. You will be then be able to make a more informed decision about the kind of IT Support company that is best suited to your particular business needs.