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Selecting an IT Support Provider

Nearly all organizations require support for their IT systems, from the transcontinental corporate down to the local farm shop allowing clients to pay for their produce via a credit card. However, while it is essential and practically a utility, IT is often seen as one of the dark arts where things magically work or don't based on unknown factors.

Of course, this is not true: there are many ways to ensure IT works properly. However, it is not always obvious for those not familiar with backend IT functions. To add to this, many organizations do not have the skillset or knowledge to support their own IT so they turn to external IT support providers. To be blunt, many of these IT support organizations are not very good. Often this results in unreliable support response and uneven quality of IT service delivery. This article will outline some points to check when selecting an IT support provider to help avoid these pitfalls:

How big is the IT provider?

This is a good place to start: How large is the support provider? Is it one person or hundreds of people across the country? In general, there will be a sweet spot for provider size: too small, if they lose key staff then service will suffer, too big and you will not get the personal attention you want. Understand how long the company has been trading, the number of staff and how financially stable they are.

Can they clearly explain what they are offering and why you should go with them?

Can they explain how they will support your business and the steps to get there in a way you can understand? If they can't do that during the sales process, then this might also translate to poor communication during service delivery. Be wary of technical jargon and platitudes during pitches and in literature. If you are not comfortable with the answers, is this the company you want to work with?

Can they show you examples of what the support will look like?

Are they able to show you working examples of systems you would be using as well as a customer portal? Seeing real world working systems is a great way of determining if a support company can really walk the walk. Can they walk you through the escalation process and how they would help based on worst case scenarios for your business?

How is the communication during the sales process?

Are the salespeople you speak to responsive? Do the responses make sense, and do they seem trust worthy? Poor quality and slow responses at this phase is likely to follow on to how the technical work will be delivered.

Will the people involved in the sales process be part of the service delivery?

Many support organizations will have technical people assigned to sales that are not involved with service delivery. This is not necessarily a bad thing but ask the question if the person you like during sales meeting will be involved with your account post contract signing.

What about references?

Be wary of references. By design these will be organizations where things have gone well. Ask for examples of when things have gone poorly, how the support company dealt with it, what they learned and what the end result was.

Are you being locked into a long contract?

Again, contracts are not necessarily a bad thing (especially if you want to defer costs of new equipment or a migration over time). However, be wary of contracts that seem to benefit the support company and not you: Why is there a three-year support contract when you are paying for migration services or new laptops upfront?

What does your gut tell you?

Whichever support company you decide to go with there is likely going to be significant cost and risk involved. Never feel pressured to sign a contract and trust your gut: do I feel this is a company who can deliver and does the decision make me feel uneasy. Remember this is an important decision and any good IT support company will be happy to take time to answer any questions and make you feel at ease.

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