Do You Trust Your City’s IT Support?

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Mario Solivan
Mario Solivan, Network Infrastructure Consultant

The crisis happens. You’ve got a virus. A server is down. You’ve lost data. Your website crashed. Something bad happened.

You pick up the phone and call your IT support. What generally happens?

Are you confident in how they respond and handle your issue? Or…not?

Over the years, we have heard many stories about cities’ “IT support.” A big pattern we notice is a sense of unease that usually lasted at the city for many years. But it’s difficult sometimes to translate that sense of unease—that lack of trust and confidence—into something specific that may cause you to reevaluate your choice of IT support.

After digging into these stories over the years, we’ve discovered five common reasons why you feel that sense of unease about your IT support.

1. Responsiveness to your requests.

This issue above anything else is the most important. Simple responsiveness. Do they answer the phone when you call? Do they respond to your emails? Do they have other options for getting in touch, such as an online chat option?

So many cities tell us about the IT support they’ve hired who are simply bad at responding. They:

  • Slowly respond—letting too many hours or even days pass.
  • Don’t respond at all—and the city must follow up again to report their issue.
  • Don’t consider the city’s emergency a priority.
  • Don’t have an IT engineer available to serve the city.

How fast does your IT support respond when you have an issue?

2. Plain, clear communication.

Many cities can sometimes laugh off “IT speak,” assuming that IT remains an area always impossible to understand. Today, that says more about the IT engineers serving you rather than the complex nature of IT. Sure, technology remains complicated. But there is always a layperson’s explanation related to your need that an IT engineer can communicate.

Sadly, many IT support engineers will hide behind tech jargon to mask the fact that they do not quite know what’s going on with your systems or (in unethical cases) trick you into thinking the issue was more complex. For example, note the difference between the two explanations:

1. One of the VMs running on the hypervisor had an application layer failure, so we’ll need to do more tests to figure out where the data transfer in the LAN traffic is failing. We’ll get back to you.

2. The court application is down with a system error, and we’re still assessing why. In the meantime, we’ve activated your onsite backup server and you can use your application as normal. On our side, we are determining the cause of the failure so we can identify next steps to correct in the long term. We expect to resolve the issue within four hours.

The second explanation lets you know—despite the underlying technical complexity—why a disruption occurred, that employees can now get back into the system, and an estimated time for when the issue will be completely resolved. That’s more reassuring than the first unproductive explanation, which sounds intelligent but communicates barely anything, leaving you more confused about the nature of the problem.

3. Problems never seem to go away.

If you had a cough that never went away, you wouldn’t keep buying cough drops for years. You would see a doctor to address the deeper root cause.

Yet, many cities view their IT support this way. Problems never quite seem to go away. Computers keep crashing. Software is always slow. Hardware stops working a lot.

No matter what explanations you’re given, this is not a good sign. Root problems are not being addressed either because your IT support doesn’t know how to address them or possibly because your IT support is paid hourly in a break/fix arrangement.

Addressing root issues involves a combination of regular maintenance (such as software patching), cybersecurity-related activities (like monitoring and antivirus software), projects that tackle and solve recurring problems, data backup and disaster recovery, and vendor management (working with hardware and software vendors to resolve issues).

4. Your IT support throws up their hands when dealing with other vendors.

A frustrating component of owning and using technology is that you will have problems across a wide variety of hardware, software, and systems vendors. When a problem occurs, it can be difficult for city staff to call the vendor. Your non-technical city staff might not know how to describe the problem, give relevant information to the vendor, know the extent of the warranty support, and follow up to make sure the problem is actually resolved.

When many cities turn to their IT support, they often get one of two answers:

1. That’s not covered. You need to call the vendor yourself.

2. I took a look at the problem and have no idea how to fix it. Call the vendor.

Both of those answers are unacceptable, placing a routine aspect of IT support into your lap. Instead, your IT support should be able to work with other vendors to resolve problems. That includes describing the problem accurately, enforcing warranty support agreements, and following up with the vendor to ensure they resolve the problem. Also, like doctors talking to other doctors, you need your IT support engineers talking to technical people on your vendor’s support team so that the vendor cannot hide behind technical jargon.

5. Everything becomes a lengthy onsite visit.

When your IT support responds, it’s often a lengthy onsite visit—even for minor problems. If someone is having an issue with their software, your IT support vendor schedules a time to stop by and they sit with your user to resolve a quick problem. In the meantime, they bill you for 1-2 hours. For bigger problems, they are at your city hall or other locations a lot—maybe days at a pop.

A professional IT helpdesk should have a streamlined process that avoids such common, lengthy onsite visits. This happens through the following steps:

  • Your IT support vendor does proactive work to prevent many problems from occurring in the first place.
  • Your IT support vendor proactively monitors and maintains your technology, including software agents on every computer that assist with remote support. Many, many problems can be easily and quickly solved remotely.
  • In the rare case of onsite visits, your IT support vendor schedules work in an economical fashion—focusing on the issue at hand and quickly resolving it.
  • Ideally, your IT support vendor bills you at a fixed cost. Then, it’s on them to quickly resolve the issue and there is no incentive to increase the billable time.

If three or more of these items are currently causing you unease about your current IT support, then it’s time to reevaluate your options. Your lack of trust and confidence in your IT support likely correlates to one of the issues above.

Need help assessing what steps you should take in a problematic IT support situation? Reach out to us today.

Original Date: 6/26/2019