Guide to IT Support Services for Businesses
Essential Information for Executives Who Want Better Business Results from IT
If you’re reading this guide, chances are good that something is happening in your world right now to make you question how you are resourcing IT. When IT isn’t functioning properly, it's frustrating for everyone who needs to use technology to do their jobs. For most businesses, that’s everyone!
In this guide, we’ll help you learn about your options for IT support services and give you the information you need to make an informed decision about which IT company is most likely to deliver the results that you want.
People usually live with a problem for a while before they decide to do something about it. They think that things will get better. The truth is, waiting and hoping for things to get better doesn’t usually work. Many people also live with problems for a lot longer than they need to because they think that what they’re experiencing is as good as it gets.
Here are some of the problems that many companies have with IT support:
IT issues go on and on
If you keep experiencing the same IT problem over and over, then IT support is only looking at the symptoms and not the cause. They might not know how to solve the problem and may blame others for the lack of resolution. "It’s the software." "It’s the internet provider."
Your IT manager is leaving
Whether it’s a retirement or a job change, your main go-to IT person has a lot of knowledge about your systems and data that probably isn’t documented. If the thought of his leaving makes you anxious, then you’re relying too much on one person and this is a great time to weigh your options.
You’re paying too much for what you’re getting
Good IT management is like good health management. You don’t know what illnesses you avoided because of your good habits. When IT is managed well, and you’re getting the results that you expect, you probably aren’t questioning the cost because of the value you perceive. But when costs are piling up and you're still not getting results, then it’s natural to wonder what you’re really getting for your money.
Technology is slowing down your people
Something else happens when your IT problems don’t get solved. Your people will stop going to IT with their issues. They’ll start to find their own workarounds, and their productivity, as well as their attitude, will suffer. The solutions they come up with themselves could also increase your risk of a data breach.
Your IT department is stretched too thin
If your internal IT department can’t handle everything that comes their way, they’re probably prioritizing their time by what’s on fire and what’s in their sweet spot. There are many roles that an IT department needs to cover and if they don’t have the time or the expertise, business operations will eventually notice the balls that keep getting dropped.
You have a gut feeling that things could be better
Unfortunately, a lot of companies are making do with a substandard level of IT support because they don’t know that there’s anything better. They end up with a relationship with their IT provider that is plagued with unrealistic expectations, mismanagement, and rogue IT operations that don’t take into account the needs of the business.
Your IT company isn’t right-sized
If your outsourced IT support company is having trouble taking care of your needs, it often surfaces as slow response time. This can happen if the vendor is a large national company or a small one-person shop. If you’re the person overseeing IT, this can make your life miserable when all people want to know from you is when their problems will be fixed.
You don’t know if you’re really secure
Cyberattack threats are not going to decrease any time soon. Not knowing for sure if your data and systems are protected is enough cause for some sleepless nights. Having a multi-layer defense is vital. If you’re missing a layer or two, you could unknowingly be increasing your risk of a cyberattack.
What Happens When You Do IT Right
The experience you have with your technology makes a difference in the success of your organization. It can be either a propeller or an anchor - moving you forward or holding you back. If you are experiencing any of the frustrations that were just listed, then you definitely have an anchor.
What does a propeller for IT services look like?
Here’s the short list of disciplines that need to be included:
- Technology Strategy
- Network Administration
- Centralized Services
- Helpdesk/Reactive Support
- Project/Architecture Services
The first role on the list, Technology Strategist, is probably one of the hardest roles to fill. The technology strategist needs to have a head for both technology and business so that he can recognize opportunities for using technology to impact company success and growth. In today’s technology driven businesses, IT should contribute to the achievement of goals such as improving customer satisfaction, retaining quality employees, or going after a new market.
We’ll talk more about how business can be impacted by implementing the right kind of IT strategy and management, but first let’s look at your IT services options.
What Are Your IT Options?
There are three main ways that you can resource your business's IT needs.
- Internal IT Department
- Outsourced IT Support Services (Managed IT Services)
- Co-Managed IT Services (Combination of Internal and Outsourced IT Services)
Internal IT Department
What it is: You take care of IT services by hiring your own people.
- Your own staff intimately know your business.
- Your own staff are always onsite.
- They intimately know your systems and software.
- Even though they’re always onsite, they aren’t always available.
- May not be involved in discussions about strategy.
- May have gaps in support when staff are ill or on vacation.
- Small staff can’t fill all the roles needed for a comprehensive IT department.
- Technology improvements may get put on the back burner because fixing problems takes priority.
Managed IT Services
What it is: IT services are outsourced to a company that has a proven process for IT management and acts as your company’s entire IT department.
- Wide breadth of expertise to cover all areas of IT.
- More cost-effective than hiring all roles internally.
- Available 24/7/365.
- Frees up internal staff for innovation and development.
- Implementation of best practices reduces risk.
- Lower overall technology cost.
- Staff are not always onsite.
- Wrong-size vendor may not get the results you want.
- Shift of control to third-party management.
- Could eliminate existing internal IT positions.
Co-Managed IT Services
What it is: You bring in outsourced IT services to supplement your internal IT capabilities.
- Internal staff are freed up to work on innovation and projects.
- More resources are available to tackle multiple issues, complex problems, and large projects.
- Broader expertise and tools available.
- Can fill in when internal staff are away.
- Internal staff may feel threatened by outside experts.
- Depending upon your arrangement, you still might have gaps in expertise.
- Depending upon your arrangement, you might not be able to budget and plan effectively.
Connecting IT with Business Results
When you are constantly frustrated by technology that lets you down, it’s no wonder that you view IT as a necessary evil. You probably don’t need to be convinced that IT is holding your business back as you see your people spending more time than they should on getting their technology tools to work, instead of getting their work done. You may have even had customers complain and, more likely, look for a different supplier because your frustration becomes their frustration.
Technology can make a real difference in your business when you have these three components:
- Manage the IT function as you do other departments.
- Focus technology on fulfilling business needs.
- Create an IT roadmap that is aligned with business objectives.
At its most basic level, IT management is making sure that your technology won’t let you down. In order to do that, you have to prevent problems before they happen, anticipate when changes need to be made, and respond to issues lightning fast when they do occur. The only way to achieve this is with a proactive approach and a process that utilizes industry best practices.
Just as with other departments in your business, managing IT means that you need to make sure that you have the right people who can bring their expertise to the different roles within the IT department, from helpdesk and network manager, to application specialist and IT strategist. Additionally, IT should be reporting to management with KPIs that are suitable for the role and are tied to business needs.
Focus on Business Needs
When your IT situation is reactive (such as IT support focused on fixing things that break), your first business need is to evaluate your current systems and identify weak points, or single points of failure. That’s like getting your bike tuned up before you plan to ride it in a race. It doesn’t matter where the finish line is if the vehicle you need to get you there is breaking down all the time.
When you have IT humming along, you can start to focus on different objectives such as helping people be more productive, giving your customers a better experience, retaining employees, or increasing revenue. The way to prioritize these initiatives is to look to your business plan. That’s where IT strategy comes in.
Once you get a glimpse of how much better IT can function, it’s easy to think of all the ways that you can use technology to improve your business. The reality is that budgets are not infinite, so you have to prioritize which initiatives are the most important. Fortunately, not every improvement is tied to a big investment. Sometimes small changes in internal and external processes can net a big result.
The role of Chief Information Officer (CIO) creates a strategy for IT that is focused on business objectives along with tasks, timelines, and KPIs. As part of the process of creating IT strategy, the CIO communicates with all the other departments to identify patterns and trends so that IT can plan and budget for the future with the big picture in mind.
IT and Business Results
Here are some examples of how IT can contribute to your business results:
Guiding the Conversation
The flavor of your conversation should focus on your business, your challenges, and your goals - and not on the IT company’s cool tech tools and details about how they use their tools.
In fact, a lot of techie jargon is a big red flag.
A great open-ended question that you could ask any company that you speak with is, “Tell me about your process.” Their answer should paint a picture of what it will be like to work with them.
In addition to asking about the company’s process for IT strategy and management, here are a few other questions to help you choose the best IT option for your business:
Do you have technicians in my area?
Do you have experience in my industry?
What devices (workstations, laptops, servers, mobile devices, etc.) do you support?
Do you have experience with our line-of-business software?
What is your response time for support?
How big is your company? Do you have all roles in-house or do you subcontract for some?
Can you scale to meet our needs as we grow?
How do we fit into your ideal customer profile?
Do you have any certifications or industry partnerships?
How is your agreement structured? (The IT company should not make more money if they have more issues to fix.)
Transitioning to a Different IT Support Company
Change is hard for many people, and making the switch to a new IT company can be uncomfortable and even emotional. The key to having a good IT support transition experience is to have a plan in place that details how the changeover will occur and to make sure that the plan is communicated to those involved, according to their role in the company.
Here are some components that should be included in a transition strategy:
- Let employees know what to expect and let them know who to contact if they have problems or issues.
- Connect your new company with your technology vendors such as your line-of-business software vendors, internet provider, etc.
- Facilitate the sharing of knowledge between your internal IT staff or outgoing IT provider and your new company.
Your new company should have a process that includes these components in addition to an onboarding process that minimizes disruption for your staff. The way that your new company steps in should further build your confidence that they will take care of you and that they have your best interests in mind.
Time to Explore Your IT Options
Now that you’ve made it through this guide, you should be able to take the next step in exploring your IT support service options. You have the information you need to ask questions and guide the conversation as you meet with IT companies so that you can determine which one will be able to deliver IT management and strategy that will empower your people and help you reach your goals.