Business, IT, Small business

The Small Business Guide to IT Support

When computers go wrong it's almost guaranteed to be at the most inconvenient time. Since modern businesses rely more than ever on information technology, it is vitally important that as an owner or manager you have someone you can call on to sort out problems fast.

How do you go about choosing someone to provide IT support services? Selecting a support provider is a key decision for any business whether large or small. You need to make sure that your choice is affordable and that the service is available when you need it, as well as ensuring that any work is carried out professionally and according to best practice requirements.

Choosing the right type of service.

The first thing you need to decide is what level of service you need. If you have an in-house IT person, you might simply require some extra support to cover peak periods or holidays. On the other hand, if you are going to be completely reliant on another company for your support, you need to think about a more comprehensive type of cover.

Remote Support.

If there is no one looking after your computers in house then you will need some sort of service desk package that offers a mixture of onsite and remote IT Services. A service desk staffed by a team of qualified experience remote support engineers can resolve a high percentage of problems on the first attempt. Over 85% of IT related issues are now fixed remotely without a need for an onsite IT prescience, which is good from both a costing and a ‘speed of fix' perspective.

Look carefully at the level of support that is being offered and ask the following key questions:

  • Is there a guaranteed response time, or an SLA (Service Level Agreement) that clearly defines the response time(s) by the level of urgency? (Business Critical/same day/project work etc.)
  • What happens if you are not able to fix the problem over the phone, or remotely via the web, and need to escalate things to another level? What is the process?

Onsite Support.

The next level of support is ‘on-site' support. For smaller businesses, it is often not cost effective to have full-time support personnel of their own. A good support company should be able to get around this by having experts available to visit site on an ad-hoc basis as needed.

Once again, if IT is vital to the running of your business, you need to be asking questions about response times and their ability to resolve issues in a single visit.

Remember to get it in writing.

Whatever type of service you finally decide upon, it is important to get a written Service Level Agreement. More importantly, make sure that you read it before agreeing to it!

The Service Level Agreement should set out the basics such as the hours of cover and type of service that you are going to be provided. In addition, it should detail exactly how much downtime is permitted and whether the provider will pay any penalty if this limit is exceeded.

The agreement needs to clearly detail service costs. Check carefully for any additional charges, such travel expenses if someone needs to attend your site, or whether parts costs are included when dealing with hardware problems.

The SLA also needs to address the supplier's responsibilities when dealing with your data. This is especially important if your business handles confidential information belonging to clients. Intellectual property should also be protected, especially if you are creating designs or artwork for third parties.

We all hope to avoid a worse case scenario, but it is vital that the SLA sets out levels of compensation as well as what type of redress you have should things go badly wrong.

Wikipedia is a great resource to learn more about various contract elements-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contracts

Outsourcing Services.

outsourceLarge organisations often choose to outsource their IT infrastructure by moving their servers and data storage to the cloud, so that it is completely managed by the supplier. This can work for smaller businesses too, especially if you require reliable 24-hour operation. For example, if you are an ecommerce business then you need to ensure that your website has a high level of uptime; otherwise, your customers will quickly look elsewhere.

Many businesses are increasingly dependent on IT for all sorts of tasks and moving your vital services off site can ensure that they are properly maintained at all times.

The cloud can also enhance business continuity. By moving your operations to a cloud network, you also pass responsibility for security and backups to the supplier. Once again, it is important to have both your requirements and the responsibilities of the support company clearly set out in the SLA.

It is becoming increasingly common to use cloud services to store and backup data, or even to provide software as a service. This has advantages in that it simplifies the equipment that you need on site. However, there are some key factors to consider and discuss with your supplier.

  • You will need a reliable Internet connection; otherwise, you will not be able to access your data.
  • Security is very important, you need to know that your data will be safe in transmission and properly protected on the supplier's storage.
  • If you are switching to a new system or moving to cloud-based software then you may need your supplier to provide training for your staff.

There is a fantastic guide to outsourcing on about.com.

Choosing an IT Support Company.

We have looked at the service and business considerations, but when it comes down to choosing a supplier to look after your business IT there are factors beyond the details of the day-to-day operation that you need to bear in mind.

Is the supplier experienced in the type of systems you are using?

server-roomWhilst most companies will be okay supporting standard office and accounting systems, if you run specialist software or hardware that is unique to your business sector, you need to be sure that the support company will be able to deal with it.

Location.

Another important issue is location. Many companies will try to fix problems remotely either over the phone or by connecting to your systems via the web. This isn't always practical as not everything can be fixed remotely. If you need a technician to attend your office then a local company will provide a faster service as well as saving you money on travel time and call out charges (which in my opinion should be included in the contract anyway)

Identifying a local IT Support company on the website has never been easier. Googles search results are Geo influenced anyway, but web designers are making a conscious effort to make it easier for people to identify a companies location through the template. Our IT Department is a great example of an IT Support Company that has used graphical elements to clarify its geographical location; with a nice use of landmarks in the strapline and in the presentation video. Also, he company address is always visible on every page.

Due diligence.

You should always check on the reputation of the business. Find out how long they have been trading and ask to speak to other customers as a reference to make sure that they are satisfied with the service.

Dealing with a relatively new company should not necessarily put you off - IT is a dynamic sector - but take the time to find out about the background and experience of their staff. Look for qualifications such as Microsoft Certification, enterprise partnerships with various IT companies and ISO 9000 quality accreditation.

Supported hours.

Find out what happens if your system fails out of hours. Are technicians available for 24-hours or will problems outside office hours simply be logged and dealt with the morning after? In the latter case, you need to understand what procedures are in place for escalating urgent problems.

There is a big choice of IT support providers so it pays to choose carefully. Draw up a list of your requirements and interview several companies to find one that can offer the services you need at the right price. Doing your homework when choosing and then establishing a good working relationship with a support company can ensure you receive the service you need with minimal disruption to your business.

An article published on behalf of Mr. David. He is currently writing a series of technical articles for various Small Business owners throughout London. David LOVES to write product reviews, especially for new computer hardware products.

A post by Kidal D. (3388 Posts)

Kidal D. is author at LeraBlog. The author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views and opinions of LeraBlog staff.
Chief editor and author at LERAblog, writing useful articles and HOW TOs on various topics. Particularly interested in topics such as Internet, advertising, SEO, web development, and business.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks very much for sharing. There are a couple of things on this article that I hadn’t thought of before, such as the location for example. Remote support is fine but if something goes wrong with the hardware then we do need someone local available at short notice, especially if it is server related.Helpful stuff.

  2. Agreed. The only thing this article does not discuss is cost. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, in a competitive market like IT Support there is always room for a bit of discount!

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