Choosing a Managed IT Services Provider

10 Questions to Ask When You Are Evaluating an IT Managed Service Company

Whether you are choosing a managed IT services provider for the first time, or you are evaluating companies because you need to change, finding the provider that will be the best option for you will be easier if you know the right questions to ask. The goal of this article is to help you to think beyond the obvious questions and uncover the information that will help you to decide which provider will be the best fit for your company.

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1. What is their definition of "Managed IT Services?"

While the term "Managed IT Services" is becoming more familiar to business executives, not all managed IT services are created equal. The concept behind how a managed IT services provider operates is that services are proactive, and not reactive, in nature. While there are managed IT providers who patch, monitor, support, and provide consulting all for a fixed monthly price, this falls short of the expectations that you would have for a full IT department. Just as you wouldn't buy a car that is missing the steering wheel or the engine, you shouldn't expect anything less from fully managed services than the delivery of an entire IT department that helps your business meet objectives and scales with growth.

2. How much of their business is in fully managed IT services?

When evaluating providers, you should look for the one that focuses its entire business on providing fully managed IT services. In the situation where the managed services offered by a large company make up less than half their total business, decisions that affect service delivery will be made based on their predominant business model which may not necessarily be in your best interests. On the other hand, a small provider (less than 15 employees) may focus solely on managed services, but they are too small to fully execute all the processes required to deliver fully managed IT services. In either case your business will not receive the complete value you could receive from the relationship.

Managed IT Services Provider

3. What is their approach to providing managed services?

Ask to see their plan. The plan is not the same as the document that outlines the monthly deliverables. While you should not neglect to review and understand that document, the best managed services providers will be able to communicate to you their proven process that helps meet each client's unique business goals and requirements. You can get a good idea of whether or not the company you are evaluating has a process by the kinds of things that they talk about with you.

If they have a weak process or none at all, the discussion might flow around the tools they will use. A company with a strong process will talk to you about your objectives and the ROI that can come from your IT investment. The conversation will be more about you, and what you want to achieve, not on them and what their tools can do.

4. Will they regularly visit your location?

If so, what does their agenda look like? If they only address installations and repairs, they probably won't be doing all of the activities that need to be done to optimize your network and prevent problems from happening in the first place. Onsite visits should routinely include things that positively impact your business, not just fix things that are broken.

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5. Are their services validated by a 3rd party?

verification-blue.pngBefore you engage in a business relationship with a new company you want to have confidence in their abilities. While testimonials and case studies are a great way to learn about how a managed IT services provider has helped other businesses, they don't say anything about their processes and business operations. When a service provider has gone through the process of 3rd party verification, it signals their commitment to industry best practices, sound business procedures and a high standard of service delivery. If you don't see any mention of 3rd party validation, ask if the company can provide verification that what they will be providing meets industry standards.

6. Is there a guarantee?

Engaging with a fully managed IT services provider should result in less downtime, improved performance, better security and increased ROI. What if this doesn't happen? The kind of guarantee that you should look for indicates that you are in control of the continuation of the business relationship. Beware of contracts that lock you in for a set amount of time and gives the provider the control. You can and should maintain control of how you might exit the agreement if the relationship is not working out.

7. Does the IT Managed Services Provider offer its employees a great place to work?

Studies have proven that people who are engaged at work want to be where they are, and are going to better serve their clients. Engaged employees are empowered to take care of customer needs, and take ownership of the results of their work, for clients and for their employer. Employee retention is a great indication of satisfaction so ask about the average length of employment, and how many employees have voluntarily left the company in the past year. What you don't want to find is a revolving door where people come and go quickly.

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8. Does the provider have experience with businesses like yours?

While it might not be necessary for the provider to specialize in your industry, you want to know if they have experience with the kinds of applications, regulations and processes that you utilize to meet your customer needs. Ask about the size of businesses that they work with, too. Use that answer to determine if you are going to be their largest or smallest fully managed customer, or if you fit in their sweet spot. Follow up by askig if the same-size companies supplement your services with internal IT staff. This will help you to ascertain whether or not you will quickly outgrow them or if they can truly operate as a complete outsourced IT department.

9. How will they ensure that your IT costs are predictable above and beyond the fixed monthly fee?

Be sure that you receive the information you need to understand what is and is not included in the fixed monthly fee. For example, does unlimited support include both remote and onsite work? While improvements to your hardware and software are not addressed within the scope of monthly services, planning and budgeting around those items should also take place. The information that builds the budget should come from both the status of your Information and Technology environment and your business objectives. This implies that the managed IT services provider should be involved in planning sessions with you and possibly even your management team. A follow-up question would be how often will you revisit the budget and the plan to see if modifications or tweaks are needed? Rarely will a one a year meeting adequately keep a budget on track.

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10. Will collaboration with the IT provider move your business forward?

The most important question to ask in evaluating managed IT service providers is one that you ask yourself -- which one is going to best help our company achieve our objectives? Rank the managed service providers you are considering in order top to bottom, top being the most likely to have a positive impact, and bottom being least likely to have a positive impact on your business. You should have moved closer to the answer to this question if you have answered the preceding nine.

Partnering with a Managed IT Service Provider is a Big Decision

Choosing the right one will have a positive impact on how your move your business forward. Thriveon provides outsourced IT department service with business level IT guidance all for a fixed monthly fee. Our proprietary approach offers companies a proven path to business success with technology. Contact us to explore how what we do can provide you with better IT results, and help you get from where you are today, to where you want to go in the future.

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