So, you’re frustrated with your (IT) Information Technology Services? What steps do you take to start with replacing them? Certainly, IT is not your primary business but it is critical to your business success.

How do you start? How do you overcome your fear of, “I have no idea what these techies are really saying, heck they don’t even speak the same language as me!”

Because of these questions I’m writing this article in hopes you can see it as a practical guide to help the selection process. It’s a primer to not make this process so intimidating or overbearing. It can be useful if you have IT in-house or if you’re using a body-shop/hourly IT Service provider that isn’t doing good enough for your business needs.

Let’s start with some of the terms, the acronyms, and the jargon used by these IT Geeks….

There’s nothing mysterious about how they talk. They like to use acronyms to simplify their communication with one another. They say things like VPN, and Network Topology, Antivirus, IP Address, Servers, Switches, HUBS, VoIP, Cloud Services and other terms to explain the infrastructure. They use terms like Application, and TCP Stack, Domain Access or Domain Controller. Don’t be intimidated by these terms and acronyms. There’s nothing special or unique about them. For the most part they’re either hardware or software components that are used to build and define a computer environment your business needs, not unlike the concrete, wood, nails, wires and sheet rock used to build your home. These computer building blocks are nothing more than materials that can be configured in such a way to accomplish something for your business.

Let’s continue with some basic terms commonly used to describe the IT Outsourcing Company also called an MSP.

Have you ever heard the term Managed Service Provider (MSP)?

If you decide to use an MSP, it’s important the company actually is an MSP. That means they provide Managed IT Services.

What Are Managed IT Services?

Managed IT Services allow you to offload all of your IT services and solutions to a service provider (an MSP). Your MSP assumes all the responsibility for 24-hour monitoring and maintenance of your IT computer system which is also called “IT Infrastructure”.

You Are Correct in Asking “Why Is Using an MSP So Important?”

Using Managed IT Services is critical to the success of small to mid-sized businesses today. Most don’t have the resources to hire a team of technical experts and keep them on-call 24x7x365 days a year.

This is where your MSP (if you’ve found a great company) will act as your outsourced IT department. If the contract and services are structured properly, (utilizing Service Level Agreements) it’s a much more affordable way to access the comprehensive IT systems that the large Fortune 500 companies enjoy today at affordable pricing. To be very clear, body-shop service providers that provide you a block of hours are not MSP’s. They may claim to be, but they do NOT provide the comprehensive services that you will need if you are trying to grow and build your business. They will nickel & dime you to death with every out-of-scope IT issue that you have so in the end they cost you more in dollars and quite frankly, quality of service.

An MSP will provide IT Best-Practices that ensures that your technology and data will always be accessible, reliable, and secure. This is particularly important when it comes to cybersecurity risks that every business face in today’s global economic world.

Therefore, with the services your MSP provides, your company will be set up to better compete against other businesses like yours.

Does this sound too good to be true?

It’s not if you find the right IT MSP company for your organization.

Which brings me back to the main topic…

How to Select a Reliable MSP Provider or What Should You Look for in A Managed IT Service Provider?

As you know, not all IT companies are the same.

Here’s my list of 10 things to look for in a Managed Service Provider as you begin your search. Oh, and don’t be shy about asking these questions to their face because none of it is techie language.

  1. How Do They Talk to You?

The first order of business is to find an IT Company that talks in a language that you can understand. Yes, you can look at references and google reviews but that’s should not be all. Yes, you should review their website to see if they have the services you need, but look to see if they speak in business terms or in technology only lingo. If they are throwing around these technology terms and acronyms, then you can bet upon hiring them, they would continue to do the same. If they’re putting them into the context of your business, your industry, your customer or clients then they’re better than most. This generally means they have an understanding of how business works as well as technology. If they’re looking at things from your business perspective, then that’s always a good starting point. Do they look at their services as complementing your revenue goals? By adding their services, do they become a revenue center or a cost center to your business? More on that thinking in a minute.

  1. Make Sure That Your IT Service Provider Responds Quickly to Your Calls. 
    Every company has different processes, and response times vary. Ask for their guaranteed response times:
    • How long does it take for them to respond?
    • How fast are issues typically resolved?
    • How long will it take if you require onsite support?

Make sure they back up their answers with facts and metrics. References are a great way to validate their answers. Most MSP’s should also have reports from past clients showing they are meeting these standards.

  1. Make Sure They Are a Trusted Advisor and Not Just a Break/Fix (a.k.a. IT Body-Shop)
    Look to see if they are subject matter experts in the industry you serve. If you run a healthcare practice, make sure they are versed in EHRs, EMRs, HIPAA, and practice management software.

Look for an MSP who can act as a consultant and craft customized solution as well as integration between your critical applications that meet your unique requirements. They should be able to explain everything they do in plain language that you and your employees can understand. And they need to be able to explain how it will impact your business operations.

  1. Make Sure They Provide Access to a Team of Highly Trained and Experienced Technicians who provide on-call service 24x7x365. 
    They should ensure that your IT infrastructure is available when and where you need it. And that you have access to specialists who can ensure you are following IT best practices. They need to demonstrate a commitment to your business such that they can and will speak frankly about your business as a contributing member that cares enough about your business that they will tell you what you need to know and not just what you want to hear respectfully!
  1. Make Sure They Provide a Guaranteed Service Level Agreement. 
    They should monitor your network 24 hours a day to act on any issues before they cause IT interruptions or downtime. This can help prevent disruptions with your staff’s productivity.
  1. Make Sure They Help you Budget for the IT Services You Require Both Now and 3-5 Years from Now. 
    A solid IT service provider will offer services that you can predictably budget for, and solutions that you can write off as operating expenses rather than capital ones. Your MSP should offer customized packages of services for a fixed monthly fee that you can count on.
  1. This is a Critical Item: Ensures that you’ll have a Highly Secure IT Environment. 
    This means that you won’t have to worry about viruses, malware, and hackers stealing your confidential data. They should use best-of-breed technologies that block data intrusions and eliminate them before they enter your network. They should also help you maintain IT security compliance for industry and government regulations. If you want to or need to allow for “BYOD” Bring Your Own Device inside your IT infrastructure they should be actively involved with writing the policy with you and ensuring its compliance. This includes training your staff on a regular basis.
  1. Make Sure They Have Set up Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Solutions 
    It is important that your MSP has set up both onsite and offsite cloud backups to ensure you can always access your IT even if your office is closed due to a storm or other disaster. Plus, they should provide continuous backups and testing to ensure your data is easily recoverable. They should be the type of people that operate with a “Trust but Verify” mentality. This thought process will protect your business more than you can imagine.
  1. Verify/Ensures that proactive support is ongoing 
    You need to have the peace of mind that your IT infrastructure will run as it should. This way you can focus on your core competencies rather than worry about technology issues.
  1. Make Sure They Offer Many Different Services and Solutions You Can Choose From
    This includes things like hosted cloud services, VoIP business phones, mobile device management, wireless services, virtual CIO services, and more. Only with a variety of services can they provide the customized information technology solutions that best fit your needs.

As your review these items, this primer helps you determine if they will make your success their priority. They must get to know your business and your goals. If they’re not asking what those are, then they’re not the right fit. How can you tell if they’ll do this? Ask them about their clients and the success rate they experienced by using the services they provide. Any company that’s provided success for their customers will gladly be willing to share their stories and references.

I mentioned previously that a great IT Service provider will view themselves as a profit center and not a cost center to your business. Think about this, most companies see their IT as “I need it but don’t really understand it”. If you have a great IT Service provider who is proactively working with you and exploring ways to leverage and advance your business with your technology, then you have something special. When you look at your internal IT department or your body-shop IT provider, I’d bet they don’t do that for your business.

Yes, finding the right IT Service Provider can be a challenging task. But armed with this information you should be able to find the right fit for your business.

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