IT is an integral part of a majority of businesses now. However, many organizations do not find it feasible to have an in-house IT team. For the ones that do, many may not be able to cater to all the aspects of IT by themselves. In such a scenario, IT outsourcing provides a cost-effective solution to meet all your IT needs. But how do you select the right managed services partner for you? We spoke to experts, both who provide the services and who receive the services, about the right questions to ask potential managed services providers. Based on the responses, here are the most important questions to ask IT services providers.
1. Can you provide some references that work in the same industry as us?
Service providers that have worked with companies similar to yours are better equipped to align their services with your business goals. Moreover, with prior experience, you can expect them to have a proactive approach towards maximizing the benefits you get out of their IT services.
Jan Kaminski, Co-founder at Applover, believes, “In my opinion, when you are briefing an IT provider you should ask them about their experience in a similar project, industry, etc. Look into their portfolio and assess if their experience convinced you. I think it is also important to see whether the company has built partnerships with previous clients. Check if they are recommending the company on Clutch and what they are saying.”
2. How qualified is the team that we will be working with?
The core competencies of an organization are shaped by the expertise of its teams. Before selecting an IT services provider, it is important to know who exactly you will be working with. You need team members who understand the goals of your organization, both short term, and long term. A team that is familiar with the industry-specific challenges that your organization may face will be in a better position to help you face those challenges.
“Find out the technical competency by asking the level of expertise of the project team that can be attested by a business portfolio reflecting their accomplishments. This is also where the client can look deeper into the expertise gap to be filled in by an IT service provider” explains Josh Adler, Founder, Convrtx.
Considering how customization is the need of the hour, Josh further adds, “Customizable solutions should be equally given attention by asking about the ability of the IT service provider to meet certain requirements accustomed to the business cycle.”
3. Are your services scalable?
The IT industry is known for its fast-paced evolution. It’s quite common for businesses to scale up rapidly in response to growing demand or changing trends. In many scenarios, you may need to speed up the development process or scale your team. One of the most important questions to ask potential managed IT services providers is how they will meet the scaling requirements.
Joseph Black, Support Services Manager at Firestickhacks, says, “Hopefully, your business is growing. IT services should grow as your company grows. Even if you don’t get into the intricacies of cost optimization and scalability, there should be an estimate of how much extra cost and time it will take when your company begins to grow. Ask intelligent questions about colocation and virtual infrastructures.”
4. How do you resolve issues? What are the help desk hours?
Your managed services providers will be monitoring your software and applications all the time or will they? Downtime can cost your organization a lot so ensure your IT managed services providers are top-notch when it comes to resolving issues.
Brad Kingsley, Business Value Growth Advisor at Maximise Your Money, elaborates, “Since issues will happen when dealing with technology, make sure you understand how support will be handled when a situation arises. Is the support team available by phone? Or are you limited to email or online chat? What is the average wait time for each of the channels used to engage with the support team? Will help requests be handled, including escalation if needed, within a single support request, or should users expect call-backs? If there will be call-backs, what are the average wait times for those?”
Brad emphasizes the importance of metrics when it comes to resolving issues,”Additionally, check with them about their uptime record. As noted above, this can be a little misleading. Don’t just accept a percentage, but ask what timeframe that is measured over. Also, inquire if they would share the number of issues per month and the average time to resolve any issues
Beyond making sure the service satisfies your business needs - understanding metrics around issue occurrence, and resolution options when issues do happen, are key to selecting a solid service provider.”
5. How do you implement a data back-up and recovery plan?
Cybersecurity is an ongoing threat for every organization, particularly more for IT companies. Keeping the worst-case scenario in mind, hire a managed services provider that has an effective disaster management plan.
Citing disaster management plan as one of the vital questions to ask potential managed services providers, Ryan Klund, Business Development Manager at Swick Tech, shares, “There are many reasons a backup solution for data is paramount for an organization. Crypto and ransomware attacks are on the rise, employees can make mistakes or worse, disgruntled employees can cause immeasurable damage to your company if data is destroyed. Now, more than ever, the ability to access company data from anywhere at any time is important for your employees and a thorough backup option can keep business going in the event of a disaster.
When diving into backup solutions in a conversation with a potential IT service provider, Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO) are important things to know about their backup solutions.”
6. How often do you perform maintenance for your infrastructure?
To explain why asking this question is so important, Tapan Patel, Co-founder at Third Rock Techkno, elaborates, “This question will serve two purposes for you. You will know whether their own infrastructure maintenance is a priority for them and how regular their maintenance schedule is. That will tell you how much they will care about the infrastructure maintenance for the services they provide to you.
Secondly, infrastructure maintenance at the service provider’s end could mean there would be downtime for their operations. To ensure that your productivity isn’t affected by this, confirm with your service provider that you will be able to contact them even during their infrastructure maintenance.”
Additional Questions To Ask Potential Managed IT Services Provider
Apart from the strategic questions mentioned above, there are many common technical questions to ask potential managed services providers. These questions will help you identify whether your potential services provider will meet the IT requirements of your organization.
- How do you document your service-level agreement?
- What are your data ownership terms and conditions?
- Will I get a dedicated account manager?
- Do you provide 24x7 automated monitoring?
- Which compliance frameworks do you follow?
- Which services do/will you outsource?
How to choose the right managed IT services provider: Tips from experts
The hunt for the right IT services provider doesn’t end at asking the right questions. Here are some tips from experts to help you choose the right IT services provider for your business.
1. Look for alignment of business goals
The first thing to look for is alignment of goals and perspectives. All IT support providers have an agenda and their agenda is to either lower operational costs or to raise revenue. The best way to identify this is through their pricing models. Flat rate, fixed contract models imply companies are looking at lower operational costs. On the other hand, a usage-based pricing model usually indicates more effort to raise revenue.
Remember that if the IT provider is looking to lower costs, you need to be sure they are not under-reporting issues and they have the acceptable risk tolerance for your operational business. Conversely, if pricing is geared more toward usage-based, you need to watch for over-reporting of issues. Generally, providers have a mix of services so the customer needs to understand what the company's goals are and what it expects from the provider. If IT uptime is business-critical, perhaps the usage-based pricing is better, if not, then perhaps a fixed rate. So look at the goals of the IT provider and ensure they are looking at IT in the same way you are.
- David Johnson, Chief Technology Officer, Mulytic Labs
2. Accumulate a single source of truth
Before engaging IT technology providers, software companies should first catalog all 3rd party dependencies in one knowledgebase so they have a "single source of truth" for the relationships and risks to manage.
With this knowledge base in place, software companies need to make sure 3rd parties are upfront about their support window for each version so they can plan their own product roadmaps accordingly. Furthermore, software firms need to track the known exploits for their 3rd party packages and continually engage their partners on mitigations or patches for those exploits.
- Travis James, Product Manager, Hypori
3. Look for receptiveness
Ultimately, when picking one out, you need to think about your needs. What would this company be doing? What services are you expecting from them? When you contact them and discuss the proposal, do they seem receptive and knowledgeable? What can they offer you, compared to other companies? You can never make 100% sure you won’t get burned, but generally, the bad seeds don’t make it long in this industry, so if you’re careful, you should be able to choose a good partner.
- Sean Nguyen, Director, Internet Advisor
The Bottom Line
In essence, it’s important to keep your business goals at the forefront while choosing an IT services provider. Keep in mind all the right questions to ask potential managed services providers. While asking these questions, notice whether the services provider is being straight forward in their answers. Any vagueness in their terms or conditions can lead to costly misunderstandings in the future. The more clarity you see in the answers, the more credible the potential IT services provider is.