How To

A Simple Guide to IT Service Providers

A great thing about running a small business is you often don’t yet need to concern yourself with IT infrastructure. Everyone takes care of their own equipment, and, assuming they know to not open suspicious email attachments, things are relatively plain sailing. Everyone gets by, unconcerned with the hassle of using their computer any way other than they’re used to and generally, that just works.

But, what do you do when you realise it’s time to grow, and your network requires some management to keep things running smoothly and preserve the status quo?

At this point, it’s a great idea to start looking at IT service providers. Many, if not all, work in a manor that can be quickly scaled up or down, depending on exactly where you are in the evolution of your business.

So, what does working with an IT service provider look like? Where do you start? What are the alternatives? This guide will walk you through the important questions…

Get the balance right

Of course, a managed service provider isn’t a must – you’ve actually got two options. The first is to get yourself an in-house IT team – the second is to use an external managed IT provider. Both come with pros and cons, but for many small organisations, a managed solution stands out as being the natural choice.

Managed service providers often provide a ‘pay as you use’ approach to infrastructure, with a predictable monthly fee for day to day admin. So out goes paying full time staff with all the associated costs – you’ll struggle to find an in-house team that won’t expect a salary – and in comes paying for services as and when you need them. Another benefit of this approach is services that are often scalable, so you’ll be able to stick with the provider you like as you scale up with minimal interruption to everyday business.

On the other hand, an in-house team can be a bit of an unknown quantity – how many people do you need to make sure everything keeps running smoothly? Do you plan for the future with some all-encompassing solution, or do you satisfy your requirements now to keep initial costs low? Do you know the people you’re taking on are the right people for the job if you’re not familiar with the intricacies of IT networks? If the answer to any of these is ‘I don’t know’ then working with an MSP is likely to be the way to go for your business.

Get quicker results

Suggesting you work with an MSP isn’t intended to diminish the skills and abilities of those who you could hire for an in-house team. They’re likely to be highly-skilled professionals who can work magic. That being said – everyone has their limits, and finding them may incur further costs as you find yourself having to bring in contractors to fill the gaps, often at the most inopportune times.

This is where managed IT again steps in – generally speaking, they’re able to get hold of the right person for the job on your behalf – so you really don’t even know if or when you’ve found those limits and hopefully, neither will the company wallet. Your HR department, if you’re at that stage, won’t have to go through the recruitment process; a process that could take weeks or even months may instead only take a few hours, allowing you to be more reactive is a business.

A significant amount of your day-to-day IT requirements can be handled remotely. When this is coupled with the round-the-clock support many managed service providers will provide without even needing physical access to your premises, you’re left with an elite team for very little commitment upfront.

Get your budget correct

As you can appreciate, a managed service provider comes at a cost – but over the course of a year, it will be a fraction of the staffing cost you’d expect from an in-house team, and, as mentioned before, any additional tasks are on a pay-for-what-you-need basis.

In theory, this means no surprise bills – allowing you to budget much more accurately. This might not sound like a big deal, but IT is notorious for gobbling up capital when your business is on the way up, especially when costs might not be known until after the fact. This can seriously hinder a business – and is something you want control of if the option is there.

Working with a managed IT provider usually begins with you both sitting down and pricing up a bespoke package, for day-to-day, month-to-month operations that you’ll agree to in a contract known as an SLA (service level agreement).

Get in front of problems

Going back to the round-the-clock support we just mentioned, and this is where you can really strike it lucky. Managed IT providers will likely automatically monitor your systems performance 24/7 – and can often get ‘hands on’ remotely, especially if you’ve introduced an SD WAN system as part of your IT infrastructure. Out goes panicking to fix a show-stopper of a problem, usually at the worst possible times. In comes a healthy system which literally never sleeps – an inconvenient habit of in-house staff.

It’s hard to over-stress the significance of this. Downtime is the enemy of your ongoing business but one you can actually choose to be in control of. The financial implications of being down for a couple of hours can be far reaching and the long-term costs, both financial and in terms of reputation can be devastating to a smaller organisation.

If mission-critical parts of your systems aren’t working then neither are your staff – and neither is the process you’ve created that generates income. Network monitoring in-house can be a huge drain, both in terms of money and resources and being ahead of issues can really define the future viability of the business you’ve worked so hard to build.

If you’ve questioned whether or not paying for a managed service provider is the right way to allocate your IT funds – you might want to thoroughly map out the alternatives – and ask yourself if you can afford not to…

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