The process of selecting an IT provider can be daunting. If you have gone through this process and gotten burned in the past it can also be traumatizing! The technical jargon is usually mind-numbing and when you start comparing companies apples to apples you find yourself holding a banana, some oranges, and a handful of grapes.

We are going to share some helpful tips and questions that will snuff out any industry secrets an IT provider might be trying to hide.

Handful of fruit

What Do You Actually Need?

Before you call the first three IT providers on Google or ask for recommendations from your network and peer group, ask yourself – what do we actually need? What are the problems we’re trying to solve? And are the problems causing enough pain to make a change?

It might seem as simple as needing to replace the IT provider you currently have, but what specifically does this new IT partner need to do, to be the right fit for your company. Do you need high-level consulting? Is security a major concern? Are issues not being resolved promptly?

You could also be unsure of what you exactly need – and that is okay. Jot down all the possible things that would make your company run smoother and/or curb the concerns you have about IT. It’s like the popular business adage about buying solutions instead of the tools that create the solutions.

Drill Hole

People don’t want quarter-inch drill bits. They want quarter-inch holes.

Setting Proper Expectations

This certainly goes both ways in any working relationship, but it’s important to lay everything out on the table of what your company is going to expect out of the IT provider you choose. This not only lets you vet out if the IT company is going to be a good fit for you, but it also allows the IT provider to see if your company will be a good fit for them. They have a lot more experience working with companies in this exact type of relationship so using that experience to see if there is a fit is a great tool to tap into. This also allows you to give them the “Yes, Man” test. If you find when talking to any provider that everything is a yes, alarms should start to go off. If they are willing to break their processes for you it means one of two things. Either the sales guys is really needing to put food on the table or they don’t have any processes. If you work with a company that doesn’t have processes built out already that means you are the guinea pig! Have a little push back is a good thing. It means they are a mature business and know what their strengths and weakness are.

Guinea pig

Guinea Pig Halloween Costume Credit: Courtesy PetSmart

You also should be specific with your expectations. Let’s say one of the problems you are trying to solve is responsiveness. Great, but what does responsiveness mean to you? An issue being worked on within 4 hours? 1 hour? 10 minutes? Being more precise with your expectations will allow you to discover what it will look like before you start your relationship with an IT partner. It is better to know before than 3 months into your multi-year contract.

Know What The Market Has To Offer

In most metros, you are going to find that the outsourced IT landscape is quite competitive and really robust. You have everything from one-man shows that work out of his spare bedroom to companies that have Google-like campuses, and everything in between.

Different providers also offer a slew of different services. IT infrastructure, website design, print services, app development, and cybersecurity are all options. Some providers will offer all while others specialize in one or two.

The three general models that you will find in the market are as follows:

Three Doors

Credit: Choice Concept

Hourly (Break-fix) – In the industry, we call this the Break-fix model which you will find less and less of out there. These companies come out as you need them and you pay by the hour. This is a little bit like writing a blank check to someone for every hour they work. You generally don’t know what is wrong or how long it should take to fix. This model will give nightmares to your accounting department. The real issue with this model is its incentive. For a company that charges everything by the hour, the incentive is for them to work more hours. They want your network to not run up to par because then they have to come out and fix it. You’re saying, “I’ll pay you more if you work more” which does not align with your company’s goals.

Managed IT – This is what you will find the most of in the market. You pay a monthly fee and then they are your go-to IT company. General helpdesk issues and some proactive monitoring are included. Where things go a little off the rails with surprise costs is with out-of-scope work. Each company has its own set of things which they deem as out-of-scope, but generally, you have projects, on sites, and after-hours work. Some have multiple price levels of out-of-scope work while others have just 1 rate. The bottom line is they come in at what appears to be a bargain on the front side and then can be massively expensive on the backend.

All-Inclusive – The ever allusive all-in IT support model. This concept, while simple, is hard to swallow for people. That is probably because it seems every company says they are all-inclusive or at the very least have an all-inclusive option. What that usually means is they will handle more of the out-of-scope work than the Managed IT model, but there are still some things that are not included. Project work is almost always one of these things. Which by the way is the most expensive cost to you.

A real all-inclusive model should work exactly as it sounds. Everything that has to do with your IT infrastructure including projects and on sites is included. They give you an unlimited amount of time for a static amount of money. There is never a second of labor billed to you outside of your monthly management costs. Finding a company like this can be difficult since there aren’t many that are currently able to offer this type of service. It takes a lot of vetted process and automation which many IT companies don’t spend a whole lot of time building. It is just human nature when you think of their incentive. Why build automation for a project I could bill 40 additional hours for. Below are the questions to spot a Real McCoy:

  1. Do you charge for labor? Including but not limited to:
    • Post-project support
    • System upgrades
    • Office moves
    • Installing equipment
    • Consulting
    • Time for you to put together a proposal/quote
  2. Are there project fees?
  3. Is there anything that you charge for that’s extra on top of the flat-rate?

Homer Detective

Final Thoughts

IT service providers come in many shapes and sizes, but if you prepare yourself with the list of problems you are trying to solve, set the proper expectations, and understand the base models you can find, you will be in a much better place. It’s not every day that you look for an IT partner so make sure you ask as many questions as possible and do your homework! For an additional resource check out The Business Owners Guide to IT Support & Fees.

The Industry Secrets You Can Expose

Check out our  IT Services Provider Comparison Chart. It is a complete checklist with 20 questions you MUST ask before hiring anyone to support your systems.