2 Types of IT support
Regardless of your industry classification, or which IT provider/person you engage to maintain your network systems and devices, all IT support falls into one of two categories:
- Break and fix (ad hoc fee-for-service) – you only pay for a service you request; or
- Managed services – you pay a set, up-front monthly fee for managing your IT systems.
How do you choose the type of support that works best for you? Each one offers different pros and cons, but an important consideration beyond fees often gets overlooked by businesses. That is, your choices place the responsibility for outcomes and costs (=risk) on different parties – you, or your provider.
Break and fix
- All risk (fiscal and responsibility) is borne by you, the end user, not your Provider.
From a consumer’s perspective, unless something goes wrong you don’t need to pay for support! If your prime aim is to minimise expenses and keep a tight rein on your budget, this may seem the best way to achieve that. However, this singular focus excludes taking into consideration other risks.
For example, your on-call Provider won’t be suggesting how you can proactively minimise security risks or intermittent problems because, unless you call and ask for their support, they don’t make money. It’s up to you or someone on your team to be proactive and prevent issues from becoming problems.
The risk becomes particularly onerous when something unforeseen occurs, such as getting hacked. This leads to the biggest risk of break and fix support…
- Bill shock! You pay by the hour. If you only need a simple matter addressed, such as creating a new user login, the bill will be minimal. No problems! However issues of significance, such as critical device failure (eg mail server) or being hacked, can quickly escalate into tens of hours in support fees, at which point you are paying somewhere between $120-$200 per hour, depending on your provider, excluding parts or software.
- No incentive to fix an underlying problem. Do you realise the lack of incentive is two-way with break and fix? Low incentive for you, low incentive for your on-call Provider. And it’s the convergence of the two different priorities that leave small issues unaddressed or ignored until they become major, expensive problems.
A business will usually choose break and fix as their preferred support option because it’s cheap. And this influences decisions on IT spend because “keeping costs low” is the main incentive. For example, instead of replacing an old device or printer causing compatibility issues across your network, you choose to keep it another year – or three. Or you decide to keep using your devices with Windows 7, rather than update to Windows 10, and ignore the security risk that comes with using unsupported software.
The thing is, the real winner in these scenarios is your on-call Provider! They will make more money off you from ongoing problems or restoring crashed or hacked systems than if you bought a new device or software from them upfront. They have no incentive to fix your underlying problems.
Managed Service Provider (MSP)
- Depending on your Support Plan, risk (responsibility and fiscal) is shared or borne by your Managed Service Provider.
Unless something goes wrong, the monthly fee you pay for your defined support services provides a profit to your Provider.
However, your Provider will be proactively looking to minimise risk or problems because they lose money, not to mention your trust, anytime a preventable issue arises. In fact, an unresolved or underlying problem can quickly destroy any profit to your Provider and become a cost to them. Which is why a good MSP remains focused on preventing issues from becoming problems – that’s their responsibility and risk, not yours!
- Reduced or no bill shock! Instead of paying for problems to be fixed on an hourly rate, a Managed Service or Support Plan costs you a set monthly fee for managing a defined range of services, devices and infrastructure.
With a good MSP, not only is your monthly fee inclusive of as many new user logins as you want, issues of significance, such as critical device failure (eg mail server) or being hacked are minimised or eliminated through a close, proactive working partnership between business and provider.
(Caution: with some providers, the ‘devil’ really is in the detail. If you are being asked to sign a lock-in support contract, make sure you cover off the basics and not just ‘big ticket’ items. For example, make sure you have a clearly worded, easily understood definition of ‘support’ from your Provider – what ‘support’ includes, and what is not included. Also check what cost, if any, will be attached should you require changes to be made to your contract. Defined legal fees dictated within a contract can end up costing a business more money to change than their support fees, especially when every request made within the term of a contract excites a fee. So be careful!)
- High incentive on your Provider to fix underlying problems. Leaving small issues unaddressed or ignored, until they become major, expensive problems is a death-knell for an MSP. At best, they forfeit profits. At worst, they lose you as a client and their reputation.
Network and device security are a key focus of managed service plans. Ensuring ‘gateways’ into your systems or devices are secured and regularly updated is the smartest way for an MSP to retain profitable relationships.
3 ways an MSP trumps ad hoc support
- Risk (fiscal and responsibility) lies primarily with your provider, not you.
- Elimination of underlying or ongoing problems.
- Proactive, daily management of your systems, devices and IT security.
Benefits you should get from Managed IT Support
- Knowing exactly how much you pay, per month, for a set range of services and support.
- Shared or transferred risk (responsibility and fiscal) from you to your Provider.
- Continuously monitored and updated security measures (refer Australian Government’s Cyber Security Centre’s Essential Eight Strategies).
- Efficient systems with no compatibility issues affecting team or network performance.
- A team of engineers, covering a wide range of skills, on call but not your books for whenever you need them.
- Peace of mind.
Can a Managed Service Provider hinder your business goals?
Consider how reliant are you on IT infrastructure, systems, data and apps to connect your teams, markets and stakeholders. Any failure of systems, prolonged downtime or a breach in security can quickly lead to disastrous results in unforeseen costs and lost reputation.
Aside from cyber risk, two factors introduced by a provider can work against your business goals.
- Costs; and
Costs (unclarified, hidden)
Did you notice the caveat in my previous heading, ‘Benefits you should get from Managed IT Support’? Achieving each benefit depends on the relationship you have with your provider, and their ability to deliver on what they’ve promised.
#1. Knowing exactly how much you pay per month
Every support plan covers a defined range of services and support, which means they have limits on which services are, or are not, covered by a monthly fee.
I’ve already mentioned it’s important you clearly understand what IS, and what is NOT covered by your agreement or contract. Also, be careful to review promised SLAs (Service Level Agreements). A documented SLA is designed to give you clarity and security around the level of service you can expect for specific requests or issues, however it can be used to lowball your expectations. For instance, a guaranteed SLA of 6-days to create a new user login – which takes approximately 15minutes to create – is poor service.
Think about what aspects of IT are crucial to your day-to-day operations, what services or apps enable your team to connect with each other or the marketplace and establish what you cannot operate without to ensure they are covered or negotiated into your agreement or contract.
#2-5. Shared or transferred risk, appropriate security measures, efficient systems, team of engineers.
Peace of mind only comes from a combination of services and resources. It requires a clearly defined managed service agreement to be backed up with the right resources from your provider: tools – such as automated reporting and monitoring of systems – and a team of engineers with the skills and experience to protect your infrastructure, data and cyber security
Questions you can use to ascertain the capability of an IT Provider.
- What qualifications do your IT staff have?
- What industries do you service?
- Do you have other clients like us? Can we speak to them for a reference?
- What size businesses do you look after (how many users, how many locations?)
- Have you implemented the solution you are recommending before? Or is my business your guinea-pig?
- Do you support both Cloud technologies and on-premise? What experience do you have in both fields? Do you already support multi-platform sites for clients?
- Are you familiar with the special line-of-business applications we use? What version do you have experience with?
- Can you explain to me ASCS’s Essential Eight strategies, what degree I already have some of these strategies in place, and what would it take to implement all eight?
- Can you look after all our IT needs and/or are you willing to work with other providers?
Culture plays a big part in whether an outsourced partnership is successful or not. When I talk about culture, I mean the system of behaviours, beliefs, attitude and values that define how a provider engages with their clients. A good match between cultures promotes healthy working relationships between your team and your outsourced provider.
Why would you partner with a Managed Service Provider if you can build your own team?
Having identified several risks to partnering with an MSP, is building your own internal IT team your better option?
Well, that depends.
It’s generally an easy process to employ someone with enough skills to manage basic, day-to-day IT needs within a small business. However, trying to build a team that has the necessary skills and depth of experience to manage all aspects of IT and cyber security is difficult, and undeniably costly! One of the biggest IT challenges that faces a successful, expanding business is discerning if, when and how to transition to your own fully-independent internal IT team.
Partnering with an MSP gives you time to ascertain what range of skills and tools you need for your growing business. It also gives you the perfect option to discover what level of engineers you would need to care for your IT, whilst mitigating wage and training expenses.
The best Managed Service Provider fits your needs, culture and team
Hopefully, this article has given you some ideas on how to take your current IT support to the next level of security and efficiency, and tips on how to assess the different offerings of MSPs.
When it comes to depth of skills, resources and tools, I can highly recommend the team I work with at itro, and MSP located in Cremorne, Melbourne. itro’s team will ensure your devices and systems always remain updated for maximum protection of your data, cyber security and operational efficiency.
Ninety-five percent of our new clients come to us via word of mouth. We’re 100% Australian based and owned, with almost 20 years’ experience across a diverse range of industries. Our engineers are chosen for their ability to respond to requests for support in plain English. We give recommendations with realistic time frames and won’t lie about what is possible.
A Microsoft Partner, our team has accomplished the extraordinary achievement of gaining five Gold Competencies with specialised skills in:
- Gold Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions
- Gold Cloud Productivity
- Gold Datacenter
- Gold Cloud Platform
- Gold Collaboration and Content
Other itro partners include WatchGuard (Gold Partner), MailGuard, WEBROOT and Practice Management Systems FilePro, LEAPLegal and PracticeEvolve.
- itro Advanced – designed to reduce unforeseen costs.
- itro Ultimate – designed to remove unforeseen costs.
- itro Self-Serve – designed for inhouse IT Managers with limited tools and team resources.
Please, give itro a call on 1800 10 3000 or email [email protected] today to find out why we are so confident we are the best Managed Service Provider for you, and how we can help you manage your IT.