How often have you wasted time away from your core business duties because you were busy troubleshooting your website’s server problems, or, trying to tackle a computer virus that is wiping all of your data? Business owners now face much bigger issues than the usual problems of the past involving printers, fax machines, and wrong passwords.
Luckily, with the growing reliance upon apps, multiple operating systems, and the proliferation of hardware that are used in our daily lives, the IT industry has adapted to the rapid changes that business owners now face. However, not all IT consultants are the same, and the ever growing techno-babble, it can be difficult to find an IT consultant that understands the help you need. For instance, it is highly unlikely that the corner bakery is going to require the same level of IT sophistication as someone running a medical practice. Similarly, one type of business may be better served by an IT company that provides managed services, they monitor your network on a 24-7-365 basis and ensure that backups, anti-virus and internet connections are operating at an optimal level, while sometimes all you need is someone to come in and fix a simple problem. Because of the ever-growing reliance upon IT, and the role growing role that IT plays in litigation, this article hopes to help you make sense of the search process so that you can find the best IT consultant for your business.
Making a List and Checking It Twice
First, like most service provider decisions, it is important that you shop around. Begin your search by asking your professional network for referrals, and follow-up with a few targeted internet searches. As with your other service providers, a driving force in your decision-making process should be based on how much you like and trust the consultant. After all, you’re probably going to be using their services for a while and don’t want to be stuck with someone who sounds displeased when you give them a call. Second, make sure that they can communicate in everyday English, as opposed to techno-babble, even if you write your own code. Why you may ask, because it is a way to ensure that whoever you hire can interact with your employees, quickly identify the problem, and explain the solution. Lastly, make sure that transparency is paramount in the services that they provide. There is nothing worse than learning that your service provider farms out their phone support to some overseas contractor and doesn’t tell you.
Diligent Note Taking
Once you have that list and start making calls, just stick with the basics of what needs to be done with a brief description. No need for drama, IT consultants have already heard it all before. Once they know what you’re looking for then you will need to start listening very carefully. Did one consultant sound more relaxed about the issue over another? Was candidate “A” being as forthcoming and honest as candidate “B?” Did one have more experience in a subject when compared to another? Include as much as you can in your notes and start whittling down your list.
Do Your Homework
After you’ve shortened your list, do some research on the company or consultant. Look through their LinkedIn, Yelp, Google+, or Angie’s List profiles for reviews and endorsements. If they have testimonials from previous clients, see if the reviewer will answer a few questions about their experience with the provider.
If you’re planning on keeping the IT firm or individual for a long period of time, then now is the time to get into the technical nitty-gritty. You are basically going through a job interview and should treat this process in the same manner. These following questions should be great jumping off points for any other IT areas that may be valuable to your business and are in no particular order. If you don’t understand an answer, they should be able to clarify their responses with relative ease.
- What services are covered? Not covered?
- Describe your fee structure. (Per user, per device, other).
- What security software or tools are included in your service fees?
- Do you charge separately for on-site support or is it included?
- Do you offer after-hours or 24/7 support? Does this cost extra?
- Describe your issue solution process and escalation procedure?
- Is your Helpdesk US based? What are their certifications?
- What are your Service Level goals?
- List the methods you provide your clients to request service (phone/email/chat, etc.) and the response time commitments for each, if they are different.
- How do you assess any security risks that may be present? How do you mitigate them? (There should be some form of automated scans run that assess internal and external risks)
- How does your firm secure our data to protect against data loss from user error/hardware failure/software failure/viruses, etc.?
- Should we experience a catastrophic loss of systems and data, how does your firm provide recovery services? How can we keep operating in the event of total system/facility loss due to natural or human-caused disasters?
- We must comply with HIPPA/PCI standards. How can you assist us in meeting these standards?
- List which standard applications are supported by your firm (without additional costs)
- Describe the process you use to keep our operating software updated to the latest updates from the software provider?
After you have found your consultant, make sure they establish a consistent level of communication. Even if you’re not having troubles, they should constantly be proactive about their involved services and give you gentle reminders that they’re still there. Are they meeting the goals that you established with them? Are they answering e-mails or phone calls in a timely manner? Be careful falling into the trap of thinking just because everything is running smoothly that you no longer require their services. If everything is running smoothly then it’s because they’re doing a good job.
If you have any additional questions or would like a referral for an IT consultant, please contact me.