The top 5 qualities of IT Consulting Service Providers
Ever wonder what the best IT consulting services have in common?
Here in the San Francisco and Oakland Bay Area standards for IT firms are very high. Our high-tech economy depends on productive technology workers. Good IT support is a must.
My name is Dan Bodner and I have been in the Bay Area working in IT for the past 25 years. I have seen many changes … but there are some things that always stay the same.
What Do the Best IT Consulting Services Have in Common?
Read on to find out what the top five most important qualities that the best IT consulting services have in common.
Top IT Firms Work Hard at Being Responsive
One of the most common complaints I hear from Bay Area business owners is that their IT support company isn’t responsive. As every business owner knows, there is nothing more frustrating than being stuck with a computer problem and no way to get immediate help. Having confidence that you can get support for your computer problems when the need arises is critical. Because most small businesses can’t afford an IT department, their outsourced support must have an active help desk standing at the ready.
Picture this: you get to the office, you get your cup of coffee, you drag yourself to your desk, boot your computer, and it won’t start. Nothing is more frustrating than that! When you find yourself in that situation, you want help in minutes if not seconds. At Fido Systems superstar help desk, a live person will answer the phone and start helping you immediately. If everyone is tied up you will get a call back within minutes. Not good enough? A good help desk should also have an emergency option. When clients call Fido’s emergency number, a page goes out to all technicians, all the phones ring, and it’s all hands on deck.
It's important that you can trust your IT company to be there for you when you need them, and that they will stand by you when your needs get serious. When you are shopping for an IT company, ask them about their response time. Do they have a staffed help desk? What about emergencies? Then check their references and see if their promises match up with the experience of real customers.
The Best IT Firms Have Broad Expertise
Its goes without saying that a rapid response time is only the beginning. The best IT firms have a broad range of expertise, so that they not only respond quickly, but they respond effectively. The best firms have a diverse roster of clients, affording them the opportunity to gain wide experience with many problems. That experience comes in handy for you when you have problems.
There are some common IT issues that we see over and over again that an experienced firm should be sure-footed in handling. These include hacking and viruses, lost connection to files, printers or servers, and the big one, email problems. Oh yes, lots of email problems! Let's look at these one by one.
Hacking and Viruses
A well designed security system can go a long way to protect against hacking and viruses. But the human element will likely remain the “weak” link. We humans are so easily tricked into clicking on dangerous links. The trickery involved in getting us to click is variously called phishing or social engineering. And we are all susceptible. When you click, and you know something isn’t right, call your IT people right away. This is a true emergency.
Less subtle but increasingly common and dangerous are fake warnings that appear in your browser. Often these warnings will be accompanied by a display of blinking colors and sounds like emergency buzzers. These are fake warnings that are actually simply a website page on a browser tab. Close the browser and the problem is gone. However, should you be tempted to “click here to fix this problem”, that's when the real trouble starts. You may find that you can’t close the tab, or even the browser at this point. Don’t panic. Don’t click. You can “end-task” the browser, or better yet, call your super responsive IT people and they’ll do it for you.
Unable to Connect
The inability to connect to network resources is a real time-waster and is super frustrating. Unavailable network resources can be files on your server, the printer down the hall, or the Internet itself. There are many reasons this can happen. We find that sometimes a reboot is all that is necessary. But if not that, the problem might not be yours alone. Find out if your co-workers are also having the same problems. That's a sign of some major problem with your infrastructure. Again, you need a responsive IT resource ready to jump in.
Nothing is more in the critical flow of a day at work than email. Problems with your email are always an urgent situation. Yet most of these problems are simple matters. Outlook software, for example, is prone to misbehaving or confusing users. Often users inadvertently click on something and change their view of their inbox. For a tech experienced with Outlook, it is a simple matter to restore the user’s familiar view.
There are a handful of basic repair techniques to get things working again, from simply restarting the software, to uninstalling and re-installed your account profile, all the way up to uninstalling and reinstalling the product. And if your company is relying on an on-premise exchange server to manage email, it's time to rethink that strategy. Having your email hosted in the cloud is the current best practice. A top firm will be familiar with these common repair strategies and the strategic issues of hosting email in the cloud.
Top IT Companies Stay Up-to-Date
Over the past ten years, especially since the advent of social media and cloud-based services, much has changed in the IT world. It is critical that your IT team keep up with the most current technologies and ways to integrate them. There is no standing still when it comes to your company’s technology infrastructure. Standing still means falling behind. Technology equipment has a relatively short service life, typically five years max. After that most equipment becomes unreliable. A company must constantly refresh their technology or risk major disruptions and failures. And since technologies change so quickly, this churn of equipment also means a constant process of bringing in new technologies.
A good example of dynamic changes in technology are phone systems. Five years ago most companies had a physical phone system in their office. Now with the increasing availability of reliable and fast Internet connections, a hosted PBX solution is the new standard. A hosted PBX puts all of that equipment that used to sit in your server closet into a provider’s data-center. You no longer own it or have to worry about it. Instead you pay a monthly fee to subscribe to it. That not only relieves you of the responsibility for maintaining (and regularly refreshing) that equipment, but it also opens up a whole set of new capabilities. Mobility is now the latest technology best practice. With a hosted-PBX, your phone activity is no longer tied to an increasingly old-fashioned seeming desk phone. Now your smartphone can also act like a company extension, as can your computer or your tablet. You can sit in a cafe in ski country and make and receive calls as if you were at your office desk.
A similar story can be told for many other formally “on-premise” technologies. Files need no longer be kept on a company file server. Applications no longer need be installed on your desktop computer. All of these things are stored in the cloud and payed for on a subscription basis.
Does all of this hosting and subscribing save costs? Well, the long term costs actually tend to be higher; you have to pay every month for all of these services. Support costs may go down some, but not as much as one might expect. Managing cloud resources, though they come with many user conveniences, come with their own set of complexities..
With all of these services now in the cloud, the ability to administer and control your infrastructure can also be compromised. Top IT firms are all working hard on solutions to address this brave new cloud-based world. For example, Fido offers our Fido Cloud-Control platform. With it we can administer user accounts through the cloud and tie all access privileges to that user account. Fido Cloud-Control allows for a quick and orderly process of setting up a new user and giving that user access to all the resources they need, even if everything is in the cloud. And should that user leave the company, all of those privileges and work-product can be quickly revoked and protected. Should a laptop be lost or stolen, a quick remote-wipe can be executed to safeguard any data.
While the cloud has opened up new avenues for running a company with minimal up-front investment and reduced responsibility for physical infrastructure, it has also created a wild-west environment where centralized management and control of users and equipment is more challenging. Top IT firms have a solution to these problems and can corral all of these cloud-based pieces into a manageable whole.
Cyersecurity has always been an element of IT services, but has become increasingly foundational in a world of ever expanding threats. Hacking and related cyber security issues are an increasingly expensive and productivity inhibiting problem faced by workers and employers alike.
Specifically talk to your IT support company about their security approach. Understand what services they will provide both to prevent and recover from security problems.
Being hacked is very stressful. Having an IT professional on your team with whom you have a warm and friendly rapport can make all the difference. You want to feel that they care about you and are willing to swing into action when emergencies occur.
Another confidence builder is a regular cadence of IT reporting. At Fido Systems we use an automated ticketing system. Users are always in the loop about any problems they have reported and what solutions are being taken. Stakeholders also receive a regular monthly report summarizing the activity of the help desk and providing a complete inventory and break down of all of their computers and servers.
In our deep experience doing IT work, we find that a happy customer is one who feels they are kept informed. Poor communication often leads to customer dissatisfaction. Part of being responsive and building trust is regular reporting. It is frustrating for the customer when the “IT guy” acts like a gatekeeper or a know-it-all and controls information about your IT systems. Transparency and clear explanations are the standard for the best IT companies.
Established track record
Finally, seek out an IT consulting company with an established track record. Companies with a diverse portfolio of customers and a proven track record of success are usually best positioned to advise and support you. Firms that are principally competing on price are often those who have not figured out best practices to sustain the long term confidence of their customers. As such, best is not cheapest. The old adage “you pay for what you get” is somewhat apt. But do be leary of IT companies that have more sales staff then technicians. Much like other professional service companies such as law firms, the best IT firms are driven by their experts and engineers, not by a sales force. Expect your “sales” person to be one of the company principals, not a non-technical sales agent.
Dan Bodner’s job satisfaction comes from making a positive impact on the work-lives of his clients. Delivering a solution that makes their work-lives easier and better leaves everyone feeling happy and is where the real pleasure of his work is derived. When he’s not working, you can find him hitting the trails and petting dogs in and around the beautiful Bay Area. Connect with Dan on twitter @FidoSystems..