Evaluating an IT Provider

Partnering with an IT provider is the right step for many small businesses. It can help them grow, help them escape the constant break-fix cycle that plagues many small businesses’ IT infrastructure and it can save them money. But deciding to bring on an IT provider is just the first step, of course. There’s also the matter of evaluating an IT provider and finding the right one for you, which can feel like a daunting challenge given how many options there are.

As veteran IT providers ourselves, we know the ins and outs of the industry, and we like to share that expertise so businesses can make the most informed decisions about their IT coverage. In this article, we’ll share six important areas you should evaluate when considering an IT provider for your small business.

Capabilities

Before you begin seriously vetting a potential IT provider, try to find out whether they meet some basic qualifications. If they have experience in your industry, that’s a good start — if they don’t, you may want to start by looking at other providers who do. But there are other questions to consider, too. Can they handle a business your size? Do they have the resources and staff necessary to handle all of your needs?

Small business leaders need to understand what kind of capabilities their potential IT provider has access to. Don’t be afraid to ask about what kind of software they use, especially for cybersecurity, and do the due diligence to determine whether or not they’re equipped to handle your organization — both now and down the line if your business has plans to grow.

Costs

Once you’ve established that a potential provider meets some bare-minimum requirements, then you can start considering the factor that’s probably top of mind for most businesses: cost. IT providers employ many different pricing models: Some providers charge based on projects completed; others charge an hourly rate; and other providers charge additional onsite costs.

Plans themselves can vary quite a bit. Some providers are contracted for support within certain usage parameters, but may charge for additional outside costs, while others will offer a subscription-based support model that still could include additional fees for some projects. Our preferred model is a true, all-inclusive, subscription-based structure.

Contract Language

Congrats: you’ve established that a potential provider can handle the job and fits your budget. Now it’s time to start parsing the ins and outs of their contract. You can’t pay close enough attention here: make sure you understand the terms of the agreement, including any renewal obligations. Also, be sure the provider is taking appropriate measures to protect your information.

The easiest way to compare providers is to look at their service-level agreement (SLA), which outlines the length of your contract and the scope of the services provided, as well as any guarantees (including response time and uptime guarantees) and contingency policies. These terms offer an easy way of comparing the policies and services that different companies provide. If you see anything in the contract you don’t understand, ask about it.

References

Most IT providers you interview will make big promises about the services they can deliver. But there’s only one way to find out whether they’re as good as their word: ask around. A reputable IT provider should have plenty of references to share; talk to them to make sure they’re happy with the service. Don’t be afraid to ask for more than one or ones that align with your business’s industry or business technology objectives — experienced providers should have plenty of references they can share.

Staff Turnover Rate

Here’s something many businesses don’t think to consider when interviewing IT providers, although it’s important. A provider’s staff turnover rate can tell you a lot about how they operate. The IT industry is severely understaffed and a highly competitive job market, which leads to rapid turnover in the industry. The average time for an IT technician to stay at a job before being offered a better or higher paying one is just 1-3 years. Some turnover is inevitable, then, but if a company is experiencing too much turnover, that could create headaches for the businesses they serve.

Ask a company about the tenure of its engineering staff. During your reference calls, ask businesses whether their point of contact with the IT provider has changed frequently. You can even do some research on job boards to understand the roles they’re hiring for.

Service and Availability

Once you’ve narrowed down your search, there’s one last thing to triple check: an IT provider’s availability. Some providers promise service 24/7, 365 days a week. Some may exclude holidays. And others might limit their service to typical business hours. 

You don’t need to be an IT expert to understand that more availability is better; if your server goes down, you can’t wait until Monday morning to have it fixed. You need somebody on it pronto. Carefully read over the SLA to confirm what a provider’s guaranteed response times are. Are they within minutes, hours or days? 

Once again, that SLA will speak volumes. Some IT providers make big promises but don’t back them up on paper, or imply they’re offering full coverage when in reality there are a lot of exclusions. That’s why it’s so important to be thorough when you’re searching for the right fit.

If you’re on the hunt for an IT partner, make sure to ask your potential provider questions to determine if they can properly support your team. And, of course, you’re welcome to give us a call to determine whether Cortavo is the right fit for your needs. We make partnering with us a breeze; we’ll sit down with you and discuss in detail the benefits we bring to your operations and we can get your office set up and running seamlessly in 30 days. Call us at (866) 267-8286 or contact us through www.cortavo.com/contact-us/.