The Covid-19 crisis has presented considerable challenges to most businesses. For some it has meant having to close completely, while others have had to overcome severe operational challenges as they make every effort to maintain some sort of normal service to their clients.
With the recommended advice being to work from home wherever possible, many businesses have closed their offices and relied on the guidance and support of their IT provider to enable secure and effective remote operations.
Therefore, it is now more important than ever that you have an IT provider you can rely on. Your provider should continue to offer the same quality of support and maintenance you expect of them, but they should also have been able to help carry your business through this period of uncertainty by proposing and implementing new solutions that are fit for purpose and economically viable.
This article should help you consider whether or not your IT provider is doing enough to help your business through the crisis. Listed below are a few things to look out for.
Knowledge and Skills gaps
The upheaval and forced change caused by the crisis is a test for IT providers. While many providers cope well in their day-to-day provision of IT services, they have now been forced to think on their feet and come up with new and inventive solutions for their clients which for some may lay bare knowledge and skills gaps. If your provider is struggling to implement changes and you sense they are learning as they go this could indicate inexperience or a lack of continuous training and staff development. Technology never stops evolving and as a result IT companies should ensure that their staff are familiar with the latest developments so that they can deliver the most up-to-date solutions to their clients.
When you are looking for an IT provider don’t be afraid to ask about their experience, qualifications, accreditations and even things like client testimonials. You may also want to consider whether they invest properly in staff training development, as conscientious firms will pay attention to this! Lastly, while there are no doubt many capable young firms you shouldn’t be afraid to ask how long a provider has been in business for, as long-lived firms tend to be long-lived for good reason.
Failure to meet guaranteed response times
Pay particular attention to how long it’s taking your provider to register your request for support. While not all companies offer response time guarantees they will likely have target figures so that their clients know roughly how quickly requests will be dealt with. While support request has been higher than usual in the wake of lockdown restrictions being applied you should still have reasonably high expectations on this; after all ‘response time’ only refers to the time taken to acknowledge a support request, not actually resolve it. Response times may vary depending on the level of support you have agreed with your provider and the level of priority assigned to different support requests but if you have been with your provider for a reasonable length of time you’ll likely know what to expect.
Failure to meet response time pledges or expectations may be a sign of an under-resourced helpdesk, a lack of organisation or it may be indicative of false promises that the company is not serious about sticking to.
Lax security Practices
Businesses generally assume that their IT provider applies the highest standards when it comes to security as ‘reducing risk’ is cited as a common reason for outsourcing IT in the first place. The assumption of good security, however, can be dangerous, as assumptions often are, so it is important to know what to look out for to ensure that your provider considers security a top priority.
You might want to consider whether your provider holds ‘cyber essentials’ accreditation and whether they operate on the basis of a ‘no trust’ policy (whereby all individuals within and outside an organisation are considered a potential threat to security). You should also be confident in your provider’s approach to preventative maintenance and backups. Effective update and patch management will help safeguard against some forms of malware that exploit weaknesses in software, and regular backups will safeguard your files against attack provided that files are backed up in multiple locations.
They won’t accept blame
There is a certain amount of shared responsibility between IT providers and their clients, as no single party is fully responsible for ensuring systems run smoothly and that data is kept secure. It’s your responsibility to take on board advice given to you by your provider and act in good faith, and it is their responsibility to ensure the solutions they implement pose an acceptably low level of risk to you and your business.
This relationship can be tested however when one party makes a mistake and fails to accept responsibility for it or blames the other party. If your provider has a tendency to do this it may be time to look elsewhere for an IT partner who’ll treat you and your business with more respect.
You’re not learning anything
Your IT provider should function as a sort of ‘Tech guru’ in some capacity to your business. Many businesses outsource their IT to tap into the expert guidance and knowledge of IT companies, seeing it as an opportunity to adopt new technology and learn while doing so. If your provider leaves you to figure things out on your own and seems unwilling to provide proper guidance then it could be a sign that they don’t value their relationships with their clients.
They aren’t commercially savvy
For many businesses, IT is just a means to an end: a tool for managing client relationships and increasing revenue. It’s therefore important that your IT provider has some understanding of how a particular Tech solution will affect your business’ performance and the implications for things like sales and financial performance. If your provider never explains technology in the context of your business or businesses in your sector more generally and calls routinely sound like a sales pitch, it could signal that they don’t know your business very well and/or don’t understand your sector.
Poor Proactive maintenance
Reactive IT companies resolve problems after they have occurred whereas proactive IT companies monitor systems to anticipate issues before they arise, leading to less downtime and increased productivity. You want the latter! Reactive IT support is a sign that your provider doesn’t have adequate insight into the ‘end-user experience’ either because they don’t have the tools in place for monitoring or because they aren’t actively carrying out preventative maintenance. A proactive company, on the other hand, has the capability to tackle issues before they arise using monitoring tools and will be able to resolve issues often without you realising anything has taken place.
If your staff are logging an excessive number of tickets this could be a sign that preventative maintenance isn’t happening. You might also want to ask your provider if they use a monitoring platform.
It’s understandable that IT support may not be your primary concern at the moment, however, the current crisis provides a valuable opportunity to evaluate your IT provider’s performance to determine whether they have what it takes to safeguard your business against cyber threats and the possibility of future crises.
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