Once upon a time, maintaining your business computer system was easy. You called the local computer repair shop and they sent a technician to fix your problem. Whether you needed a hard drive replaced, software installed, or your LAN upgraded, one tech usually did it all.
Nowadays, things are not so simple. The complexity of modern business IT systems, software platforms, and data security applications requires more than a generalist to maintain them. Today, you need a number of specialists to keep your operation running smoothly. But who has the time to vet a network administrator, a hardware tech, a programmer, and a data security expert? Many small and medium-size businesses turn to computer consultancies for the solution.
Working with a team-based consultancy has its advantages. First, doing so allows you to benefit from having a team at your disposal, without the costs associated with maintaining an in-house IT department. Salaries, insurance, and employee benefits are covered by the consultancy, not by you. Second, your IT issues become the consultant’s problem and not yours. This allows you to focus on getting work done, rather than trying to figure out who to call for a particular problem. After all, nothing is more frustrating than to have a network guru arrive, only for them to inform you that the problem is a virus on your system.
Yes, hiring a computer consultant who has their own team in-house is a convenient and cost-effective way to keep your IT system in top shape. Finding the right one, however, can be a challenge in itself, if you don’t know what skills they need to have on their team. By asking your prospective consultants about their competency in the five areas we will discuss, you can be confident that the consultant you hire is up to the task.
Your consultant must be fully competent on maintaining a wide range of equipment, from PCs to workstations to uninterruptable power supplies, or UPSs. Your office may include both desktop systems and mobile devices, and you need to make sure that your consultant can set up and maintain all of them. If your operation involves computer-controlled machinery, ask the consultant about their ability to maintain the associated computer systems. In short, your service provider must be able to install, repair, and upgrade all things computer-related, without having to contract any of those services out to a third party.
Operating System Support
Determining your computer consultant’s software proficiency begins by asking about which operating systems they support. Make sure they are experts on all of the operating systems that you run.
Have an old machine in the stock room that you only use for running payroll? It may run XP, or even Vista. It’s important, too, so make sure your consultant can work with the older platform. Sometimes maintaining older systems does not make sense, but sometimes it does. You don’t want to replace an older machine just because your consultant does not know how to reload a software driver needed by a vintage operating system.
Your consultant may not be well-versed in every program you use. From popular accounting software to specialized programs that only someone in your industry uses, the combination of software applications you use will probably be as unique as your business. Nevertheless, software professionals are capable of learning about unfamiliar programs quickly. Make sure your prospect understands exactly what programs you use, and ask if they can reload or fix them if there is a problem.
While many IT professionals focus on knowing the latest technologies—which is certainly important—fewer and fewer are willing to take on the challenge of older, legacy systems. If you use legacy systems, be cautious in hiring a company whose only solution to problems is to replace the system. Well-skilled professionals are able to work with older systems when replacing them may not yet be a justifiable option.
Your software will probably require updating much more frequently than your hardware will. The responsibility to know when updates are needed and how to install them must be a top priority for your consultant. Not only does keeping your software updated help you work more efficiently, but some updates close dangerous security vulnerabilities that have been identified by the software vendor.
Performing updates should not be an afterthought for the consultant your choose. It should be a priority.
Some of your computer programs may use databases in which to store your data. Since problems with your database can result in partial or complete loss of your data, it is crucial that your computer consultant has the ability to work with the databases your programs use. There are several types of databases, so make sure that your consultant is experienced in the type you use.
Working with databases requires specialized knowledge. Some computer support techs will say they can work with databases, when they actually have little or no experience at it. Ask the right questions to ensure that your consultant has sufficient experience in this area.
Privacy & Data Security
Nothing is more important to the future of your business than maintaining the security of your data. One breach of your customer information can have a devastating impact on your business. The financial burden that comes from lawsuits is more than some companies can bear. However, you may find it even more difficult to recover from the hidden costs of an attack. Damage to your company’s reputation, lost customers, and loss of your intellectual property are only a few of the ways in which a security breach can harm your business.
Many businesses rely on off-the-shelf antivirus programs, which are inadequate in fending off a professional hacker. As a result, Cyber Insurance reports that 62% of all cyber attack victims are small and medium-size businesses.
The best protection for most businesses is to hire a security professional to help harden their data assets. The advantages are numerous, but that does not mean you must hire a security professional in addition to hiring an IT service provider. A solid managed service provider will have resources in-house for identifying and correcting your security vulnerabilities. Ask your prospective consultant about their capabilities in this crucial area.
The one-size-fits-all approach to IT management no longer applies. Today, the diversity and complexity of businesses often requires customized hardware and software solutions. An effective IT consultant will not pull all of your solutions off the shelf of a big-box store. When a commercial product will do the job, it should be used. But when a commercial software application must be shoe-horned into your infrastructure to make it work, the solution may be a customized software solution.
Not every IT company has developers on staff who can create the custom solution needed for your unique situation. Quite frankly, most do not. Software development is outside the scope of abilities for even most managed IT program providers. Having said that, some companies do offer such services, so it is worth your while to ask about it.
Be aware; not all service providers offer the same level of service. Even among competent companies, the degree to which a provider interacts with your organization can vary widely from one to the other. Some consultants only send techs over when you place a service call, while others go further and suggest a routine maintenance schedule. Ideally, you want a consultant who offers “IT management” services.
IT management is not just a buzzword, but reflects the highest level of service an IT company can provide. Hiring a good team-based computer consultant is like having your own IT department, which just happens to reside outside of your facility. Contracting with a provider for IT management services is like having a well-qualified manager overseeing the IT team for you, so that you don’t have to direct everything they do when working for you. The advantages of contracting for IT management services are important enough to explore further. Let’s take a look at a few of the advantages an IT management program can offer you:
The key advantage of an IT management program is that the responsibility for maintaining your IT system shifts from you to the consultant. In addition to responding when you have a problem, a managed service provider may offer some or all of the following services, in addition to other duties:
- Maintenance scheduling
- Systems management
- Prioritization of work
- Implementation of data, systems, and network security protocols
- Performing regular backups, to include not only data, but complete hard drive backups
- Performing routine maintenance on hardware
- Performing routine upgrades of software programs
- Suggesting improvements to existing IT architecture
- Selecting and installing new hardware and software when needed
- Interfacing with hardware and software vendors when needed for problem resolution
- Training your personnel on new hardware and software
- Providing input into IT budgeting processes
Under an IT management program, you divest yourself of the responsibility to see that these task are performed correctly and when needed. You retain the final word on what is done, and what money is spent, but you are no longer concerned with keeping your computer systems and networks working. Since you are no longer managing your IT, you will have more time to manage your business.
Organizational skills and the ability to prioritize are hallmarks of a good managed service provider. The provider will take time to thoroughly examine your IT system and its components. They will then outline for you what needs to be done and when. They will prepare a calendar, which usually extends out for 12 months, so that you know what services they will perform and when. Updates, backups, and routine services will not come as a surprise, but you will know in advance when to anticipate them. By working from the vantage point of a service schedule, you can schedule your staff and workloads to avoid IT techs showing up during crunch times.
As opposed to the haphazard way in which you may manage your IT system, your managed service provider will operate in a methodical fashion, which will result in less downtime, improved system efficiency, and lower costs from lost work.
A good IT management provider will offer all of the advantages we have talked about. A great one will go one step further and identify innovative ways in which technology can help your business grow.
Technology is not only needed for the day-to-day operation of your business; it is also needed for your business to advance to the next level. Through the proper use of technology, an innovative IT consultant can suggest ways to increase your operational efficiency, improve your ROI, and build upon your relationship with your customers.
How KDG Can Help
We suggest that you begin your search for an IT service provider by considering KDG. KDG has more than 15 years’ experience meeting the technology needs of small and medium-size companies throughout the Lehigh Valley.
Our capabilities includes the following:
- Complete IT management solutions, customized to meet the unique needs of each client
- Hardware and software support
- Professional web development
- Mobile app development
- Custom software solutions
- Database management for MySQL and no-SQL databases, Access, MS SQL, MySQL, Postgre, Mongo, Google Datastore, and Zoho Creator
Our philosophy does not involve using out-of-the-box solutions to meet our clients’ needs. Rather, we take a holistic approach and view each customer as a unique business with unique needs. We believe technology should be the foundation upon which you grow your business, rather than an impediment that gets in the way. If you feel the same way, why not contact us, today, for a free consultation?