IT Outsourcing Secrets Chapter 1 – How to Determine the IT Maturity Level of the IT Support Organization
Oh, the games IT support companies will play. In my nearly 20 years of selling IT support services in Atlanta, I think I have seen it all. I have seen wonderful service where I felt proud to be in this industry. On other days, I truly ached for business owners held captive by their IT support provider.
So how do you keep from becoming the next victim? It is my intent to equip you with the right knowledge so you can make informed decisions.
If you are reading this book, it is likely because you have fallen victim to one of the traps listed herein, and you are looking for a new IT support company. In fact, you may have already gone through countless IT support companies who either failed in service, or the invoicing was not what you expected. Whatever the reason, you will be glad you picked up this book.
I often use the illustration of the elephant and the rope as an example of how people view IT support models. I explain that when the elephant is a young calf, the trainer will tie them to a stick in the ground by a rope to keep them from wondering off. As hard as the calf tries, he cannot get free. Over time, the young calf learns to accept that he cannot get away. Even as he grows up to be a big strong elephant, he never questions the strength of the rope – so he doesn’t even try to get free. As an SMB you may have fallen into the same trap. You know the IT support options as:
- Hire internally
- Independent contractor (ad hoc)
- Hybrid – Internal and outsource
- Blocks of hours
- Use it or lose it
- Flat rate (per device or per seat)
Yet, I am going to help you view IT support from a brand new angle. I am going to have you question everything you have been taught and expose the truth about these models and practices so you can make informed decisions. I will even give you an RFP tool to compare companies at the end.
Putting the IT Support industry to the test
Recently I conducted a survey with some industry leaders in various fields. They came from healthcare, retail, manufacturing, finance, and construction. They held titles of CFO, CIO, IT Director, IT Analyst, Controller, and Operations Director. They are the decision makers for IT support in their companies, ranging in size from 200 to 11,000 users. These are highly successful individuals who started off in SMBs and rose up through the ranks due to their accomplishments. I admire them as they really know their business and have a lot of insight from small business to enterprise companies. So, when the time came, I was really excited to put my solution to the test. (Note: They are not my clients.)
I gave each of them a scenario in which they were a small business decision maker looking for a new IT support company. They were required to gather three quotes. They received one referral, but they still needed to find two more IT companies on the web. I asked them to tell me which websites intrigued them, which ones stood out over the others, and which ones they would choose to call.
I am really blessed, because each one of the participants took this task very seriously and spent hours on this survey. Maybe it is because we have years of experience networking together, but it still really impressed me. I asked each one to be brutally honest with me and find the good qualities in each competitor. They googled “IT Support,” “IT Atlanta,” “MSP,” and “Managed Services.”
The results of the competing websites were disappointing and brought about a lot of feelings of frustration. They just couldn’t narrow them down with any confidence. Why? The competitor’s websites ALL (I can’t stress “all” enough) stated in one way or another that they were “the best,” they were “responsive,” and they “listened” – as though their competitors didn’t. Yet, they all claimed the same thing. They showed their service offerings (which were mostly the same), and some showed the industries they served. Some had scare tactics, while others mentioned pain points, but they all had very much the same message – “we are the best, we listen, and we are highly responsive.” So, how does one choose from that? Even if it was all referrals, they all look alike and talk alike.
I then asked them to look at my company’s website section “MSP Industry Secrets”, which shares a hint of the information found in this book. It truly resonated with what the participants have experienced in the past. They shared countless stories with me of bad service and unpredictable invoices. As they shared their experiences, I could easily identify what plan they were on, why they had those particular issues, and what could have been done to prevent it. Hence the motivation for this book.
Yes, the people that took the IT survey had been through it all over the years. So, this made me think, if it is so hard to compare online, how does a company choose whom to call? Is it just a roulette game? Do you ever know if you actually picked the right company to meet with off of the Internet? What if the last five IT support companies you worked with were referrals, can you ever trust anyone’s recommendation again?
It is my belief that you will never be disappointed if you know exactly what you are getting into. Every IT support plan does have its place, and each plan has its pros and cons. It is up to you, the client, to decide what you are willing to tolerate and what you are not. So, what you really need is a way to make sense of it all, to set your own expectations, and not rely on what the salesperson claims, but on what you see under the covers. After all, I have seen several salespeople and engineers outright lie to save a deal. Let’s get you armed so this doesn’t happen to you!
You are different, and your solution should be too.
I have consulted with over a thousand SMB prospects throughout the nearly 20 years I have been in this business. I know that each one of them is different. They each have their own systems, devices, network infrastructure, applications, workflow, goals, internal resources, culture, and the list goes on and on. It would be unusual for any two companies to be the exact same in all respects. So, the last thing I want to do is assume that you are just like XYZ company we worked with down the street who was in the same industry with multiple locations. Or, that the solution is going to be the exact same for you. Further, I have never met a business owner, or leader of any size company, who claimed they were just like anyone else. They all realized their individual talent or product. So, I personally find it insulting when a sales “consultant” makes assumptions rather than listens.
No. Information technology (IT) is complicated. Consulting businesses on how to use their technology should be unique to their own goals and so should their IT support program. Assuming everyone is the same and needs the same support is idiotic. So, my goal was to ask as many questions as possible and find the right solution for them.
So, what do you need? You need someone who will wrap a solution around your needs and internal IT strengths. “One size fits all” is not going to work. A “one size fits all” package will deliver services you don’t need, you will overpay for what you actually want, AND (most importantly) you will overpay for the skillset you are actually using. (You will learn more about this in Chapter 2.)
It is what you don’t know about IT Support companies that is keeping you from making the right decision.
You need to learn how to look under the covers and understand if they have the capabilities to deliver the services you need, and they claim to have. Where do we start? Let’s look at the basics first. As we mentioned earlier, everyone will claim they are the best. So how do you differentiate them? You need to understand where they are in their IT maturity.
Determine the IT support company’s IT maturity level
Is the IT maturity level measured in years, processes, experience, or a combination? My company, INSI, has been in business for over 24 years (1995). My previous company was in business for 21 years (1998) and grew to be one of the largest SMB IT support providers in the United States – before they sold and started focusing on the Fortune 500. I know of a competitor that has been in business for 27 years, and they can’t get over the hump – they grow to 45 people and drop back down to 16 – over and over again because of shady practices. I have also seen newcomers pop up out of nowhere and take the IT support industry by storm in a very short period of time. Why? Because they had the processes and IT maturity level to make it work.
Let’s face it, in this industry there are so many “fly by night” companies. We have so many bright and intelligent engineers that do not know the first thing about business. They are sooooooo good at what they do, and if they have the right tools, resources, and processes to support them, they would do quite well. But I must tell you that starting an IT support company is expensive, and it takes years before they make a profit. The engineers know the right concepts, but without the tools they can’t measure up. So, when they start their own business, they try to get by on a shoestring budget believing they are so smart that their clients will put up with it. They find the cheapest tools to manage, monitor, and support their clients, but in the end, the client gets cheap results. So, if you are wondering why your service levels are not consistent – this is likely one of the root causes!
Measuring the maturity level of an IT support organization
There are several models to help determine how far along an organization is in their IT capabilities. Recently, Gartner developed a self-assessment tool for organizations to measure their level of maturity with regard to infrastructure & operations.
The levels include the following:
As you can see, the more mature the organization is, the better the service you will receive. Level 3 is just the beginning of a mature organization. It is imperative to understand what stage the provider is at in the IT maturity model. I have outlined some key indicators that will allow you to look under the covers and understand where they are in the maturity model. It all boils down to three pillars of success and how they transfer them into a mechanism for continuous improvement.
Know the three pillars of a successful MSP – technology, people, and processes.
I have many friends in the industry who believe the MSP days are numbered as everything moves to the cloud. Yet, there will always be mischievous people who spread computer viruses, hackers, glitches in updates and patches, connectivity issues, and technology-impaired end users among a plethora of other issues. Hosting can take care of a lot of this, but for the immediate future it is not self-sustaining.
Yes, for the immediate future you will need people to support your technology, and they will need the right tools, resources, and processes to be successful. Let’s discuss the technology aspect first.
Buy the book to see the rest of this chapter.
IT Outsourcing Secrets will be available in bookstores in 3-6 weeks. The book will be available in print or e-book through multiple channels including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you would like to be put on the waiting list, please contact Deborah Frazier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Authors Website: DeborahFrazier.com