You’ve heard of Cowboy builders, what about Cowboy IT Support?

Recently I’ve been noticing this more and more. I have seen customers who have put their complete trust in an IT support company and they have been taken for a ride, either by getting unexpected invoices or being recommended to install a solution that is completely wrong or under specified and doesn’t meet the their requirements.

Even though I am in competition with some of these other “IT Support” companies, I have a professional pride and quality in what we produce and I have to say I was shocked with some of the things I found.

If IT support companies provide shoddy solutions and rip customers off it gives all of us a bad name. I have to say that over the past month, my eyes have been opened as to the quality of some of the solutions that have been installed for businesses and then left for some-one else to pick up the pieces and I am really disappointed.

Builders, accountants, lawyers and mechanics all have a body that oversees their work and are an escalation point if something should go wrong. There is nothing for IT, for something so important and crucial to the success and continued prosperity of small businesses, there are no standards, there is no regulatory body. Basically anyone can profess to be an IT professional, walk into a business and tell them that they can support them, do a shoddy job, walk away and unless the business wants to take them to court there’s nothing they can do.

Businesses need to perform due diligence on IT Support companies, the same as they would do on any other major services they would buy. IT is not a “dark” art as some people would portray. If your IT support person blinds you with “tech” talk then they aren’t right for you. They should be open and explain things to you in terms of what you understand and need for your business.

The easiest way I find to explain their computer systems to business owners and decision makers is to get them to think in terms of a car towing a boat. The size of the boat is how much data the company has. The weight of the boat is the performance that is required from the car to tow the boat efficiently.

What businesses and many IT companies forget about is the weight, they look at the size and specify a solution to fit that and in many cases this is where the problem is. You can’t just specify a solution on dimensions you need to take into consideration weight as well. A boat may have large dimensions but be a light load, made of fibre glass, alternatively the boat may be small but made of steel so it’s heavier and takes more to tow it. You wouldn’t buy a small car to tow a 3 tonne boat but yet in the IT support world that’s what many companies end up getting. It just doesn’t work.

Some businesses have got to think of their IT systems as an investment rather than a cost. It is the crucial part that keeps the business going and the wheels turning. Without the IT systems what happens to businesses? How much productivity is lost when people can’t work or they experience computer issues? If you start working that out then you will see actually how valuable the IT systems are and how much the “true” costs really are.

Unfortunately in IT as in most of life, you get what you pay for. If it’s cheap then you need to see why it’s cheap. What services are being provided? What else will I have to pay for down the line?

Here’s some tips I would recommend you do before choosing your next IT Support company or consultant:

  1. 1 Do not choose an IT consultant from a phone call. There is no way they should be able to quote without doing a health-check or audit of your systems. Meet them and ask them for a written proposal.
  2. Make sure they have a written service guarantee. If you aren’t happy with the job then they should fix it for free.
  3. Very important - get references from their current clients. If they are as good as they say they are then they will have no problem giving you 3 or 4 current customers who you can speak to.
  4. Make sure they can remotely monitor your systems. If they can’t do this then don’t use them. Remote monitoring means faster fix times for you and less expense.
  5. Make sure they are trained and experienced in the technologies you use. This is where the face to face meeting comes into its own, where you ask specific questions related to the technology you use.

And here’s some of the questions you should ask them to ensure you get the support company your business needs:

Q1:  Do they answer their phones live or do you always have to leave a voice mail and wait for someone to call you back?

Q2:  Do they have a written, guaranteed response time to your calls?

Q3:  Do they provide you with a call reference number when you log a call?

Q4:  Do they take the time to explain what they are doing and answer your questions in terms that you can understand (not geek‐speak), or do they come across as arrogant and make you feel stupid for asking simple questions?

Q5:  Do they consistently (and proactively) offer new ways to improve your network’s performance, or do they wait until you have a problem to make recommendations?

Q6:  Do they provide detailed invoices that clearly explain what you are paying for?

Q7:  Do they guarantee to complete projects on time and on budget?

Q8:  Do they insist on remotely monitoring your network 24/7/365 to keep critical security settings, virus definitions and security patches up‐to‐date and PREVENT problems from turning into downtime, viruses, lost data and other issues?

Q9:  Do they provide you with a report that shows all the updates, security patches, and status of every machine on your network so you know for SURE your systems have been secured and updated?

Q10:  Is it standard procedure for them to provide you with written, network documentation detailing what software licenses you own, critical passwords, user information, hardware inventory, etc., or are they the only person with the “keys to the kingdom?”

Q11:  Do they have other technicians on staff that are familiar with your network in case your regular technician goes on holiday or gets sick?

Q12:  When they offer an “all‐inclusive” support plan, is it TRULY all‐inclusive, or are their “gotchas” hidden in the fine print?

Q13:  Do they offer periodic test restores of your backups to make sure the data is not corrupt and could be restored in the event of a disaster?

Q14:  Do they insist on backing up your network BEFORE performing any type of project or upgrade?

Q15:  If you were to experience a major disaster, do they have a written plan for how your data could be restored FAST and/or enable you to work from a remote location?

Q16:  Is their help‐desk locally based or outsourced to an overseas company or third party?

Q17:  Do their technicians maintain current vendor certifications and participate in on‐going training – or are they learning on your money?

Q18:  Do their technicians arrive on time and dress professionally?

Q19:  Are they familiar with (and can they support) your unique line of business applications?

Q20:  When something goes wrong with your Internet service, phone systems, printers or other IT services, do they own the problem or do they say “that’s not our problem to fix?”

This information should help you make an informed decision and mean that you get the support you need.

Geoff is the owner and technical director of Surety IT an IT Support and services provider based in Brisbane, Australia.

He has extensive experience in IT support and IT infrastructure having worked in the IT industry since 1995, where he has worked in medium to large organizations in both Australia and Europe.

Geoff has held the several IT management positions including for Nacco Materials Handling Ltd a globally based forklift manufacturing company. He has also had experience in technical support and IT management for the Ulster Bank and National Australia Bank throughout Europe.

Geoff is Microsoft Certified as well as Vmware, EMC and Cisco certified. His strengths are finding best-fit solutions for small and medium businesses particularly in the cloud computing and infrastructure side. His core strengths are his attention to detail and his planning. He is very passionate about providing the best service he can to his customers

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