Comcast Business: 5 things to ask when choosing an outside IT provider

Most business owners rely on their computer systems and technology to keep their companies humming. When technology stops working, the business stops working. Even a relatively “simple” problem or question could involve hours of troubleshooting, resulting in unplanned downtime and expenses.

Proper management of technology can not only minimize pesky tech issues that drag down productivity and drive up costs, it can maximize productivity and help a business grow. But the time and financial resources necessary to manage IT in-house are making outsourcing increasingly attractive and beneficial.

“Also known as a Managed Services Provider (MSP), an outside IT provider can take over the day-to-day management of your IT needs,” says Kevin Conmy, regional vice president of Business Services at Comcast Business. “A good provider can offer set-up, maintenance and proactive IT management, as well as troubleshooting for questions or problems whenever they arise.”

Smart Business spoke with Conmy about key questions to ask when choosing a MSP.

Do they understand your business and technology?

You want a provider who already works with businesses like yours — who knows the technology, software and hardware. Be specific about your set-up, and ask directly: Does the provider understand networked printing? Are they familiar with the programs you work with? Can they work with PCs, with Macs, with servers? What about mobile devices or combinations of printers, scanners and routers?

Can they support you remotely?

It may seem comforting to have a technician come to your office, but the convenience and speed of remote service and support is invaluable as it’s often faster and more efficient. For example, if you’re experiencing a problem and your provider can talk an employee through diagnostics, resets or other procedures on the spot, it often resolves issues without an in-person visit.

In other cases, a provider can use the Internet to access your systems and networks remotely, with permission, to reset routers, change network settings, scan systems for viruses and malware, or reinstall software and handle many other problems in far less time.

That said, there will be times when you need on-site support, such as when you’re setting up new equipment, resolving physical issues with networks or moving equipment. You need a provider who can deploy on-site technicians promptly, to any of your locations.

Do they work nights and weekends?

When do you most need service and help? If you are in retail, hospitality, transportation or any other industry where 9-to-5 doesn’t apply, you need a provider who is 24/7. Or, maybe the only time you can stop for service is outside of your working hours. A provider who is daylight-only may increase prices for after-hours and holiday support. They may provide limited services or slower response after regular business hours. That can hamper — and cost — you.

Do they offer preventive, proactive help?

It’s best to have a prior relationship with an IT provider. When your network crashes or computers go dark, that’s not the time to start hunting for help. You want a resource you know, and who knows you.

Second, ask what preventive services an IT provider has to help spot potential problems before something breaks. This can involve scanning your computers for rogue code, and troubleshooting and testing your network for performance issues.

How do they charge?

It may seem prudent to arrange for support on an a la carte basis, but when something breaks that practice can be unpredictable and costly. And it’s especially irritating when the problem could have been prevented.

A better option is an all-inclusive monthly subscription fee — either per user or for the entire business. This fee can include the immediate services that may be required, along with some combination of proactive and preventive services, data back up, hosting, etc. The costs are more predictable no matter what occurs, and it’s easier to predict the costs of adding more users, and computers. As your business grows, you need a solution that can scale with you.

Kevin Conmy is a regional vice president of Business Services at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 642-6457 or [email protected].

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