Does your IT work for you? Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009

As IT technology continues to develop at lightning speed, it’s easy to see how a company could struggle if its IT department doesn’t keep pace. That’s why it’s imperative that as a business owner you know what to expect from your IT service provider and what you can do to make sure you’re receiving proper service.

“Everyone expects to be connected — to the community, to the world and to work,” says John Grismore, vice president of Insight Business Services, a provider of business-class phone, high-speed Internet, digital TV and Enterprise fiber data transport services. “It used to be that people would leave a message and then wait for you to call them back.”

Smart Business asked Grismore what constitutes good IT service in today’s business world and how to know you are receiving it.

How has what a business can expect from its IT provider changed over the last five years?

Information is required so quickly in the business world today. We have Blackberrys and other devices that we carry with us at all times. We used to be able to play a round of golf without being expected to stop and take a phone call or answer an e-mail. Now, everybody wants what they want right now, at this very moment. This is an information world and we all have to adjust to it. Your IT provider must understand the needs of your business and help you identify where you can improve and update your services to be competitive. Many businesses will have to move to more Web-based interactivity, which will require greater bandwidth to accommodate new software that helps businesses streamline efforts and maximize revenue. Your provider should be your partner — invested in your success and ready to help you adapt as your business grows and changes.

What’s new in technology developments?

Today, cable providers are no longer looked at as simply the cable TV guys. Sure, they still provide cable TV for homes and businesses, but cable companies now provide a whole range of sophisticated services that allow them to provide all the communication needs of small, mid-size and enterprise level businesses. Cable providers offer the latest technology for phone, data and video services. A good service provider will listen to customer needs, invest in well-trained customer care, and have salespeople who are able to advise companies how they can best maximize their investment in communications services.

Another great advancement is the availability of bandwidth for everyone. Using cable modems instead of fiber offers more bandwidth at much less cost. Some applications do still require fiber, though, and now fiber can be taken directly to the home. For example, if a doctor needs to read X-rays from a home office, fiber allows for super high-speed uploading and downloading.

Now, you can get as much bandwidth as you need at your home, which means you can run just about any type of business out of your home. It’s like in the Old West when guns became available to everyone; the ‘great equalizer.’ Today, information and super big pipes that pass that information are available to everyone. Thus, a small business is just as effective, and sometimes even more effective, as a large company at getting to market.

How can a company be sure it’s getting what it needs from its provider?

In today’s economy, every business should be looking at areas where they can realize savings. Of course, you don’t want to cut costs and lose reliability. A business should be asking: How can I get great value and make sure my communications services provide the reliability my business depends on? Look at the track record of your provider’s performance, compare pricing and look for values in bundling phone and Internet services, for example. A company may also want to check that the speeds it signed up for are actually the speeds it is getting. You can go online and test speeds and connections. J.D. Power annually ranks the satellite, phone and cable companies — you can access those ratings. Consumer Reports does some ratings, as well.

The important question is: Does a service provider have a culture of helping the client? The culture, people and customer onboarding experience are all more important than the technology. Look at tech stocks today. Even a great invention has a limited payback because there will be better technology in two or three years. So if a company is going to grasp technology like hybrid-fiber/coaxial architecture, like the cable industry has done, it needs to decide on a strategy, stick with it, and then build customer care around it.

Bottom line, can a company get a bill out correctly, answer its phones, show up on time and provide a service that won’t go down? If your service goes down for even 10 minutes it might cost you 10 times what you paid for that service. If the broadband cable modem behind your credit card machine goes down and you have a line of people in your retail store waiting to swipe their cards to purchase your product, that’s simply unacceptable.

How can a company choose the right provider the first time?

Companies should always ask for referrals. You want to ask around to other businesses and make the necessary phone calls because a provider’s reputation is out there. Many CEOs now have blogs and if a business is even the least bit disappointed it will blog the CEO, and in minutes a solution is sent to the business. It just shows that the right culture starts at the top.

JOHN GRISMORE is the vice president of Insight Business Services, Insight Communications. Reach him at (877) 972-4100 or Grismore.J@insightcom.com. Insight CEO Michael Willner blogs at www.michaelsinsight.com.