In the first of our 3-part article on common pitfalls to avoid when choosing an IT support company, we explore the first six questions you should be asking.

18 things to ask when choosing an IT support company (1 of 3)

1. When I phone, will I speak directly to a technician?

Many IT support companies will have people who answer the calls that aren’t technical. Instead they will take details of your issue and pass this onto the technicians who will call you back when they are ready. When you have an issue it usually needs looking at there and then, chances are it won't be a problem when they call you back. Find out if the company you are considering provides you with direct access to the technical people.

2. Can we only call when we have a problem?

Ask if the IT support company you are considering only helps with problems as they arise or do they operate as more of a helpdesk – giving any member of your organisation help with even the simple things such as “How do I do this in Word?” or “How do I stop Excel doing that?” An IT support company that can take the pressure off the person in the office who has only a little IT knowledge will allow that person to get on with the job they’re employed to do; and in doing so, the service is quite likely to pay for itself.

3. Do you monitor our systems?

Many IT companies still only provide break-fix support but there are so many good software packages available now that can monitor thousands of machines and bring the important issues to a technician’s attention automatically, that break-fix support is more or less defunct. The proactive monitoring that is available now can reduce calls to the IT support company so it’s in their interest to provide it. Equally you should be able to get on with your own work without having to be on the phone to the helpdesk every two minutes; monitoring can prevent this, often by fixing issues before you even knew they existed.

4. How do you manage updates and service packs?

Software vendors release security and reliability updates which are essential for a stable and secure system. Some IT companies will configure updates and service packs to install automatically, but do they monitor that they actually happen? A computer may be switched off every night and updates scheduled for 3am. But some will install them during the working day which could impact on performance and interrupt the work you're trying to do. There are even companies that will charge you for out-of-hours updates because it isn’t during working hours and therefore not covered by their contract. Make sure you know that software updates are included in the service contract and that they are being monitored and carried out at a time convenient to you.

5. What about bespoke or specialist software?

You probably run software such as Sage or QuickBooks and other software that the IT support company may never have heard of, so will they help you if there’s a problem with it? What about updates that are released, will they install these? With an IT support contract the company should operate as a complete out-sourced solution, handling all of your IT for you and not just palming you off to a third-party to fend for yourself. They don't need to know the inner workings of every piece of software on the market, that's impossible, but a qualified technician should be able to find their way around most things they haven't seen before and troubleshoot it even if it means contacting the software vendor on your behalf for help.

6. What peripherals does the support cover? Are our printers, scanners and mobiles included?

Quite often an IT support company will support the computers and the servers, and charge extra for anything connected to them. And should something go wrong, you may be expected to deal with the manufacturer for warranty claims. Make sure you find out whether they will call on your behalf – after all they’re better equipped to deal with any technical questions about the fault. Cover for mobile devices is more relevant than ever; they are an essential accessory for modern day business and are more like computers than they've ever been. If you have a problem getting emails on your mobile, or even want it setting up to access your emails, will the IT support company help?

This article is continued on part 2 and part 3.

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