Picking a Computer Consultant in the 21st Century

So what do you look for in a Managed Service Provider? Here are a few things to start with.

1) They should monitor and patch all of your equipment.

2) They should provide reporting that makes sense to you. You probably don’t need and wouldn’t read a 200 page report every month. But you should at least get an email that tells you the health of you backup system, your servers, etc.

3) They should have a ticketing system. They might have another name for it, but it’s a way to create a service request so that you can track how they’re doing to address your problems. Great systems automatically create service requests and allow you to create them by sending an email to a specific address, or by using an online portal.

4) They should have a strong emphasis on backup and disaster recovery. With some of the natural disasters we’ve seen lately (e.g., Super Storm Sandy), millions of businesses were without power for weeks. Will your business survive that? BDR (backup and disaster recovery) is critical.

5) They should have a standard contract and you should be able to review it.

6) At least one person on their team should be able to talk business talk as well as computer geek-speak. Every specialty, including your business, has its own language. Someone needs to translate.

7) You should feel comfortable with the person you’re dealing with. You should never feel like a stranger. In small business, business is about people. In any business, we work with people we know, like, and trust.

What About the Big Corporations?

In the last five years or so, many large corporations have realized that there’s a lot of money to be made helping small businesses. So many of them have jumped into the market.

Large corporations have an experience that most small businesses do not have: They believe that they can do anything if they throw enough money at it. So they believe they can jump into managed services by simply offering up their services and hiring a massive phone bank of sales people to bring in the customers.

But providing the service is another story.

As large corporations, these “big boys” don’t really know how to provide the kind of individual attention that small businesses enjoy. They are good at selling products, but challenged when it comes to services. Here is a very common pattern:

– Jump into the business. Advertise a lot.

– Sign up clients

– Realize it’s a lot tougher and less profitable than they thought to provide individual service

– Standardize their processes

– Cut staff and other expenses to increase profit

– Drop the service altogether because it did not reach the desired income targets

When I talk to managed service providers at conferences about big corporations getting into managed services, the reaction is pretty universal: “Bring it on.” We like it because these companies introduce more businesses to the concept of managed services. Then they fail to deliver and we now have a larger pool of potential clients who know the (potential) value of managed services.