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If you are planning to grow your business, then inevitably this also means that your IT needs are going to become more complex. In most cases IT will be an absolutely integral in growing the business and what worked initially when starting out may no longer suffice.

Often businesses start out with an in-house IT team. In the beginning, they may not recruit an IT service provider solely to do this job – and instead there can be a level of self-reliance in the company and set of ‘gifted amateurs’ are spawned.

IT service providerWhilst their main expertise is within the core business, they are also able to become a very competent IT service provider in a very narrow field in relation to the specific IT needs of the business.

This approach is not sustainable if you want the company grow – so it often makes sense to outsource your IT requirements to an external provider.

These partners are called Managed Service Providers – or, MSPs for short. If you want to make sure you’re going to be working alongside an MSP that can help your business grow, it’s important you don’t move faster than they can keep up with…

How do you make sure that you don’t leave your IT service provider behind?

Companies essentially live and die by the reliability of their IT systems – and it is important to hand this responsibility to the right people. With that in mind, here are several key questions you need to be asking any potential MSP -as well as some of the types of answers you are going to want to be looking for.

What is in your service level agreement?

A service level agreement (or SLA for short) is the agreement between your company and your IT service provider based on your exact needs. Some MSP’s have solutions that are ‘one size fits all’ most businesses are unique and need certain elements will need to be customised exactly to your needs

One thing that you must make sure is that your MSP is absolutely crystal clear about what is in SLA and there is nothing in there that’s ambiguous or could cause confusion moving forward. You should also be certain that everything you’ve asked from the company is documented – again, so you’ve got a written working agreement that outlines exactly what you need.

Is your support proactive or reactive?

Do you want to hear about any potential problems with your IT when you get into the office? Or do you want to hear about them when they have been fixed and your MSP is contacting you to tell you it has been done?

Most business owners want to hear about solutions rather than problems – so speaking to your MSPs about the way they handle issues is vital.

Can you grow alongside us & scale up quickly?

It is very important to talk to any potential MSP about how they can help you scale – and what they tell you in reply should give you all the information you need to know. You don’t want any answers that suggest they will ‘cross that bridge when we come to it’ – you need them to know exactly how to scale up, and quickly.

And what about outgrowing your MSP? Take a look at who the MSP already works with – the size of these companies should give you some idea of what type of level they are at – if you see your company going way above that size of business anytime soon – it may be worth considering a different MSP. However, if there are companies that you aspire to be like in terms of size, they are potentially going to be good to have on board.

Have you worked with companies like us be?

One of the benefits of having an in-house IT team is that they are more likely to be experts, or at least very knowledgeable, in the industry that your company works in. An MSP works with many different companies in many different industries and so they probably are not experts in your field – but that is not necessarily a bad thing – after all, you really just need them to be an expert in IT don’t you?

This is true to some degree – but in finding out if they have worked with similar companies to you, then you will know how likely they are going to be able to handle the sort of problems that your business faces. It actually isn’t just the same industries that necessarily even matter – it could be a totally different industry but a company is similar size or that operates in a similar way may also face similar challenges, and the experience an MSP that has seen this before might bring over could be invaluable to your company’s growth

Will using you as our MSP give us predictable IT costs?

Another item that will need to be put into the SLA at the consultation stage is what the MSP is going to cost you every month. One of the reasons an in-house team often has to make way for an MSP is the fact that running an in-house team makes your IT support costs unpredictable month on month. Sickness, resignations and on-going training are all costs that running an in-house IT team has to endure, and an MSP should be able to give you their services for a fixed fee – agreed by you in the SLA.

There obviously may be things you need to pay for outside of the SLA, such as hardware costs – for example if your company decides to look for a 4G wan provider and invest in a 4G router – these will not be covered in the SLA, but the day to day IT support that they are brought in to do would be covered with a fixed monthly fee.

Nothing is going to stop the growth of your business more than being starved of cashflow – and unexpected monthly IT costs are a major cause of this for businesses. Make sure your MSP is open an transparent about costs when you are drafting the SLA, and make sure you have a predictable monthly payment to make for an IT service provider so that you can divert the rest of your resources towards growth.

You should be able to get a feel for whether or not the MSP you are looking at will be able to grow with your company if you have these questions in your head when looking – remember no SLA is the same and that is the cornerstone of every IT support agreement  – get that right and everything else should work