What Are The Best IT Services For Small Businesses?
What are the different IT Service models?
There are three main models in delivering IT services. They are Break/Fix, Block Hours, and Managed Services. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and the more you know about how each model functions, the better prepared you are to make decisions for your company.
What is Break/Fix IT Services?
Break/Fix is exactly what it sounds like. When something breaks, you get it fixed. Since the dawn of IT, this had been the prevalent service delivery model. The advantage of this model is that you don’t pay for any support, until you need it. If a server goes down, you simply call an IT guy (IT Service Provider or ITSP and someone shows up to start it up again…
At first blush, this seems efficient and relatively inexpensive, but in truth, it’s probably the least efficient way of delivering and receiving IT services. Although you only pay for the services when you need them, it almost always comes as a surprise when you do need them – and these unexpected bills can easily be in the five-figures.
The problem with Break/Fix is that nobody is paying attention to your technology until it breaks. If you already have an IT service provider, they have to start from scratch every time they come out to make a repair, which takes time and costs money. If you don’t have a regular IT service provider, the provider you call will prioritize your service behind their regular clients and have to REALLY start from scratch. They will rely on you or your employees for passwords and software licenses needed to repair your systems.
Typically, when we are called to help someone that has been using Break/Fix, we notice that their IT security is lacking, which often leads to additional trouble.
Using a Break/Fix model often means paying by the hour – so a slower and less efficient IT provider might end up charging you more than one who is more qualified and skilled.
Break/fix isn’t all bad. This model might make sense for micro-businesses with fewer than three employees. This model might also make sense for home-based businesses or businesses that don’t rely on technology to deliver their goods or services.
How do Block Hours work?
The Block Hours model is basically the same as Break/Fix, except your company purchases a block of repair hours before you need them. Then as you require IT support, the ITSP deducts the hours from your account.
Typically, block hours are sold at a discount depending on how many hours are in the block. Sometimes these hours will expire after a few months, so it is imperative that the client read the block hour agreement carefully.
The advantages of block hours are that they are often discounted and you are establishing a relationship with the IT company.
The disadvantages are the same as with the break/fix model. The IT company will only do the work when you call them. Occasionally the IT company may monitor your systems but won’t DO anything except alert you that something is wrong. Since monitoring costs the IT company money, they don’t have an obligation to monitor or report under this system.
What are Managed IT Services?
Let me start out by saying that I don’t like the term “Managed Services” I prefer to think of it as Comprehensive Support, or Comprehensive Maintenance. You may already be familiar with this model in other industries. The one that stands out to me is the home HVAC industry.
When you use a HVAC service company, they ask you to sign, and pay for, a maintenance agreement. Typically, this contract entitles you to two annual service calls—one before heating season and one before cooling season. These maintenance agreements often also entitle you to a discount on labor if something goes wrong or if you want an upgrade. This is basically how IT comprehensive maintenance plans work.
Unlike HVAC, where there is little interaction with the equipment on a day-to-day basis and there is (hopefully) little or no interaction with the world outside the system, it is standard procedure to monitor computers continually and maintain them at least monthly—some ITSPs run maintenance weekly. Remember, you are paying the IT service providers to maintain your systems. If you add a system, upgrade hardware/software, or make a change, there will be a charge and your monthly charges may change based on the new systems.
In general, basic endpoint security (computers, laptops, servers) is offered in the packages you can get from service providers. This may include:
3rd Party Patching
Different service providers will add in other services depending on what the market is experiencing and what their clients need. In the comprehensive maintenance model, the IT service provider monitors and remediates any maintenance issues, often without the client knowing there was a problem.
There are frequently different levels of service that might include remote and/or on-site labor. The general idea of managed services or comprehensive maintenance is that the service provider takes on the responsibility of maintaining your systems on a daily basis.
Unlike the other two models, the service provider will make less profit each time a technician has to remediate a problem. It is in the service provider’s best interest to keep your systems running smoothly. To this end, ITSPs automate as much of the monitoring and remediation as possible. Each time a small issue is caught and corrected before a technician needs to act, the client’s computers remain in operation and the service provider can move on to another issue.
This is truly a partnership with the service provider. The client gets to use technology efficiently, and the service provider has the time to identify ways that technology can help their client become even more efficient. The other huge advantage is that Technical Business Reviews (TBRs) are often included in the packages. TBRs are regular meetings where the IT service provider and the client can talk about budgets, the client’s business, IT planning, and the performance of the service provider.
There are downsides to comprehensive maintenance. Like many other services that improve efficiency, it is more expensive on a month-to-month basis and IT service providers typically ask for a two- or three-year agreement. Over the long run, however, the client should see huge value, especially when factoring in the downtime that could have resulted from infrequent maintenance. IT service providers require a service agreement, because they spend the first part of this relationship learning about your technology, your business, and your people so they can offer you advice as an extension of your team.
If your company has of fewer than five employees, it might be best to ask your IT service provider if they offer services for small companies or startups. Typically, an ITSP will have a plan that they use to introduce these businesses to their devices.