Common Mistakes made by IT Service Providers and how to avoid them

7 Deadly Sins of Managed IT Services

Over the years I’ve spent working in Managed Services I’ve noticed that there are certain mistakes you just can’t make if you want to keep your clients.  I call them the 7 deadly sins of managed services.  I’ve found if you can avoid these items and offer excellent service you’ll be able to keep your clients happy for years.  These are problems we never want to have, and at i.t.NOW we’ve put systems in place, so they never happen to us.  Here they are in no particular order.

Security Breach

We recently had a competitor of ours that had a perfect storm of cataclysmic events that they’re still dealing with months later.  They support quite a few businesses and are one of our competitors that I have the most respect for.  They invest quite a bit in security, however they somehow still had a huge breech the left them reeling.

They had a bad patch in their remote monitoring and support software that was exploited, and a bad actor infected them with ransomware.  Since they got access to their support software they not only infected the company, but also 2000 of their client’s computers.  Data was encrypted overnight.  It was a disaster of epic proportions.

They paid a crazy ransom and went to work fixing the problem.  Some of their clients didn’t have access to their data for more than two weeks.  This kind of disaster simply can’t happen.  Our clients trust us with their data and the protection of their networks.

At i.t.NOW we deploy a layered approach to security.  We ensure that our own network is patched and up to date including all software we use to server our clients.  The servers that house those tools are in a high security data center which requires biometric scanning and other stringent identification to get in.  We leverage encryption, multifactor authentication, strong firewalls, and the best antivirus on the market to protect our clients.  We do everything in our power to ensure that a security breach is not a sin we commit.

Response Time

This is one of the most straightforward reasons that IT Service Providers get fired.  They don’t have the right systems and people in place to allow them to respond to support request in a timely manner.  We’re not talking about taking a couple of hours to get back to somebody.  We’re talking about taking a few days or a week.

There are typically two main causes for slow response times.  The first is the system itself.  Many of our competitors have a single technician assigned to a given client.  This can be dangerous.  They could be busy working with another client, they could be sick, out of town, etc.  In this situation they are typically emailing their requests to this tech.  Emails get lost and overlooked easily.  A system like this has multiple points of failure and frequently breaks.

The second reason response time is poor is a lack of resources.  Maybe they have better systems in place for prioritizing requests and keeping track of issues.  What they don’t have is enough people to fulfill those requests in a timely manner.  They work as fast as they can, but if you’re request 124 on their list its going to be a while until they can get to you.

There is a better way.  i.t.NOW logs every single request that comes to un in a ticketing system.  This allows us to track every issue and ensure its completion.  It also allows us to track how long each request is taking to complete and bake in an escalation path when needed.  This ensures that the right resource is addressing the issue for our clients in a timely manner.

If there is a request that exceeds the allotted time for resolution the system automatically starts to notify i.t.NOW management so that additional resources can be allocated if necessary.  We track our response times carefully and have specific metrics that allow us to know ahead of time when to hire more techs.  This allows us to have the fastest response times of any IT Service Provider in Utah and be able to guarantee them to our clients.

Unscheduled Downtime

Network downtime is another reason I’ve seen businesses start to look around for a new IT Service Provider.  Downtime is costly to businesses, and in most cases can be prevented.  The two most common reasons for network downtime are neglect and poor network design.

Neglect happens when a provider just stops paying attention to your network for an extended period.  Servers and network equipment continue to age and start exhibiting symptoms of problems, but they are out of sight and out of mind.  Nobody notices.  They aren’t monitored for performance or failures.  One day they crash hard, and only then is the provider suddenly aware of the situation.

Poor design can also play a big part in network downtime.  A lack of redundancy in server hard drives and power supplies is a primary culprit.  Often IT providers think they are doing their client a favor by saving them a few dollars, but most clients disagree when they find out that their outage could have been prevented with a few hundred bucks of hardware.  This goes for substandard firewalls and switches, as well as backup power for the server.  I’ve even seen cases where the client had all the right parts and their IT provider didn’t know how to set it up to prevent downtime.

Keeping our clients networks up is a priority for us at i.t.NOW.  We ensure that all servers are proactively monitored for performance.  If they have a drive failure, are low on disk space, or any number of other items we’re notified immediately.  This allows us to proactively fix issues before they cause downtime.

We also meet quarterly with our clients to report on the status of all their hardware.  If a server is going to be end of life in 6 months our clients know ahead of time, so they can budget and plan for a replacement.

We design networks with appropriate redundancy.  Server hard drives are always redundant (RAID) as well as power supplies.  Backup batteries are recommended, and planning is done to ensure that things will failover as designed in case of an emergency.  We have amazing backups as well that allow fast recovery.

Documentation / I Don’t Want to Repeat Myself

There are certain things that seem to be triggers for business owners and executives.  Repeating themselves to vendors seems to be one.  This makes documentation key for a Managed Service Provider.  A provider with excellent documentation can much more easily troubleshoot issues because they have all the pertinent information at their fingertips.  Maybe more importantly it allows them to get to work without asking you the same questions over and over.

If a client must explain their entire setup for IT every time they call in for help they start believing that their service provider:

  1. Doesn’t care about the client
  2. Doesn’t have its act together
  3. Has a problem with support staff turnover

The client doesn’t care which answer it is.

Here’s how we fix it at i.t.NOW.  Every new client goes through an extensive onboarding process in the first two weeks of the relationship.  This allows us to deploy our tools, gather information about the network, and document it all in our system.

This period is key for the success of the relationship.  It allows us to easily disseminate knowledge about each new client to our entire team of technicians.  That helps them get to the root of problems faster.

We also track each request in our ticketing system.  This allows all our technicians to have access to notes on the recent history of the network, problems we’ve been working on, and what work has been recently done.  This eliminates the need for the client to repeat themselves and allows us to serve our clients better and faster.

Lost Data

Losing a client’s data is a cardinal sin in the IT industry.  It’s especially bad when they’re specifically paying you to make sure that never happens.  Its most commonly caused by poor planning and insufficient backup solutions.

Poor planning is simply that.  I’ve seen it time and time again.  A provider goes in to do a project and move a critical system of the clients.  They don’t bother to take a backup or have a rollback plan in place before they start.  Something goes sideways with the migration, and poof.  All the client’s data is gone.

Alternatively, things are humming along.  The provider set up backups for the client a few months back and thinks everything is fine.  The server crashes.  The provider goes back to check the backup and finds out that the backup stopped working 4 months ago, or that the data they have as backups is corrupt.  This should NEVER happen.

Backups with i.t.NOW are continuously monitored.  If a failure happens there is automation in place that will try to resolve the problem and run the backup again.  If that still fails a ticket is generated and a human assigned to look and resolve it.  You will always have a current backup with us.

When planning projects, we ensure that we have a solid backup in place before we start.  We also have a rollback plan in place so that if everything goes sideways we know exactly how to get things back to working quickly.

Our imaged based backup solution allows you to recover from a disaster in just a few minutes.  It also has transparent reporting available to our clients via live dashboard 24/7.  This allows our clients to have total confidence that their network is protected.

Return and Report

One thing that I’ve notice is a problem with a lot of managed service providers is a complete lack of transparency.  This is especially prevalent with hourly IT providers.  That can be a problem for business owners.  When you’re getting billed for every minute you want to know what they’re doing.

A system that allows for delivery of reporting on key items such as security patches and updates, service results and reporting, and SLA guarantees is important.  Information on the success of backups, and proactive notification of aging hardware needs to happen in a timely manner.  The idea is simple.  Are we protected, and am I getting what I’m paying for?

The lack of transparency can be because the provider doesn’t have a system in place that allows them to give that reporting.  That is the most common reason.  Occasionally the IT provider doesn’t have a good system to track these items themselves, and so they don’t happen reliably.  In this case they don’t want their customers to know what they do because the answer is often nothing.

Occasionally they are doing all the right things, but they don’t have the reporting to be able to go to their clients and claim the win.  Some IT Service Providers get fired because they’re not good at proving value to their clients.

The solution is simple.  i.t.NOW has developed a robust reporting system, and couples that with regular quarterly meetings.  The reporting is a live dashboard that our clients can check anytime.  It shows the status of backups, patches and updates, current support requests, SLA results, and more.  They can get accurate data in real time to know what’s going on.  We’re confident they’re going to like what they see, and so we have no reservation about giving them data.

We also meet with every client on a quarterly basis to do an IT planning and strategy meeting.  This allows us to get you up to speed on what’s been going on the last few months, as well as look to the future.  We give you notice in advance of expiring hardware or licensing.  We work with you to plan upcoming projects.  We want to be part of your team, and these meetings help us to do that.

Selling Stuff, They Don’t Need

I met with a potential client recently that was a small business of about 25 people.  We talked about their needs, and they mentioned some of the difficulties they have with their current IT provider.  I looked in their server room and found that they had a $25,000 firewall.  I asked them about it, and they said their current IT provider told them that was the model they needed.  I was flabbergasted.

Most businesses their size would be completely fine with a business class firewall that costs $1500.  I started to ask more questions about security, and the network to try and determine why that device was chosen.  The result was that there was no good reason that I could discern.  It appears that their provider sold them this firewall either because they wanted to play with a shiny new expensive piece of enterprise gear, or because they wanted to make a lot of money selling it.  The client was livid.

Solutions should be sized to the need.  At i.t.NOW we have standards that we like all our clients to adhere to.  Essentially a set of best practices that allows us to ensure the hardware and software they use has been tested and will be rock solid.

We have varying sizes for these solutions depending on the client’s specific needs.  A 25-person company that does steel manufacturing doesn’t need a 25K firewall.  They need to be secure.  They need to be reliable.  They need some redundancy and a solid backup solution.  All those things can be done sized right to small business and on a small business budget.

We find if we do right by our clients in this manner they do right by us.  A right fit solution is much more likely to be well maintained and have less problems.  That’s our goal every time.

Plug

If your current IT provider is trying to pull any of the shenanigans above know that there is a better way.  i.t.NOW has been in business for 20 years, and we would love to discuss how we can help you.  Give us a call today at 801-562-8778!