09 Dec 2011

Why isn’t your IT support meeting expectations?

With most businesses now reliant on information technology, it’s no surprise that they want reliable systems.

Good IT support can make all the difference, however many businesses struggle to find adequate support.

Repeated failures, slow performance, bugs that aren’t ironed out – the list of grievances is long. Most businesses have their favourite horror story – hardware or software that’s so unreliable it’s unusable, repeated blame shifting when they want accountability, and so on.

Many wonder how it can be so hard. Here are a few reasons why your IT support might be falling short.

Your provider is too big

Perhaps hoping that the price tag will match the level of support, some SMEs turn to corporate- and enterprise-level providers.

There’s nothing to prevent this from working out. In practice though, many SMEs find that their justifiably high expectations aren’t fulfilled.

The problem is typically that the big providers are geared for the big end: their services aren’t necessarily the right fit for SMEs. But they don’t take the time to adapt their systems because SMEs are too small a number on their accounts sheet.

Your provider is too small

Many sole and small operators deliver great IT support.What tends to happen when they do, however, is that word spreads. They expand. And with more clients on their books, their resources become stretched. The skilled principal behind the operation needs help, but he or she can’t always afford to hire someone as good as they are, and standards slip.

Your team has a fixed vision

Internal IT people and teams do have advantages – they’re usually close on-hand and they’re familiar with your business, and when something goes wrong their knowledge of your systems helps them to fix things.

The downside, however, is that your business ends up with a “single party” vision: systems and processes designed by one person – systems which function well when that person is around to maintain and guide them, but which cause all kinds of trouble when that person leaves. It’s a state of affairs we’re seeing more often. It’s great while the expert is around, but reliability suffers once they’re gone.

What to look for when you look for support

The reality is that IT support is a service game. When choosing a provider, their relationships with software and hardware vendors and manufacturers are important, as is the quality and skills of their support and engineering teams. But unless the provider has a true service focus, you won’t see the reliable systems and support you require.

When searching for a provider, make sure that your candidates have well-rehearsed processes for responding to and fixing problems. Frameworks exist that can play a role here, including the widely recognised ITIL standards.

It can be a case of “you pay for what you get” but not always. When it comes to features, if a provider says that they offer 24/7 support, be sure to question what that means – will there be engineers on-hand, for example, or is it just a glorified messaging service?

Also make sure that you’re signing on to a proactive service. Waiting for a system to break or grind to a halt is almost without exception the most expensive time to solve its problems. Any provider worth its salt knows this, and their support will be as much about watching for and averting potential issues as it is about responding to immediate trouble.

Dave Stevens is MD, Brennan IT

(This blog post was first published on the SmartCompany website on December 8 2011).