Hiring an IT Company? Make Sure You Ask These 25 Essential Questions!

Selecting a company to maintain your technology is one of the most important decisions you can make for your business. You must find the most competent and reliable IT support provider in your area.

Hiring an IT Company

How do you know if the IT company you’re considering is right for your business?

Some technology companies call themselves the best, but they haven’t kept up their certifications. This is important because the latest certifications validate the skills that their techs learned in their training. With all the cyber threats and new IT solutions today, it’s critical that your IT provider is up to date on their skills.

Don’t just pick a company off the Internet because they’re the closest one to you. Do your research to find out if they are truly qualified to protect your data and meet your organization’s unique IT needs.

The following are some key questions that you should ask any IT provider you’re considering for your business.

  • What are your staff’s qualifications and certifications?
    The right IT company should be able to provide you with information regarding the certifications held by their staff and relay how these will meet your needs.
  • How long have you been providing technology services? They should have a minimum of three years of experience in the service, support, and solutions you require.
  • What Partner Certifications and Technical Specialties do you hold? Ask, for example, if they are certified on Apple devices and Microsoft solutions. Also, ask if they can provide you the latest hardware and software products at the best price.
  • Do you require continuous training of your IT techs? This is the only way to ensure technicians have the most recent certifications.
  • What industries have you worked in?
    Find out if they’ve worked in industries similar to yours. If not, determine if the work they’ve performed for others aligns with your needs.
  • How well do you understand the business applications we use?
    Your business may have specially-built applications to handle needed workflows. Your IT provider should understand how your business technology works and be able to support it.
  • How large is your IT company?
    If they are a small company, you’re more likely to be high on their priority list. However, larger IT companies typically offer a broad knowledge base and capabilities. Plus, their available resources may be more expansive. You must weigh the benefits of each and decide which is best for your business.
  • What kind of customer service can we expect? Do they offer 24/7 service with a live person on the other end of your call, chat or email? Is their help desk staff qualified to address your issues immediately?  If they can’t resolve your problems over the phone or online, how long will it take for a tech to visit your business?
  • Is your onsite service response time backed by a written Service Level Agreement (SLA)? A certified, professional IT company will put what they offer in writing. They should offer managed services with service-level guarantees. What is their “on-time” guarantee? Their SLA should include this as well as information about how you’ll be compensated if they continually show up late, or if they don’t meet the standards detailed in the SLA.
  • What is and isn’t covered by your service contract?In addition to what they do provide, find out what they don’t.  Do they provide fixed-fee services? Are there extra costs, and if so, what are they? Avoid using IT companies that are only interested in fixing what breaks and selling you equipment.  You deserve an IT partner who will work diligently to give you and your employees an IT infrastructure that is secure, reliable, and enhances productivity.
  • Do you offer outsourced CIO Services? Having an Outsourced CIO means your technology will meet your business needs now and into the future. Their CIO should be able to:
  • Develop an understanding of your business and technology infrastructure.
  • Provide recommendations for IT solutions that will promote your success and grow with your business.
  • Construct a Strategic Plan that aligns with your budget.
  • Conduct ongoing evaluations and provide IT performance metrics on a monthly basis.
  • Will you monitor our IT system around the clock? This prevents downtime because they will detect problems early before anything fails.
  • What security services do you offer? How will you protect my interests?Cybercrime is on the rise, and your data must be safeguarded. They must provide up-to-date cybersecurity solutions to protect your computers and network from unauthorized access, malware, phishing, viruses and other forms of cybercrime.
  • Can you monitor our network for cyber intrusions and threats? With all the security incidents today, 24/7 security monitoring is essential.
  • Do you provide Mobile Device Management? When you or your employees use your laptops, tablets or smartphones for business outside of your workplace, they are vulnerable to theft and malware from public Wi-Fi and more. You need the assurance that your data can be remotely wiped from any device if necessary.
  • Do you perform Risk Analyses and Vulnerability Assessments? Your business may require this to stay compliant with government or industry regulations. Plus, this will detect any “holes” in your computer and network security that hackers can take advantage of.
  • Do you provide Backup and Recovery Solutions? You need both an onsite removable backup solution and an offsite one (in the Cloud) to ensure you will have access to your data if it’s stolen, corrupted, accidentally deleted, or damaged due to a flood, fire or another emergency.
  • What’s included in your Disaster Recovery Plan?
    This is extremely important. Be sure to ask about site visits and audits to estimate the recovery time and the impact of a potential failure. Do they have a reliable process in place? How often do they test the disaster recovery plan? Is their staff knowledgeable and ready to react under the worst possible conditions? Also, make sure they can regularly provide the results of disaster recovery tests.
  • Will you provide ongoing Security Awareness Training for our employees? Cybercriminals are constantly developing new techniques to trick your users into downloading malware or releasing confidential information and credentials. It’s critical to conduct recurring and updated security training to ensure your employees recognize these threats and know what to do to prevent exposing your data.
  • Will your IT professionals communicate with our staff in “plain English?” They should be able to relay information in a way you and your employees can comprehend.
  • How do you stay informed about evolving technologies? Do they attend industry events to update their skillsets?
  • Will you migrate us to the Cloud and help us understand how to use cloud solutions? Make sure your IT provider can help you and your employees understand the Cloud, it’s benefits and risks. They should be able to help you find the right cloud services for your unique business needs.
  • Can you offer us different types of cloud solutions? Do they provide:
    • A Public Cloud, so you can securely share space with other clients?
    • A Private Cloud that is dedicated only to your use?
    • A Hybrid Cloud which is a combination of a private and public cloud?
  • How much will cloud migration cost? Migrating your workflows and data to the cloud can provide many benefits, including cost savings, and increased productivity. However, you should ask how much cloud migration will cost, including associated expenses such as maintenance and support.
  • Do you have any case studies or testimonials from existing clients that I can read? Can I contact them? Would you hire a new employee without checking their references? Of course not. So, you should do so with your IT provider. Contact some of their existing clients to find out what you need to know.

 

Will The (Cloud) Storage Wars Draw Blood?

Modern professional relationships require digital processes, like email, collaborative software, and file sharing. The cloud has opened up incredible possibilities beyond imagination a mere decade ago, but which is the right choice?

Cloud Storage

The competition is seriously fierce in cloud storage. The Internet of Things has fueled a data addiction for which traditional storage can’t physically support. We love our devices – I mean, we are straight-up addicted to our smartphones, our iPads, our Kindle Fire tablets, all of them. And there’s a reason we back up our smartphone content: we’d be absolutely lost if we lost it. Our contacts, our notes, our apps, our calendars, and everything we depend on for day-to-day use is on that tiny computer. Where do you back up your data? It’s probably safe to assume there is a cloud location you connect to that saves your backed-up data. It’s safe to assume because we would overwhelm traditional storage options.

Traditional storage hasn’t been able to meet expectations and needs for performance, availability, management, or the cost impact in comparison to growing demand. Everyone has an opinion on who their favorite cloud storage solution is, and it’s usually one of the Big Three players in the cloud game: Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive – and not in that order.

Technically speaking, the first cloud storage solutions launched well before today’s modern providers. Consumers had access in the early 1980’s through CompuServe, and AT&T launched a platform in the 1990’s to support small business solutions. Amazon Web Services introduced AWS S3, their cloud storage offering, in 2006 and functions as the storage provider for Dropbox, Pinterest, and many other large digital enterprises. The only thing that has changed is file size, file type – but mainly adoption.

Cloud storage is increasing in adoption for every professional environment – and is the only solution for distributed workforces! Managing resources for storage needs to be agile, and limited solutions also limit agility. The cloud is merely an accessible extension of your data storage center. Review your full data storage needs, and consider the advantages the cloud offers your business and daily operations.

When reviewing your cloud storage priorities, there are many issues that deserve a deeper consideration. Here is the “Top Ten” List we suggest using as a checklist, and in no particular order:

  • Cost
    • The financial impact of cloud storage is usually the first factor any business considers, but we disagree with this position. While your bottom line is critical to your overall operational budget, there is a multitude of factors that could have a greater impact on your day-to-day needs.
    • It’s surprising just how many decision-makers are surprised – and unprepared for – the expenses required to utilize cloud providers.
  • Sync Simplicity
    • If storing or backing up your data to a cloud solution is cumbersome, the likelihood of full adoption by your staff – and your clients, if applicable – will be a struggle, and result in decreased productivity and decreased reliability. You don’t have time for that!
  • Sync Speed
    • Just as with simplicity, speed is a factor with the ability to sync data quickly. As with any downtime, no one can afford reduced productivity due to Internet connection issues, and it’s an even larger issue if it’s due to your cloud storage provider.
  • Location
    • As they say in real estate, “Location, location, location”! Anyone who thinks it doesn’t matter where your data is stored physically is wrong. Wrong! Though there are too many reasons this matters to list, here are just a few:
    • Data stored in the U.S. is both protected by and susceptible to U.S. laws, like the Patriot Act and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. Data stored in – or containing the information of – European Union nations are subject to protection by legislation passed by European Parliament enacting strict consumer data protection rules.
    • Facilities that physically house servers for cloud storage providers are just as open to impacts of weather and natural disasters as any other structure in that locale – and accessing your data will be subject to these conditions.
    • Is the physical security of the location a concern under any other circumstances?
  • Reliability and Access
    • Is the vendor reliable? The key players in the cloud storage game tend to be the best for valid reasons, but appropriate considerations, in this case, would be hardware failures, power disruptions, or even vendor disputes. Crazier things have happened.
  • Storage Capacity
    • How much data do you anticipate storing in the cloud? This is like trying to choose your favorite song. The answer changes on a regular basis, and most of the time there is no one singular answer. Obviously, you’ll want to choose a provider that is capable of offering you more storage than you think you’ll ever need, but you also don’t want to pay for storage you’re not using nor will you ever. It’s a delicate balance, and many providers allow for variable usage.
  • File Sharing
    • How many times have you attached a document to an email message, and tried to send it only to get the dreaded error message “File exceeds the maximum size of 25MB. Try removing an attachment and send again”? You are then faced with trying to reduce the file size (Word document into a PDF, etc.) or uploading the file into a cloud solution like Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneNote, and sharing the access URL instead.
  • Application Integrations
    • The number one request made by anyone accessing cloud storage and utilizing an application is to offer an intuitive user experience. Statistics show half of all users that abandon a cloud app do so due to integration issues, citing missed deadlines.
  • Support
    • If any issues arise, it’s critical that users achieve the needed help immediately from an adequately trained member of support team equipped with the right knowledge to resolve the situation.
  • Data Security
    • The cloud and data stored in cloud environments face risks, just like any other professional endeavor. A cloud storage provider that can guarantee against cybersecurity vulnerability and takes the greatest care in safeguarding your data is an excellent vendor and partner.

We’ve talked about what you need – now let’s talk about who can help you. Here is a fantastic detailed resource when comparing many of the cloud vendors at once, but let’s talk about the Big Three. The key players in the Cloud Storage Wars are Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneNote – and any one of these providers would valiantly battle to the bloody end for your business! There is a reason that these three are the best in the biz: they’ve earned their reputation with quality service, support, and every other item in the checklist.

  • Dropbox
    • Offers a free basic storage plan (2GB)
    • Paid plans and features cater to business customers
  • Google Drive
    • Offers a free basic storage plan: clarification, Google users have 15GB of free cloud storage – shared between Gmail, Google Photos, and Google Drive. If you get a ton of emails and don’t clean out your inbox often, that eats up your 15GB
    • Paid plans and features cater to business customers
  • OneNote
    • Offers a free basic storage plan (5GB)
    • Paid plans and features cater to business customers: Here is where it truly pays to use OneNote and be an Office 365 customer, as the paid plans are included with Office 365 subscriptions, either Personal or Home.

The ability to sync, share files and speed are all a focus of these teams, and the competition is pretty ruthless. In fact, Dropbox and Microsoft have formed a partnership to allow easier integration by making Office Online available to Dropbox users at no cost. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer!

So, which provider is right for you? Only you can make that decision. Armed with this information and reviewing our checklist will hopefully help you make the right choice!