How do I compare IT proposals? It's a question we actually answer a lot, so we thought it's worth putting together a very simple guide that explains how you can weigh up different offerings from different IT providers, and determine which one is likely to bring the most value to your business.
Yes, sort of, so it's worth addressing that first! We do offer our own Managed IT service, and you might even be here because you've received an IT support proposal from ourselves. So while we are biased on this, be assured there's no funny business going on in this post.
We have a lot of confidence in our own service, and we like to win business fair and square, so this post isn't about singing our praises and highlighting the strengths of our service. Instead it's designed to give you the tools you need to make a fair assessment about an important decision for you and your organisation.
Determining which option is right for you is the name of the game then. You need to find an IT company you trust to deliver value to your business throughout the course of the contract, and this isn't something that's easy to do.
Each company's proposal will offer a different mix of technologies, promises, and claims and it's up to you to determine what the difference is between those things so that you know what it is you're getting for your money.
It's essentially a much more grown up and much less fun game of spot the difference.
We're going to teach you which of the main differences you need to look out for though.
When comparing different IT support offerings, we find it really helps to have a bit of an understanding into how the IT support market works, so you can figure out where Company X slots in, and get a sense of how they're likely to deliver their IT support.
We tend to find that IT support companies will fall into one of three categories:
At the lower end of the market, you have what the industry refers to as "break/fix" IT support companies. As the name suggests, these companies are all about fixing broken things, and generally, there's not much more to it than that. You've got a broken computer, you ring up, computer gets fixed, you get a bill and you wait until the computer breaks again and rinse and repeat.
Break/fix support has its place, and it can be just what smaller organisations, or businesses who aren't completely IT dependent need to fit their budget. It's not uncommon to see retainer models where you're billed for a set number of support hours in a month, but essentially the way to spot a company in this bracket is by the reactive approach to solving problems.
It's this reactive nature that tends to become a problem when the break/fix approach is utilised at larger organisations. Downtime becomes less tolerable, and the lack of preventative maintenance can compound problems when there's a larger workforce.
At the complete other end of the market, we have Managed Services Providers (or MSPs). The whole philosophy of an MSP is to manage all aspects of your IT on your behalf so that there's very little left for you to think about in terms of IT.
MSPs take a much more proactive approach, and because they look after all aspects of your IT, it's within their interests to stop things going wrong in the first place, and the streamline common processes that involve IT such as onboarding and offboarding users at the company.
Good MSPs will also be on hand to support you strategically, helping you align your IT strategy with your business objectives.
MSP agreements typically run for a number of years, and comprise of a single all encompassing monthly fee that's usually based around the quantity of devices or users that require support.
In between break/fix and MSPs, sits an awkward halfway house kind of zone, that unfortunately it's all too common to see IT companies in the UK occupy.
These IT companies will often offer a degree of Managed IT Services, but then fall back on the break/fix model when it suits them. Companies operating in this way limit the scope of the managed services quite heavily, and then quote extra for anything outside of the managed services agreement as project work, or out of scope services.
These companies can be quite successful, winning a lot of contracts by bidding cheap, and then effectively double-dipping on managed and break/fix work throughout the duration of the agreement.
Although a common pitfall, it's one that's not too tricky to avoid. Here it's important to read the small print. If a company's terms dedicate as much space to telling you what's not included, as what is included, then make sure to pay extra attention.
Drill down into as much detail as possible, "backups" for example, is a broad term that could mean anything from files copied to a USB once a week, to a fully fledged enterprise solution. Try to determine exactly what you're getting, and if you're not sure, don't be afraid to go back and ask the question of the company providing the proposal.
As is the case when you're making any purchasing decision, there's likely to be variation in price, and determining what you're getting for your money is kind of what this whole article is about. Choosing how much you want to spend, and determining whether that spend represents value for your business is your decision.
The devil is in the detail though, and looking at how companies structure their pricing can be a helpful exercise.
If you're being billed for time, or a fixed block of hours, it's very likely the company operates with a break/fix philosophy. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but worth considering if it's the right option for you.
If you are being charged per user, or per device, check exactly what that entails. How many devices can a user have support for, how many users are allowed to use a device.
If your quotation is itemised check whether any of those additional items are bundled in to the other quote. Don't compare line items to each other at face value, again look for the detail.
Any IT support proposal you get should refer to some kind of service level agreement, and if it doesn't, start asking questions! Understanding the SLAs outlined and the terms around the SLAs is another great way to evaluate one company against the next.
Typically, there will be two times that are mentioned in SLAs, response times and resolutions times. Resolution times are a bit of a contentious subject, because it can be very hard to write terms that cover every eventuality. Say the issue is a cyber attack that's crippled an organisation. Clean up could take weeks.
Response times are therefore more favoured as a metric in SLAs, but again it's possible to game the system by having automatic responders to every ticket request that comes in.
So, the advice here is (again), is to check the detail behind the SLAs as much as possible. Ask how the company stays accountable to their SLAs, what happens if you do email in and nobody responds? Check what counts as a response or a resolution, and ensure that's backed up in writing.
If it's a break/fix contract that you're looking for, it's unlikely that there will be much provision for support outside of the typical day to day computer support in the proposal. Companies offering Managed IT Services though, will often look to add value by offering a more comprehensive level of support.
This can include strategic advice, projects to automate and improve processes within an organisation, and ongoing work to improve certain areas of your business. Again, all these things are great, but it's up to you to determine A) what's included as part of your proposal and what might cost extra, and B) how much value your business is likely to get from these services.
It's worth asking the companies who have provided you with a quotation for example projects and improvements they've helped implement at other companies, and what the associated costs were.
IT support contracts typically run for a number of years, and how effectively you work with an IT partner over the course of that contract can have a big impact on your business.
So, as cheesy as it sounds, you've got to choose a company who you get along with, who you can work effectively with. You'll be placing a lot of trust in them, and they'll be part of your working life for a long time to come.
Much like with a job interview, ensure that the company you choose are a good cultural fit. Ensure that you have a good relationship you think you can build upon, and ensure that you trust them to do a good job.
Hopefully, that's given you some helpful insight and helps if you have a decision to make about an IT provider or not. As we said at the start, we hope our own service can stand up against the competition when measured in an honest and fair way, and if it doesn't, we'd like to think we have lost out to a very good competitor.
If you'd like to hear more about the way that we approach IT support, and the things we do for our customers, have a look at our webinar that's titled "Is your IT support working for you?". It's available to watch on demand, just head over to the page and pop your email address in, and we'll send you a link to the recording.
Additionally, if you have any questions about any of the content covered in this post, please don't hesitate to get in touch. We're always up for a chat!
Ed Hardie, DirectorEd's background is in software engineering, and while he still chips in with the odd bit of code for some automation here and there, these days his focus is across the business as a whole. He heads up the marketing team, oversees day to day operations, and advises our customers on their IT strategy. Read more posts by Ed Hardie