Ask an MSP: What questions should I ask when interviewing IT providers?


November 8, 2018

You interview employees before you hire them, so why wouldn’t you do the same for an IT services provider? After all, you’ll likely be engaging IT support services to reduce internal labor costs, so it makes sense to subject providers to the full interview process. As with any other type of interview, it’s important to ask the right questions. Here are eight you should get answered before you sign on the dotted line:

1. What managed services do you provide/what are your areas of expertise?

A jack of all trades is a master of none. No matter how competent the managed services provider (MSP), IT is a vast field with seemingly endless nuances, so most IT services providers have a degree of specialization. Some have more experience working within highly regulated industries such as healthcare or education, while others shine at installation, cabling or physical security. Probe for more information here so you can determine whether a candidate’s expertise aligns with your needs.

2. What are your company values?

If you and your MSP have a value mismatch from the get-go, there’s a good chance you may never see eye to eye down the road. Any MSP you engage needs to have an intimate understanding of your processes and departments—not to mention your core competencies and what you hope to accomplish through technology. The best MSP/client relationships are not temporary; therefore, you should be shopping for a long-term partner you can trust for the long haul.

3. How are you planning to integrate future technologies?

Technology changes fast, and if you don’t keep up, you’ll be left in the dust. With this in mind, the best IT services providers look toward the future with a roadmap that includes up-and-coming technologies. How is your MSP investigating machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, VR and other innovations? How will the provider help you integrate these tools to stay nimble and competitive, no matter what the future holds? Even if you’re not ready for these technologies yet, your MSP still needs to stay one step ahead.

4. What are the standard terms of your service level agreement (SLA)?

This is probably the single most important question you need answered before you commit. Your SLA includes the length of your contract, the scope of services, the MSP’s data security policies and any uptime guarantees (more on these later). It should also outline the process for terminating your relationship—after all, you don’t want to be stuck with a bad fit—and lay out the metrics and reporting mechanisms that will be used to evaluate how well your partnership is working.

5. What’s your typical response time?

During an outage or a cybersecurity event, every second counts, so your MSP must be able to quickly triage issues to avoid data loss and service interruption. Many IT support providers even guarantee a certain response time in their SLA, so make sure you get clarification before you sign on.

6. What kind of IT support services do you offer?

All MSPs offer IT support structures to solve technological issues of all sizes. The difference is how they provide that support: Some assign a technician or point of contact to your account, others operate a help desk you can call or email, and others provide 24/7 support.

7. What kind of cybersecurity do you provide?

Whether you come up against ransomware, data breaches, malware or phishing, no business is completely safe from cybercrime. Your MSP plays a pivotal role in protecting your online assets and networks through proper server configuration, data encryption, firewall installation and security software, and should also regularly update software and programs to install security patches. Ultimately, a good MSP is your first line of defense against cybersecurity attacks.

8. What’s your uptime guarantee?

A minute may not seem like a long time, but every 60 seconds that your networks are down can take a huge toll on your business. Gartner estimates that every minute of downtime costs around $5,600—so it’s not just your customers who suffer when things aren’t working as they should. Most MSPs’ SLAs guarantee at least 99.99% uptime (the industry standard), but if you work in healthcare or another industry covered by HIPAA, you may need to find an MSP who can offer 100% uptime. Either way, you’ll want to ask about this early in the interview process.

Good MSPs pride themselves on their transparency, so they should be more than willing to answer any query you can dream up. Before you begin interviewing, you may want to take a moment to think about the IT support issues that matter most to your business.

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