The complete guide to your IT provider options


February 2, 2016


We live in a world of choices at every turn, and IT services are no different. Among the service types available, which fits best with your business? The answer is based on a variety of factors, such as number of employees and project scope. So, how can you quickly make an informed decision? We’ve broken down the different types of IT service providers out there, as well as the business variables you need to consider to find your best fit.

Types of IT Providers

  • Hourly IT Providers: These providers offer a break/fix type of service – you call them when something breaks, and they come fix it. There’s no sustained monthly payment or long-term contract involved. However, this means you are entirely reactive when it comes to your IT, and responding to a problem after it becomes apparent can leave you dealing with outages. That said, if you are a tiny company (fewer than 10 users) and have extremely minimal technology (you don’t have or need a server), this may be the best fit for you.

Bottom line: Hire hourly if you’re a very small company with minimal technology use.

  • Project-Based IT Providers: Your business has more than 10 employees, and you have a server and specific IT needs to meet on a one-time basis. Other than that, your IT needs are pretty minimal. A company in this situation could consider hiring a project-based provider as an in-between solution that’s more comprehensive than hourly but less so than managed services. Examples of IT projects include an office relocation, a small operational setup of connectivity or desktops, or a switch from traditional phone service to VoIP. These are all relatively small, self-contained undertakings for which companies do not necessarily need a provider to be acclimated to their strategies, culture and processes.

Bottom line: Hire project-based if IT projects surface once in a while but you have minimal IT needs otherwise.

  • Managed Services IT Providers (MSP): Establishing a long-term partnership with an MSP is extremely valuable when technology becomes a strategic part of your business. This usually occurs once you have a dozen-plus users, one or more servers and routine, major IT projects for which you need someone fluent in large IT issues – and your business’ processes – to make recommendations and decisions. Partnering with an MSP allows you to take a proactive approach to IT, addressing problems before they even start and moving all IT processes off your plate. As your business’ IT needs grow, it will become harder and harder for hourly and project-based providers to keep up. In contrast, MSPs offer a one-stop shop staffed with experts. On top of that, they will be thoroughly knowledgeable about your IT environment, will serve as a central point of accountability for IT-related issues and come at a fixed, predictable monthly cost so you’re not confronted with unexpected expenses when something goes wrong (as it inevitably does).

Bottom line: Hire a managed services provider if at least 10 people depend on technology as a vital part of your business, and you want all the benefits of having an in-house IT department at a fixed cost.

So, What Factors Should You Evaluate?

When you’re trying to figure out which provider type would service your business best, we recommend examining four factors.

  • User Count: This is the single largest factor in determining how much support you need. Why? Because most of the time, it’s not computers that need help, it’s people – and that’s where resource time comes in. It’s also important to note the difference between users and employees. Users are the people at the company who are using computers and technology. So, while your user and employee counts may be the same, it’s completely possible for the former to be smaller than the latter.
  • Servers: This is the second most important factor in determining support needs. The more servers a company has, the more complicated the IT environment is, thanks to the apps and data that need to be managed.
  • Project Needs: Regardless of business size, organizations have IT projects ranging from simple to complex. Evaluate what is on your list and work with a company that has experience performing extensive projects. Note that typically, hourly or project providers are one- or two-man shops, whereas MSPs have a much higher technician count – and with that, a wider variety of skills and experience.
  • Current IT Needs: If your current needs can be met by periodically calling someone for a reactive fix, go with an hourly or project provider. If your needs are ongoing, your business is growing and you strive to be proactive, make an MSP your strategic partner.

Use the chart below (and the information above) to help you figure out which provider type might be best for your business based on these four variables.

Best IT Providers For Your Business

Once you decide which type of provider to go with, you can start screening candidates. Be sure to approach the process confident about what interview questions to ask. If you’re still unsure, get a professional to conduct an IT assessment that will help determine your needs.

IT Services Assessment

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