An IT Horror Story: A CPA Server Crashes Days Before a Deadline


October 23, 2014


Tax season starts for CPAs in January and keeps going until October, when the last filing extension deadline expires. As each filing date approaches, things get stressful at most CPA firms, and they can’t afford any business disruptions.

Sally Simmons, age 51, is a 30 year veteran of the tax wars and the senior partner at Simmons, Bean and Jenkins, CPAs. This year as the corporate tax filing deadline was approaching, one of their servers crashed just before 3 p.m. It was the one with their tax software and client files. Almost all of her staff of 20 highly paid people were helpless, unable to continue their work, and immediately freaking out about when they could get back to work, and what would happen if they missed their deadlines.

Sally immediately called their managed service provider and her call went straight to the auto attendant.

“Shoot!” Sally said. When she finally got to a voicemail box, she left an urgent message describing her situation, and pleading with them to call her and get someone working on this right away.

Then she called Bob, the MSP owner’s cell phone, got voice mail, and left the same message. She tried the cell phone number for Tim, the technician who was assigned to her account. That call went to voice mail, and she left another message.

One hour went by… then two… then three. She called all the numbers again every hour, leaving increasingly angry voice mails each time.

Much of the staff was planning to work late into the evening, but after 5 p.m. the partners began sending people home. When they hadn’t heard back from their MSP by 7 p.m. the partners went home too.

The owner of the MSP called Sally that evening at 9 p.m.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, “I have one person on vacation, two people out sick, and I’ve been tied up on a server emergency all day.” Sally’s heart sank and she felt bile rising in her throat. She pressed him to meet her at the office right away, or send the on-call technician.

“I’m sorry Sally, I can’t leave here until I get this server back up and running, and that’s going to take at least another three or four hours. And I am the on-call tech this week because all three of my senior engineers are out. The best I can hope for is to be there in the morning. I’ll call you as soon as I’m ready to head your way.”

It was after 9 a.m. when Bob got to Sally’s office. It was late afternoon the following day before he had them back up and running on a rebuilt server with most of their applications and data installed. The files for some of the clients had not been backed up properly for a week, so those returns had to be started again from scratch.

Sally’s staff was spectacular in responding. They all worked through the weekend, 16 to 20 hours every day to get caught up.  A couple of hours before midnight, February 28th, the last return was filed.

In their weekly partner meeting, the only topic was what to do to keep this from ever happening again. Each of them recited a list of complaints about Bob and his company. Slow responses, poor communications, staff turnover, technicians that didn’t seem to know what they were doing, leaving issues unresolved for weeks, fixing things only to have the same issue recur, and a lack of proactive support. It was obvious – and the partners all agreed – they had to find someone else. They would be meticulous in their approach, but they hoped they could find someone good, sooner than later.

They decided to find and interview 2 or 3 MSPs that met the following requirements:

  • Big enough to provide consistent service
  • Experience supporting CPA firms with staff of 20 or more, and expert in the accounting applications they use
  • Able to provide at least three references of clients similar to them in size and business model (preferably CPA firms, but other professional services firms could be OK)
  • Have enough experienced, senior level people to make the right recommendations on their technology needs
  • Focused on providing proactive managed services to minimize downtime. And not just promise to be proactive like Bob and other MSPs, but have that focus verified by reference calls
  • Communicate and respond quickly when needed for any reason

Sally took the lead on this right away. Their next deadline was April 15th, so she wasn’t optimistic they could perform due diligence and make the change with another crunch time already underway.
As soon as she got back to her desk she Googled “managed service provider Austin Texas” and clicked on one of the top results.

On the MyITpros website something is different from other IT service websites. Instead of pictures of servers or stock photo models, these pictures look like real people. Instead of a lot of techno-speak and bragging about their service, she sees clear and simple messaging that seems to be talking to her as a person. She scrolls down the home page and notices a link to a blog titled “Why Do IT Service Providers Take So Long to Respond to Calls for Help?”

“Great question!” she cries. “I’ve got to read that.”

But first she looks at the team pages and realizes that the pictures on the home page are not only real people, they are employees of the company. On the managed services page, the content is short and to the point. But there are links to a lot more information about managed services, including questions to ask to help you choose the right MSP for your business.

Finally, she checks out the testimonials page and sees a testimonial from another CPA she knows. She calls that CPA and learns that they have been a client of MyITpros for over 20 years. “I can’t imagine any worse hell than relying on Bob for 20 years. We’d be out of business,” Sally groans.

Her friend says “Just call them. You won’t regret it.” And she does.

She is stunned when a real person answers the phone, not an automated attendant. She realizes this nice person is a member of a service team. She is encouraged to think that when her company calls with an emergency, someone who can help will answer the phone.

The technician is very friendly and listens to her attentively, then puts her through to Bill McCharen, MyITpros’ COO. In speaking with her, Bill asks great questions and listens. He talks about other CPA clients who have had exactly the same or very similar experiences.

Sally and Bill schedule a needs analysis meeting with her and the partners the next Tuesday. She is relieved to realize she feels a growing confidence that MyITpros may really be the ones to provide her firm with the help they need, and soon. And they lived happily ever after. 🙂

NOTE: Sally Simmons and her firm are fictional representations based upon the numerous CPA and other professional service firms we have served over the years. If the challenges and concerns she faces in this story feel all too real to you, we can help.

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Chris-BoyleChris Boyle, CEO

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