Firstly, here’s the good news. Lots of research shows that digitally enabled, tech-savvy small businesses grow quickly and make money. A survey by Deloitte found that 85% of small business owners agree that the use of technology aids success.
That’s a pretty obvious finding. We’re all using more technology, and we’re all doing more online. Customers expect to interact with smooth and efficient websites and e-commerce operations, while employees are more productive and collaborative when they’re given the latest digital tools and devices relevant to their roles.
But with every silver lining comes a cloud. The Deloitte survey also found a wide digital divide. The most digitally savvy operations were more likely to sell abroad, create new products and employ more people. In other words, they were more likely to be successful. But the opposite was also true. The least digitally advanced were far less likely to do any of these things.
The pandemic has only increased the divide between the haves and have nots when it comes to technology. Technology helped companies transition quickly and smoothly to home working when lockdown first kicked in. It helped them pivot to online operations, e-commerce and cashless payments. It helped them collaborate and communicate efficiently. According to a McKinsey survey, business leaders think the pandemic accelerated their digital transformation strategies by between three and four years.
So if IT infrastructure was crucial to small businesses before Covid, it’s even more so now. Trends set in play by the pandemic – like increased remote working and the digitisation of customer interactions – aren’t going anywhere. The future has arrived.
Which all begs some fundamental questions for every small business. Do you have the IT smarts you need to survive in an ever more digital world? Are your systems up to scratch – and nailed down secure? What would downtime or a data breach mean for your business, and what can you do to ensure that, if disruption happens, you recover in hours rather than days? Finally, who do you take advice from about future plans and what they might mean for your IT estate?
Large enterprises have an easy response to questions like these. They palm them off onto the IT team. But many small businesses don’t have one, and some don’t have a single IT professional on their books. Even when they do, IT has to juggle scores of different tasks, from keeping your e-commerce platform running smoothly to maintaining your connectivity solution. It’s no wonder that, according to one study, only 17% of SMEs are happy with their current situation when it comes to technology.
And it’s also no wonder that, with so many other priorities clamouring for their attention, small business owners are increasingly turning to outsourcing their IT needs to trusted third parties. In fact, more than half of small businesses say they are increasing their outsourcing, and much of that growth is centred on IT.
Managed IT support can be the answer to your small businesses’ technology headache, because it can act as the cost-effective equivalent of an in-house IT team. This third party support can maintain crucial systems, monitor data security and solve issues remotely. It can undertake the heavy lifting of updating and patching your solutions and hardware, saving you huge chunks of time and also giving you real peace of mind.
So are managed IT support services right for your business? In the rest of this article we’ll look at what a good managed IT service provider can do, but we’ll start with perhaps the most crucial question of all: how do you find a service provider you can trust?
How to identify a reliable managed IT service provider
As you’ll discover in this paper, you need IT support. The effective use of efficient IT infrastructure is at the core of every successful small business.
If you haven’t got that support in house, you need to find it elsewhere. There are scores of managed IT service providers out there, so how do you choose the right one for your business?
For a start, look for the basics. A few key indicators can help you separate a good potential IT partner from the rest of the field. Here are the main ones to look for:
Accreditations and experience:
If you rely on hardware or software from a specific vendor, it makes sense to choose a managed service provider who’s been vetted by that manufacturer. Look for vendor accreditations, which often come in silver, gold and platinum tiers, indicating a partner’s level of expertise. Then there’s accreditations like Cyber Essentials and ISO 27001, showing a service provider’s network security knowledge.
Response times (SLAs):
If your system – or any part of it – goes down, you want it back up and running again as quickly as possible. Look at a potential partner’s Service Level Agreement (SLA) to see how promptly any issue is likely to be dealt with, and at what cost.
Good service providers should be able to show evidence of happy customers.
Cost and transparency:
A good potential partner will be totally upfront about costs, promising no surprises when it comes to your bill. Their service should also guarantee regular reports to prove your return on investment.
Do you want a partner who can be at your premises in half an hour or are you happy for everything to be done remotely? There’s a cost/benefit calculation that you need to make here, but if on-site support is important to you it’s something you may have to pay more for.
If you grow, can your IT partner still meet your needs? Don’t just consider your IT requirements today, but also what they might look like in future. If you don’t want to repeat this entire process again a couple of years from now, make sure any potential partner can scale their support in line with your ambitions.
The human touch:
You’ll investigate any potential partner’s SLAs, response times, industry expertise and more. But also remember that these people will become, in effect, an extension of your team, so you need to get on with them. If they seem pleasant, focused and interested in what you have to say, it’s all a good sign.
Benefits of managed IT support
Once you’ve found a reliable partner, you can start tapping into the benefits they provide. But what are they? Here are just the most obvious – there are plenty of others.
It’s simply cheaper to contract out your IT support requirements than employ your own team. Mooncomputers’ expert team boasts decades of accumulated experience and is available from £95 per user per year. Add to that a per-user payment model which means you only pay for the level of support you really need, and the sums really do add up.
If you have an IT team of two and they both take time off during the holiday season you’re essentially operating on 50% for much of the summer. What if your network goes down or your server fails? But with a managed provider, it’s our responsibility to ensure we have the manpower in place to meet our clients’ needs, whenever they need it. You’ll get the same high level of service from Mooncomputers in August as you would in February. That’s one more headache off your plate.
Speed of response
If your e-commerce store grinds to a halt, getting it up and running again in the quickest possible time is a business-critical issue. A highly qualified managed service team can resolve issues far more quickly than stretched in-house resources. In fact, on average our vastly experienced engineers take just nine minutes to solve an IT issue.
Your data is your lifeblood, and a data breach can be catastrophic. The average mean cost of a cyber security breach for a small business in 2019 was £11,000. Remember, that’s just the average. Many businesses get hit a lot harder, and some never recover. Good managed IT support will continually monitor your network for signs of unusual or criminal behaviour.
A professionally maintained and monitored IT infrastructure is one that works hard on your behalf. By reducing slowdowns and bottlenecks, securing data and optimising tools and systems, an outsourced IT partner can give you the solid platform from which to build a productive, efficient business. In 2021, everything starts with IT, so make it a secure foundation.
Real world effects of IT system downtime
We rely on IT more than ever, which means the costs of IT downtime rise almost by the year. If you’re working out whether or not you want to invest in managed IT support services, it’s worth knowing what the alternative – increased downtime – might cost.
To put it simply, when IT stops, business stops. If your network goes down, you can’t communicate with customers, sell services, or collaborate with your teams. You can still make a cup of tea, but that’s pretty much it.
And then imagine a network outage at a critical time. Maybe your point of sale machines go down on the Saturday before Christmas. If you’re B2B, think about a failed update corrupting your accounting software during peak selling season. Imagine your website going down, just when you start a PPC advertising campaign.
It’s no wonder that, according to an oft-quoted Gartner calculation, the cost of network downtime is a whopping $5,600 (£4,017) per minute. It’s worth noting that Gartner first made that calculation in 2014, so it could be a lot higher today.
That might sound a lot, but when you calculate the cost of downtime you need to take lots of factors into account, all of which end up costing you money:
Loss of revenue:
You can’t sell, either directly through an e-commerce site or through the efforts of your sales team. Also, network downtime can affect machinery, shutting down production. It all adds up.
Think of how much it costs to have employees sitting round unable to work. Then add that to the total.
What caused the outage? If you need to fix things or replace things, that’s another cost. If data is lost, there’s even the chance of GDPR penalties.
This is intangible, but suffice to say that customers lose faith in companies they consider unreliable or not sufficiently careful with their data.
To put it simply, the real-world costs of IT downtime can be considerable. Is operating without proper IT support really worth the risk?
The cost benefits of outsourcing IT support
Outsourcing your IT support turns a fixed cost into a variable one. Instead of paying salaries, you pay the cost of your contract, which can change depending on need, the size of the company and the exact nature of the services you require. Outsourcing means you only pay for the resources you need, and never for spare capacity “just in case”.
By outsourcing IT support services, you access a level of expertise and experience that most small businesses couldn’t afford to have in house.
In addition, you save on recruitment costs, which according to Glassdoor are currently around £3,000 per new worker in the UK. That’s an average, and the cost of recruiting a seasoned IT professional is likely to be considerably higher.
Then there’s training, deskspace and equipment costs to take into account. And when you employ someone you are responsible for paying sick and holiday pay, among other costs. When you partner with a managed IT support provider, those costs transfer to us.
All in all, it makes financial sense to consider outsourcing your IT requirement. The sums simply add up.
Making encryption technology accessible
Data breaches can cause significant financial and reputational damage to your business. Fines for the insecure storage and transit of data can be even more costly. Breaking GDPR stipulations is not an option for small businesses.
Encryption is commonly used to secure data in transit and at rest, and businesses increasingly rely on it to keep sensitive customer data safe.
But encryption technology can be complex, and can be beyond the expertise level of many small businesses without dedicated IT teams or cybersecurity professionals. Again, that’s where managed IT support can help. At Mooncomputers, for example, our teams have the knowledge to ensure your data is properly protected wherever it happens to be. We can make end-to-end encryption accessible, so you can transfer sensitive information with confidence.
That’s just one of a full range of managed cybersecurity services. A good IT partner will assess your need, recommend effective protection and implement the necessary hardware and software, including firewalls and encryption technology. Then they’ll monitor and maintain your security services so they are always optimised and always alert.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that small businesses aren’t major targets for cybercrime. Statistics show that a small business in the UK is successfully hacked every 19 seconds. The threat is real, and you need protection to match.
What does your IT support provider do?
In this article we hope to have shown a clear need for small businesses to invest in third party IT support, and clear benefits in doing so.
So what should you expect from your IT support partner? In a nutshell, you should expect the moon. In Mooncomputers case, that includes:
A round the clock helpdesk:
Help should be available 24/7, not 9 to 5. Our help desk is manned by experienced professionals who can answer simple ‘how to’ questions, help you solve technology problems and give advice on a proposed hardware upgrade. In fact, if you have any technology-related questions, give the desk a call and we’ll do whatever we can to help.
Managed IT support:
Leave your network in our hands and we’ll keep it up to date, online and secure. We’ll manage your infrastructure so you can get on with more productive things, like running your business.
Disaster recovery and backup:
The worst can happen and sometimes will, whether that’s a cybersecurity incident, flood, fire, theft or even a global health pandemic! We’ll make sure you can stay online and continue to operate even during periods of intense disruption. Our back-up service means you’ll never lose applications or data, even if your on-site servers go down.
We offer all this and more, because we know you need reliable IT support that’s always available.
But you don’t have to take our word for any of it. The best way to know you’re getting value for money from an IT partner is to stay informed. With that in mind, here are 10 questions to ask any IT support provider, so you’ll always know what they’re doing on your behalf.