I am constantly amazed at the state of computer systems found in most small businesses networks. Spyware, adware, malware, poor security, you name it! Why is this so?
Small business owners often find themselves in a situation where they need to do everything. They are their own IT person, writer or even delivery person. Sometimes they have had their next-door neighbor setup up their peer-to-peer network. Maybe they had a computer person set things up then tried to maintain the network on their own. There are many reasons.
What it all adds up to is you have a network with many security problems and poor performance.
Poor performance can lead to lost productivity due to lost data or hardware and software problems. If every time you start MS Word it takes five minutes to open up, and you open it four times per day, you could loose as much as twenty minutes per day. That is over 120 hours per year for just one application!
A system heavily infected with adware and spyware can easily take this long to startup or shutdown programs, if it does not crash frequently. Since adware and spyware authors do not care if your PC crashes, they tend to write sloppy programs that cause problems when they interact with legitimate applications.
The security side can be even more problematic. Do you maintain customer data on your network? If you do, you may have a legal responsibility to safeguard that data. Failure to do so could open your business up to litigation. We all know how lawsuit happy Americans have become.
So what do you do?
Do what the big companies do, turn the problem over to your IT department and make them solve the problem.
You do not have an IT department. Well you could call George, the guy who setup your network in the first place. George is the “computer technician” who failed to setup your network security, when he created your network.
I like George; he gives me a lot of business fixing problems he leaves behind.
One of the advantages of having your own IT department is they become familiar with your operations and can quickly resolve any problems that pop up.
How can you take advantage of having your own IT staff? Hire an IT support company for the service. I know “outsourcing” is a dirty word these days, but if you think about it small businesses have always benefited from outsourcing.
Why contract for your IT support? One reason is you may not have a need for a fulltime onsite technician. If you only have a need for a technician ten hours a week, do you want to pay for a full forty hours?
To protect yourself and maintain a professional relationship with your support company always insist on a service contract. This contract defines the responsibilities of both parties.
Your service contract should cover the following aspects:
Service Level Agreement
This is the performance standard you use to measure the response you receive from your support company. For instance, my company typically offers three levels of service level agreements. Each level costs a different amount based on the timeliness of service. If you contract for a four-hour response, you are guaranteed a technician on-site in less than four hours. A twelve-hour SLA would have a technician on-site in less than twelve hours. Naturally, the quicker the response the more the costs. This can work in your favor if you can afford to wait a little while for support.
This is when a technician is dispatched to your location and should be considered the minimum level of service.
Telephone support offers your business two big incentives, quicker resolution and lower costs. Phone support can return your employees to a productive state faster than On-site support.
This should be included in the contract. Some companies consider it an add-on and charge an additional fee.
Since the goal of contracting for your IT support is to provide your business with the maximum benefit, for the least cost, consider including these additional services
Acceptable Use Policies
Network Design and Development
Remote Office Support
The more complete the services provided by your support company, the better off your company will be.
Here is a sample package that is popular with my customers. A yearly mutually renewable contract that may be terminated on sixty days written notice by either party. Stipulating a twelve-hour SLA and limited phone support.
Included in the project initiation package is an Acceptable Use Agreement that has to be signed by all employees. This is a precondition to finalization of the service contract. An acceptable use policy defines the actions that may and may not be taken on your network. This helps protect you from wrongdoing by your employees.
The way my technicians service our contracts is to attempt to give the customer a four-hour or better response regardless of the contracted SLA. Our phone support goal is to contact the customer in less then 30 minutes.
Since this is a service contract, my technicians, as a minimum, spend one entire day per month at the client’s office maintaining the network environment.
This means ensuring all PCs have all the required security patches and hot fixes applied, updated virus definition files and that all spyware/adware has been removed. These actions ensure your network runs smoothly, reducing employee downtime and the support required to maintain the network.
In addition to the monthly maintenance, the contract allows for up to five hours free on-site labor per month. Any work carried out beyond this time frame is billed at fifty percent of the current billing rate.
The client is responsible for all hardware and software costs.
Special projects are billed at a reduce rate also.
Initially, a large amount of work is required to get the client’s network setup efficiently, after this; few clients need services outside of the contracted hours. When they do, it is mostly for special unanticipated projects.
Now you can give your business a “corporate” IT department even if you are not a big corporation. I have seen real estate agents who make high six figure incomes spending their time fixing computer problems. Ask yourself, is my time better spent fixing this computer or should I call in a specialist and spend my time making money for my business.
I vote for making money.
Parrott Writing Services, a San Antonio Texas company specializing in web content, ghostwriting, website optimization, online/offline ad copy and technical writing to small businesses.
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