4 Tips for Choosing the Right IT Managed Services Provider for Your Association or Nonprofit

If you are like most small and mid-sized associations, chances are that you already have a company that covers your IT support services through a managed services contract. Typically, these contracts cover your association with help desk support, patch management, systems administration, and monitoring. Most of these contracts also include some amount of on-site support, but frankly these days, on-site support is needed less and less as most services can be provided remotely.

Many small and mid-sized associations do not have any IT staff or occasionally have a single IT coordinator. While many IT providers do a good job in servicing organizations similar to yours, it is not unusual to be left feeling like you are missing out on something. When you are looking to replace your IT managed services organization, take into consideration these four tips to ensure things go smoothly.

Tip #1 – Know Yourself First

Are you unhappy with your current IT provider? Start by assessing how you got there. Is there a lack of funding for key technologies? Is the provider unresponsive? Are they one-dimensional in their range of services?

One of the ways that IT outsourcing contracts can go off track is when the organization does not have clear goals for technology that are in alignment with the business goals. It is in fact not at all unusual for an association to have no IT strategy or 3-year plan. The first step is to develop the IT strategy and then decide what to do next. Hiring the IT company to develop your 3-year plan is an excellent first step and a good way to get to know them better, and for them to know you better.

Tip #2 -Find the Proper Balance of IT’s Involvement in Your Organization

A typical managed services provider (MSP) is set up to provide the essential services in an almost assembly line style. The more clients they have, the more profit they make because scale matters.

High-volume MSP’s by nature are forced to spend less and less time with their clients. As the amount of face time and talk time decreases, the less the MSP knows about what is going on in their client’s organization. So, ask them how much time they spend with their clients. When a client calls for support, are they asked for their client number first or are they known by name? How involved do they want to be in their client’s business?

Make a list of what IT should do for your organization. Interview a few candidates for the IT outsourcing before sending out an RFP. It should become pretty obvious which companies you will want to invite to your bidding process without going through the more formal proposal process.

Tip #3 – Be Clear About the Scope of Services

Managing IT is a big job, and the whole reason for outsourcing IT is that you want a company that can do it better than you can alone, but you have to clearly define what is “in scope” and what is not. Even giant companies like Citibank and General Motors outsource a substantial portion of IT, but they do it with very precise boundaries and service level expectations. That works really well for a giant corporation, but not so much for a 20-person or 50-person organization with a tight budget.

Our advice – be clear on the scope of the contract. Do you want just the basics or do you want more? Is security important to the organization, and if so, is the MSP you are considering able to manage security for you? Do you need help on the applications side or just the network and infrastructure technologies? Do you want a company that will handle literally everything, or just some things?

Tip #4 – Style Matters

Let’s face it – there are plenty of IT companies that know something about associations. If that were the only criterion, choosing an MSP would be like throwing a dart. But once they have established that they know the industry, what matters more is how they provide their services to you. Are they rigid? Do you have to do things the way they require or is there flexibility? Do they have their internal processes together? If you require high security, do they have a security team? How much do they in turn outsource themselves, or do they have their own staff manning the help desk and NOC? Can they help troubleshoot your critical applications software, or are they strictly an infrastructure company?

Determining the style of the organization is difficult, but sometimes it comes down to a gut feeling. During the hiring process, don’t be afraid to dig deep into their experience. While they might have more advanced IT knowledge, you and your team know your business best (and now you know the IT/strategic goals relationship better than ever after conducting your internal audit process). Push, prod, and pull as much as you can from the IT service provider so you can make an informed decision.

The tough questions you pose during the hiring process will be welcomed by confident IT service providers that have been in the trenches. The key now is, don’t be afraid to ask those tough questions. You will be happy you did.

Contact us if you’re ready to take your IT to the next level.

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