Engaging a tech support provider

Find out how you can recruit the support of an external digital technology/IT support provider and what steps to take to get the right level of support.
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Quality, sustainable and reliable digital technology and IT support and advice are essential to ensure not-for-profit organisations don’t waste money or the valuable time of staff and volunteers. There’s a variety of options that can provide the support your organisation requires, both internal and external.

Many organisations will receive support from an external specialist or organisation to provide the expertise and practical help that may not be available in-house. If that sounds like you, here are three key steps you can take to find the IT support that will support your needs.

Step 1: Make a list of your digital technology and your support needs

Providing your IT support organisation with as much information as you can will help them understand your needs. Here’s what you should include.

An inventory of your technology assets

To start with, it’s important to know what technology you already have. This includes all of your equipment, programs and systems you may use.

If you already have a detailed inventory of your digital technology assets, that will be very helpful. If you don’t have an accurate list, the options are to:

  • develop your own detailed inventory
  • engage a digital technology/IT partner or IT savvy volunteer to help develop your detailed inventory, or
  • develop a rough list and ask your digital technology/IT support organisation to develop a detailed inventory as one of their first tasks, although the disadvantage of this option is that the price you pay for support is likely to change depending on how accurate your rough list was.

A summary of your support requirements

Your requirements will outline the amount of help you need. This will usually depend on the type of digital technology you have and the number of staff you have. But here are some starter questions to help you understand your requirements.

  • How old is your equipment? Older equipment is more likely to fail and need attention. 
  • Do you have remote or mobile workers? In this case you might consider paying for PC and laptop support. It is likely you will need support for the methods of remote access to ensure they keep working and are secure
  • Do you have anyone in-house with digital technology/IT skills? Someone with skills in-house may be able to do some of the basic IT support tasks, meaning you will only need a partner for more complex issues.
  • What programs (information systems) do you use? If you are using specialist system such as financials, payroll, and client management systems, these may have their own support arrangements provided by the suppliers or developers. It is usually better to rely on specialist support than getting a third party involved.
  • Do you have server or complex network infrastructure? If you do, it needs support: without it your organisation will grind to a halt.

If you’re still unsure, good contractors will be able to help you work through these and other questions to make sure you get the right level of support for your organisation.

Develop your support requirements document

This needn't be a mammoth document nor particularly technical. The guide What to look for in an IT support contract will give you some ideas about what a support contract will cover. Make sure your requirements include:

  • A brief overview of your organisation and its digital technology – enough to give a high level understanding of what your organisation exists to 'do', its scale, complexity, number of locations, and how critical digital technology/IT is for day-to-day operations
  • A list of the equipment and system you want supported – this may include network infrastructure, PCs, laptops, internet or telephony systems
  • Type of equipment, system and service cover – this may vary from break/fix service for faulty PCs, to managing server backups, adding new users, ensuring software is kept up to date, and a whole range of other support
  • Help desk processes – if required – for logging calls, tracking progress and providing regular reporting including the status of systems such as servers and backups
  • Request response timings, or the time it should take the supplier to respond when you have a request –include acknowledging your request, attending (either in person or remotely) to the issue, and resolving the request (Times will vary for different items of equipment, systems and services. Costs vary dramatically between very short and longer timeframes and whether you need service just during office hours or at any time (24x7). It is worth being flexible and discussing the options with potential suppliers.)
  • Remote access – giving the support provider the ability to remotely access your server(s) and computers to fix problems if appropriate
  • Regular review meetings to review the previous period, discuss the next period and keep the supplier up to date with your plans – meetings could be anything between monthly to annually and will depend on the size and complexity of your IT environment
  • Request for references – try to get references from organisations like your own, with similar number of employees, budget and security requirements.

Step 2: Finding and recruiting a tech support provider

Once you know what your IT support needs are, the next step is to find potential IT support providers, discuss how they can support you and then recruit them.

Identify potential suppliers

Alongside Word of Mouth, Connecting Up provides a supplier search engine where you are able to identify potential suppliers. You can always try search engines too. Remember, you don’t always have to find someone local – these days, a lot of support can be provided remotely and over the phone.

Shortlist your suppliers

Hiring a support organisation is like hiring a staff member: as well as looking good on paper they need to be a good match for your culture. Ask each supplier to come into your organisation and take a look at your set-up. Talk to them about your priorities and any problems you’re having. Do they listen and do they really get what you’re saying? Do they offer suggested improvements that are helpful and demonstrate they really understand? Have they been responsive and easy to contact, because if not, this is unlikely to improve once you start working with them. You may be working with this organisation for years so make sure it’s going to be a good relationship.

Consider the proposals and check referees

Provided you’re happy with them in person, ask each of your shortlist to provide a quotation for meeting your support requirements. Carefully check the proposals, quotes and any draft contracts you’re sent – see What to look for in a tech support contract for more detailed information.

Don’t necessarily go for the cheapest option.  Make sure you understand how the charging system works – different suppliers have different schemes and you might need to do some calculations based on average use over a year to work out how they stack up. Factor in extra charges such as travel, after hours and so on. Check if you are being offered a not for profit rate. If you lose a service by making a saving, think carefully about the implications of that for your organisation, and what it would cost to get that service on an ad-hoc basis.

Before making the final decision, contact at least two referees for each supplier. It is also be worth searching online for reviews, as most companies will only provide referees they know will say positive things.

Step 3: Working with your tech support provider

Just because you have a support contract doesn't mean you can wash your hands of all responsibility. Your contract should be clear about the division of labour. Your responsibilities may include some of the below: 

  • Deciding on a contact person – choose someone with an understanding of digital technology ecosystem, and make them the sole contact for your support provider so you and they have consistent information
  • Setting up a support process – make sure staff know who to contact when they have questions, need something done or something goes wrong
  • Keeping track of when you’ve requested support – have a standard format (your support provider may provide a log sheet, web portal, etc) for recording issues and requests. At a minimum this will include a description of the issue, when the request was logged and the time and date it was resolved. The log will give you insight both into your recurring problems and how well your support organisation is performing
  • Doing simple tasks yourselves – if the support organisation has left you with responsibility for some issues, such as keeping anti-virus software up to date, make sure these tasks are carried out
  • Updating your digital technology inventory – let the support company know if you plan to buy new equipment or install new software to make sure it is compatible with your environment and they can support it effectively.

Build and maintain the relationship

Meet with your tech support provider every three, six or 12 months depending on the complexity and rate of change in your organisation to discuss the current situation and your plans. These meetings will be well worth the investment even if you have to pay your support provider’s hourly rate.

You will get the most out of your support organisation if they understand your organisation and know about your plans. Don’t keep them at arm’s length. It is important to keep them informed about your plans, especially if your requirements are changing. That way their support and advice is provided within the context of that understanding and should be far more relevant and helpful. This does take time and a commitment from both parties, but it is time well spent.


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