A common thing we get from a lot of business owners over the last year or so has been "what sort of options are there for IT support?". It's a good question as there are several different models computer shops and Managed Service Providers (MSPs) use.
Most of these models have been around for a while and haven't changed much so, even if you have heard of some (or all) of these before, this can provide a quick refresher.
- Works well in small, static environments
- Ineffective for growing businesses
- Zero maintenance or proactive management
Break-fix has long been the "traditional" way for small businesses to receive IT support. You run your business and, if something breaks, you call your IT person/company and they come remedy the situation. You're only billed when there's a problem and no problems = no expenditures so it's relatively inexpensive most of the time. This type of service can work well enough for budget conscious mom-n-pops with largely unchanging environments, only a couple employees and who aren't really worried about down-time if something does break.
However, once the business starts to grow and scale, and your IT environment becomes more complex, Break-fix starts to show it's cracks. First, it's extremely inefficient when it comes to mitigating down-time as you're taking a reactive approach to issues that occur instead of a proactive approach to mitigate those issues before they happen. As your business grows and scales, the cost and likelihood of a break goes up as well. So while it can be relatively inexpensive for a very small business, it can be incredibly expensive one day for a growing one.
- An "IT support retainer" for your business
- Allows for some proactive management
- Not necessarily much better than break-fix
- Stuck in a win/lose situation
Originally conceived as an alternative to the break-fix model, block hours allows you to prepay for a set number of support hours for a given period (usually monthly) and prepay for them, often at a slight discount. The idea behind this was the IT provider gets some recurring income each month and the business has someone "on retainer" they can call when needed.
While this seemed like a good idea on the surface (and some providers do still use this model) there are a few issues. The primary issue being tracking those hours. Are you actually getting the time that you're paying for? What happens to unused hours at the end of the month? With some providers it's "use it or lose it" while others may offer some proactive services to try and use up those hours. But then, what if there aren't any hours left? Do you just have your provider not do any proactive work that month? Or do you pay extra for it and take it on the chin? These issues tend to spring up often with businesses which are quickly growing or seasonally fluctuate but even more mature businesses run into issues.
Overall, we're not saying this model doesn't work, but it can get pretty messy unless there is a very mature outline in place.
Fully Managed/Fixed Fee/All-You-Can-Eat
- An outsourced "IT department" for your business
- A fully proactive solution
- Fixed fee resolves issues with block hours
- Not always cost-effective for very small businesses
- What is/isn't included varies per vendor
So how do you get rid of the issues with block hours while still maintaining proactive management and support without the expense of hiring a dedicated employee to do it all? The answer is fully managed or "fixed fee". This is where a business pays a set amount per computer, employee or location (or a mix of the three) each month and, in turn, receives unlimited support, maintenance and sometimes, like we do with our customers, assistance with making sure they're staying in compliance with best practices and industry standards as well as road-mapping future wants and needs. Essentially, it's like having your own, dedicated IT department without the expense of hiring one.
The benefits are fairly obvious: you get proactive maintenance as well as support in case something does break, plus you're not stuck paying varying amounts each month for the "regular" stuff that happens during the course of business.
That said, while fully managed solutions are much less expensive than hiring an internal IT department, they aren't exactly "cheap". In addition to the regular monthly fee, most providers will charge separately for projects; like setting up new systems, networks or software. There also may be other associated costs like backup systems or certain required software. Some providers include this in their monthly fee, others don't, if you're talking with a potential vendor, be sure to get a clear picture on what all is included and what is extra.
Overall, it may not be the most cost-effective solution for very small (1-3 employee) businesses, but for companies with a dozen-plus employees (and the resulting complexity) it's often more than worth the investment.
- Usually less expensive than a fully managed solution
- A outside set of eyes for projects and steering
- Usually only works for large companies
- Can create conflict between C-level, internal IT and co-manager
Last but not least, we have Co-Managed IT. This option is usually tailored more towards larger enterprises but there are times when smaller business can utilize it as well. Like the name implies, a co-managed provider doesn't handle everything like a fully managed one would, they just handle bits and pieces. Often times it's not unusual to have a co-managed partner handle a large project or provide consulting support for helping steer the company towards the right technology to allow them to grow. An internal IT team then handles the day to day aspects.
As we mentioned, this works well at larger enterprises however it's usefulness is more limited in the small business world as most small companies won't have a dedicated internal IT department to handle the day to day tasks. Hiring multiple companies to do different tasks can also create conflict between them as different providers have different ways of doing things which can lead to a messy situation. It's extremely important if looking to go this route that you as a company leader already have a strong process and policy in place around technology in order to maximize the benefit of going the co-managed route.
Distilling down the options
The above options are the most common ones around the industry. While there are a few vendors in the wild who claim to be different, most of them can still be distilled down into one of the basic categories above. That said, even four options can be daunting so if you're still undecided we're always happy to answer any questions, just give us a buzz.