Adapting to rapidly changing technology is key to keeping up with – or even outrunning – competition. But sometimes internal staff don’t have the time or skills to manage complex IT infrastructure of office technology, making it necessary to seek out a supplement to your business’ IT department.
The good news is there are a number of vendors that are keen to take the pressure off your internal IT staff by offering field service, where the vendor handles key parts of your on-site IT needs, such as hardware repairs or desktop and server support. Called managed service providers (MSPs), these vendors specialise in managing key pieces of their clients’ IT infrastructure. The challenge is knowing what to look for when working with an MSP to build an effective field service strategy. As head of nationwide managed service provider IT Specialists (ITS), I’ve found the following five tips to be the most helpful.
- Find a provider with high service levels.
In today’s on-demand culture, your customers expect immediate service and don’t tolerate downtime. If broken hardware would prevent you from providing an expected level of service, you need to make sure the MSP underpinning your field service strategy is able to get you up and running sooner rather than later. The last thing you want is to have to wait for the field engineer to order spare parts before they can repair the equipment. One of the most common ways field service organisations demonstrate their success is by their first-time fix rate. For reference, Aberdeen Group says best-in-class field service organisations achieve a first-time fix rate of 88 per cent or more.
Of course, one of the best ways to gauge the MSP’s commitment to quality service is to ask to see the provider’s service level agreement (SLA). The SLA states that the vendor will provide services measured by predefined, quantifiable metrics. If the vendor can’t fulfil these obligations, the SLA gives you recourse.
2. Decide on the need for preventative services.
Even better than achieving a first-time fix is preventing a system malfunction in the first place. This is particularly important if your business has recovery time objectives to meet for business continuity and disaster recovery purposes. How will the MSP you’re considering prevent system errors?
At ITS, for example, we use N-able to manage printers for Howden’s Joinery, a UK-based manufacturer and supplier of kitchens and joinery products. Previously, Howden’s printers were not networked, consumables were unmonitored, supplies replenishment was not automated, and paper use was not cost-effective. Having implemented monitoring software (after networking the printers), we are now able to address any issues with the printers and manage the supply of consumables.
- Select a partner that adapts to technology changes.
“Innovate or die” is a mantra technology companies love to repeat, but it applies to virtually any business. In the next 20 years, says futurist Ray Kurzweil, technology will change so drastically that it will pale in comparison to the previous 20 years.
If your business is going to keep up, you need to work with a forward-thinking MSP that keeps pace with technology and is able to meet your growing business’s needs. It’s also important that field engineers are familiar with all the products and services the MSP provides. Using this knowledge, the engineer can recommend other solutions that can solve your organisation’s unique business challenges.
For an example of how an MSP can identify and respond to a client’s needs, consider our client Baxter Freight. Baxter wanted us to not only provide new hardware and build a network but also brainstorm ways to future-proof their business. The plans had to benefit both ITS and Baxter, with products that were cost-effective for both businesses. Working together, the ITS team created a strategy for improving Baxter’s business resilience. The strategy included plans to adopt larger products, such as a managed cloud-based disaster recovery as a service platform, as the business became more established.
- Make regulatory compliance a priority.
Regulatory compliance is a pressing concern across multiple industries. If your organisation is in a regulated industry, you need to work with an MSP that can help you adhere to the appropriate regulations – especially if engineers will be working on hardware containing confidential data.
Ask if the MSP has adopted a business continuity standard or undergone a third-party accreditation process to achieve a certification. Examples of these certifications include ISO 9001 (for quality management systems) and ISO 27001 (for information security management systems).
- Ensure you don’t void your hardware warranties.
If an unqualified engineer works on your hardware, you risk voiding your hardware warranties. Keep your warranties intact by verifying your MSP’s field engineers are fully qualified to repair equipment from an array of manufacturers. Because technology is changing, it’s also a good idea to ask whether the MSP invests in ongoing training and additional certifications for its engineers.
There’s no doubt that the field service options on the market are overwhelming. However, if you follow these five tips when building your outsourced field management strategy, you can successfully develop an effective outsourced field service strategy. You’ll not only take the pressure off your internal staff but also gain the edge over your competitors.