IT support encompasses a variety of services designed to optimise, repair and maintain IT systems. These services can be contracted on an ad hoc or reactive basis or as part of a managed services plan. Plans of the latter type typically include a variety of services provided by a managed services provider (MSP), an IT support firm that specialises in providing comprehensive IT support to its customers.
One key point of differentiation between managed and reactive IT support is that managed support focuses on preventing problems before they occur to optimise system performance, whilst reactive support is mainly focused on solving problems after they have occurred.
The evolution of IT support
It’s probably no stretch to say that a malfunctioning computer system or network has always been a source of frustration, whether in the heyday of the mainframe computer or in today’s online era. Historically, technology support was initially focused on dealing with system issues or breakdowns when they occurred. IT service personnel would be sent to the site where the computer error had taken place; A fix was then performed, and, if all went well, the system resumed operation and the computer tech left the premises.
As time went by, computer technicians began to recognize certain signs that tended to precede system breakdowns, and instead of simply fixing problems after they happened they began to make regular visits to test system performance for signs of problems. Of course, if the system worked fine on the day of the tech’s visit that defeated the purpose of such visits. It was also quite expensive to have computer techs traveling on-site frequently. As a result, this type of managed service was restricted mainly to very large, fortune 500 level companies with extensive resources to devote to computer maintenance.
As the Internet developed, much of this diagnostic testing began to be done online, which increased the popularity of the procedure. Initially, the expense of the bandwidth needed for remote IT system monitoring was high enough that use of this type of service was still restricted mostly to larger companies. However, by the mid 2000s the cost of bandwidth had dropped and the technology had progressed sufficiently to enable small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) to be able to afford 24/7 system monitoring.
Today, IT support covers a wide variety of services, including:
- Setting up and integrating all IT system elements: Modern business solutions often require complex set-up and integration procedures before they are fully optimised. In many cases performing this function necessitates specialised knowledge and prior experience with these types of installations.
- 24/7 monitoring of an IT system to improve its functioning ability: The mission critical nature of IT systems for many SMEs makes it prudent that they take every reasonable effort to promote the efficient functioning of their IT assets. Around the clock monitoring functions by enabling software that sends out fault messages if flaws are detected in the system. This results in the ability to react proactively when potential problems are detected, enhancing system function and reliability.
- Managing and resolving system problems: If a problem does occur, IT support is responsible for mitigating any issues as quickly as possible.
- Implementing and maintaining system security software and protocols: SMEs face a large number of threats to the security of their data; IT support can include setting up security software and providing protocols designed to help maintain system security. This may include performing penetration testing and other measures to reduce the risk of a data breach.
- Virtual CIO services: A chief information officer is tasked with helping to formulate a company’s strategy for deploying and utilising its IT assets and making adjustments to that strategy as needed once the system is in operation. Virtual CIO services provide similar functionality, freeing a SME from having to hire a full time CIO of its own.
- System optimisation analysis: A proactive IT support program does more than simply try to avoid problems – it also seeks to fine tune IT system design and structure so that a company’s IT infrastructure performs as close to its maximum potential as possible.
- Disaster recovery and backup: Even the best maintained IT system can encounter difficulties at times. Backup and disaster recovery procedures and applications allow a company to recover its valuable data and maintain operations if disaster strikes. Backup allows for the preservation of a firm’s most important data, whilst disaster recovery or business continuity functionality enables a company to quickly resume operations, often by making an alternate platform available that duplicates the function of the business’s own system.
- End-user training: The complexity of modern business IT solutions can make it difficult for a company’s employees to operate such systems without training. In addition to supporting the operations of an IT system, some firms will also provide training so that company staff are able to adequately handle the day-to-day functioning of all IT assets.
- Helpdesk services: When questions or issues arise that require outside assistance, access to a helpdesk is important to resolve any issues in a timely fashion.
Why you need IT support
Unless your firm is very small (5 employees or less is a good benchmark in this regard), IT support is increasingly necessary in today’s technology-driven business world. Many SME’s don’t have the resources to devote to hiring full time IT experts as employees, making the retention of an IT support firm the preferred option when it comes to ensuring their IT infrastructure functions properly.
The reasons for this are discussed in detail below:
Complex modern business IT systems require extensive provisioning to function optimally
Most SMEs typically utilise a variety of IT assets in the normal course of business. This may include both internal and external systems such as email platforms, FTP servers, corporate wikis, database programs, communication platforms, and much more. Setting up this complex array of solutions often requires a high level of expertise, especially when dealing with IT assets from different suppliers. Even relatively straightforward tools can be quite complicated to deal with when interacting with other solutions.
An IT support provider can help set-up IT assets to function properly by making sure that all interfaces are properly established and that optimal functioning options have been selected for both hardware and software assets. These options can vary depending on your company’s operating requirements and any interfacing with other IT assets.
Customers expect nearly 24/7 system availability from IT systems
When locked in head-to-head battles with larger competitors, SMEs can find that they are handicapped by less reliable IT systems if they haven’t made arrangements to outsource system operations to a specialist IT firm. The reason for this is that customers have come to expect nearly continuous access to a company’s communication offerings. If your email is frequently down or unavailable it can damage customer trust in addition to resulting in lost revenue as customers make inquiries or place orders elsewhere.
An IT support firm can help improve email server availability by arranging for a SLA (service level agreement) that mandates levels of uptime sufficient to allow your company to compete on a level playing field with your competitors.
IT systems perform mission critical tasks for many SMEs
As information technology has become more powerful, its use has become increasingly embedded in the business processes of many SMEs. Functions which at one time could be done manually as well as digitally are now often only performed in the digital realm. As mission critical functions migrate to digital formats, the cost of system malfunctions and downtime become correspondingly high.
IT support companies perform a number of services that can help improve system resiliency and minimise downtime. These include system optimisation routines, remote monitoring, SLAs, and other such functions.
Malfunctioning or poorly designed systems impose costs in the form of impaired productivity and reduced efficiency
Aside from helping to prevent catastrophic failure or outages, IT support can benefit a company by helping to optimise system performance. This is important because systems that function poorly can result in less obvious costs that nonetheless can be significant when considered as a whole. A poorly designed system will often result in slow system performance, which can negatively impact the overall productivity of your organisation. Other negatives of malfunctioning IT assets include difficulty interfacing with outside systems as well as the opportunity costs which result when your company must devote valuable time to dealing with a poorly functioning IT system rather than pursuing business opportunities.
Security breaches can imperil a company’s intellectual property and trade secrets
With an ever-increasing amount of business around the world conducted online, the phenomenon of security breaches has grown in lockstep. Companies face internal as well as external threats to their data, as poorly secured offices present an inviting target to thieves looking to steal both intellectual and physical property. An IT support provider can ensure that you have appropriately firewalled your online assets and have installed a robust malware threat detection solution. They can also help you migrate to the cloud as a way to outsource data security and alleviate the need to store and protect your data locally.
Proactively seeking and dealing with system issues before they can cause major problems improves system efficiency
The traditional method of dealing with computer problems, as described earlier, was to wait until something broke and then bring in a computer tech to fix it. This model has given way in recent times to the concept of system optimisation, which stresses monitoring an IT system to detect any signs of impending faults before they occur. As bandwidth prices have dropped and the power of PCs and servers has increased, such an approach has become affordable for SMEs. Contracting with an IT support firm to provide this type of monitoring and analysis can offer significant benefits in the form of reduced downtime and enhanced overall system performance.
Enables a company to focus on its core competencies, rather than operating its IT system
Even a properly functioning IT system can require a significant amount of time to manage. Applying updates, performing backups, and routine maintenance are just a few of the tasks which must be performed on a regular basis to ensure a system continues to function properly. As these systems become more complex, an SME must spend a correspondingly greater amount of time managing and maintaining them.
Retaining a specialist IT support company to perform these services allows your company to focus on what it does best – its core competencies. From a return on funds invested standpoint, this is likely to be the best use of your company’s resources. It also eliminates the staffing expense and management effort associated with hiring internal staff to manage your IT assets.
Employee education and helpdesk services improve overall efficiency
The increasing complexity of modern IT systems means that in many cases employees require training in the use of various IT assets to ensure these systems are operated efficiently. An IT support firm with the expertise necessary to provide this education can save your company the time and expense of having employees learn how to operate these assets by themselves. In addition, when issues arise which require outside assistance, having access to a helpdesk can allow them to be dealt with quickly and efficiently. If no such services are available, your company may be faced with the added time and expense of bringing a consulting firm up-to- speed with the specifics of your IT system needs and characteristics on a regular basis when outside assistance is required.