What is the best type of IT support for SMEs?

By March 22, 2022 May 6th, 2022 No Comments

It’s very often the case that you rarely think about IT support for small business – until you really need it. And then, it might already be too late to avoid the serious financial or operational consequences of not having this type of service in place ahead of time.

However, IT support can be expensive.

Especially if providing small business IT support services are not with your organisation’s core scope of work. This can lead to SMEs hedging their bets by not having any formal in-house or external small business Managed IT services in place. However, the problem with this type of approach is that – when you do actually need IT support – you’ll first need to find, reach and contract for an ad-hoc IT service. Which can considerably prolong the time it takes to scope – and fix the IT issue – that is likely to be holding your business back.

Even if you do not want to invest in a dedicated IT support solution, it’s hugely beneficial to have an IT support plan in place. Not least because of the unprecedented levels of cybersecurity threats that exist for small and medium sized businesses right now which range from Phishing to Ransomware and Data Breaches (research shows that most businesses are not prepared for this and 43% of SMEs admit to having no cybersecurity defence plan in place – and it’s also estimated that as many as 60% of SMEs close for good within six months of a successful attack).

So effective IT support for SMEs is important, not just for efficiency and productivity in your business. But as protection against a wide range of internet-borne threats.

Are Managed IT Support Services Right for Every Small Business?

Not necessarily, no. It all depends on your dependence on your IT systems and how sophisticated they are.

If you don’t use any business-wide software or hardware for your day-to-day operations, it’s may well be that you can’t justify the cost of investing in small business IT support services. So, for example, a cash-only local business like a laundrette or a barber’s shop is likely to be operating with minimal business technology internally. Possibly an app for bookings in the case of the barber.

However, if you’re a regional law firm, with a small network of local offices. And you are using a product like Microsoft 365 Dynamics for your CRM and billing – and have a number of partners and other legal specialists that are working on client projects using a range of different devices from laptops to mobile phones – then Managed IT for small business as a service can make a huge difference to the productivity and effectiveness of your business. As well as its’ security.

Another way to think about it is whether or not your business collects and uses data regularly. This can be PPI (personally identifiable information), financial information, consumer data, etc. If you collect, store and use any meaningful amount of data, then it means you are going to want to protect that data on behalf of your customers and your employees. Which in turn means you are going to have to put some form of IT resource in place which can take responsibility for data security.

What options are there for IT support for small business?

So, let’s say you decide that you need some type of IT support arrangement.

The good news is that, as an SME, you have options for IT support. However, that also means it is worth investing at least a little time to research and decide which path is right for you.

To get you started on that process we take a quick look at these below.

Option 1 – “Self-help” IT

We have added this one in a slightly tongue in cheek way. But it is a valid observation in its own right.

“Self-help” IT is where your staff take on the responsibility for solving IT issues on their own. We see this in growing companies and it is not an uncommon approach. What happens is that someone, somewhere in the business knows about IT. It is not their day job – in fact, it is likely to get to the point where it stops them doing their day job – and they help colleagues with the day-to-day IT related issues.

The problem with this model? If everyone is working on their IT issues – and effectively providing small business it support services to colleagues – then they aren’t working on your business. So, not a model we would recommend. And probably not great for overall team morale as the issues start to pile up as staff hit the limits of their IT knowledge.

Option 2 – In-house IT resource

Perhaps the most obvious course of action is to hire internal support staff.

This route has a number of attractions. You have a dedicated resource that is available within your extended team that you can call on as, and when, the need arises.

However, for most small businesses, IT is not one of their core functions. And, in this case, it can be hard to justify the cost. As a professional and in-demand trade, competition for IT talent is stiff. And salaries are high (an IT Manages costs on average £47,500 in the UK – for salary costs alone). In addition, it also means another team or department to manage – which will place additional strain on your management, HR and finances. And that is before you start to budget for the sort of sophisticated IT tools and training they need to do their job effectively.

We know from our experience of providing external Managed IT support in Edinburgh, Fife and Central Scotland that hiring dedicated IT support for SMEs only really starts to make sense when you have between 30 – 50 full-time staff. However, even then, depending on how IT-integrated your business is, it could be an ongoing business expense you are incurring without any consistent and predictable workload.

Option 3 – External Ad-hoc IT Support

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have external ad-hoc IT support for small business. The benefit is that, as a full on-demand service, the story goes it is ideal because you won’t be paying for it at all unless you use it. Thus, it’s flexible, affordable, and scalable – which is perfect right?

Well, the theory is great here. However, practice highlights issues with this approach as well.

Because of the temporary nature of the arrangement, this type of service is best suited to a single piece of software or business application. Because they need to be “in-and-out,” IT services companies typically specialise in a particular niche or type of system. And when you think about it, that makes absolute sense. Because they have no prior relationship with you, an ad-hoc IT support service provider simply won’t have the baseline insight into your whole company’s IT systems and operations.

Secondly, the scope of your agreement will be limited. An ad-hoc IT support service provider’s job is to address a specific issue, such as a malfunctioning email server or installation of specific business application such as Microsoft Teams or Microsoft Dynamics, for example. They generally aren’t responsible for informing you of potential security risks, long-term fixes or compliance issues that might be affecting your IT infrastructure.

While this type of ad-hoc IT support looks affordable compared to the ongoing cost of hiring an in-house team, it’s also typically more expensive per hour. For that reason, we mostly recommend ad-hoc support in emergencies, such as when you have to fill the gap of a sudden IT team member’s departure.

And if you do decide to go this route then it’s worth having some form of structured relationship with an IT support provider over time. For example, in the form of an Ad-hoc IT support contract where you have a block of support hours that you can call off against work you need done as you need it.

Option 4 – External Fully Managed IT Support

The final option on IT support for small business we are going to look at is appointing an expert, external IT support provider to take on the management of all of your IT needs. This is how we provide IT support in Edinburgh, Fife and Central Scotland.

Managed IT for small business involves passing the full responsibility for managing your IT to a 3rd party IT support company who are typically experts in the field.

One of the main differences between appointing a managed IT support provider and struggling by with ad-hoc IT support is that you have a contractual agreement with the former. What this means is that you will also have certain guarantees around service and response times on your IT related issues, usually in the form of a fairly detailed Service Level Agreement (SLA). Which will, for example, set maximum and minimum thresholds around how quickly the provider responds to your requests, fixes known issues etc. Which has real benefit for your business as you have the peace of mind that your systems are going to be available when you need them.

The second important difference is that a fully Managed IT support company will typically operate more as a business partner than a once-off service provider. Taking responsibility for keeping your IT systems up and running, and ensuring that they keep your business ticking over smoothly day by day.

They will also typically go beyond simply dealing with the immediate issues on your network. As they have a stake in how your IT systems operate, they will take a more strategic interest in the health of your IT infrastructure and prioritise improvements wherever they can.

Which has a big impact on the health of not only your IT, but your business too.

A relationship with a Managed IT support company can cover the following areas:

Why Fully Managed IT Support Services make sense for your SME

So those are your options.

But what is the best one to choose for an SME looking to operate and scale their business effectively? We think that fully Managed IT for small business makes sense for a number of reasons:

  • It is cost-effective: This type of service is typically set up to ensure that you pay for the level of IT services you need. Because Managed IT support providers are typically providing the same type of services across a broad pool of clients they are able to realise benefits of scale and productivity. That are fed back to you in the form of highly competitive monthly fees. They can also help save you on software and licensing costs by negotiating deals, finding budget-friendly solutions and passing on benefits via trusted technology partners.
  • Gives access to top-level IT expertise: IT might not be your area of business focus, but for an IT support provider it is their bread and butter. And they tend to seek out and invest in top level IT talent, building highly experienced IT teams and that expertise is available for your business to tap into when you need it.
  • Scalability is built-in: As your business grows, so will your IT support needs. On your own, that would mean a growing payroll and investing more time, HR benefits and resources at an increasing rate. An external Managed IT support based approach is much more flexible and enables you to scale the level of service as you need it. Without more of the fixed costs associated with in-house IT support.
  • Provides peace of mind: This is, perhaps, the biggest advantage of Managed IT Support services over ad-hoc support services. Why? Because you’ll be working with a business partner that you trust and that you know always has your back when you need it. No more need to research and approach different IT support services each time you encounter a problem. It is all available via one point of entry.
  • Delivers efficiency and security: It is in the interest of a Managed IT support provider to be highly informed and involved with your IT systems. As such, they’ll be able to respond rapidly and efficiently without the need to be briefed or trained on your IT stack. They can also proactively take preventative measures to lower the risk of future incidents and enhance the security of your overall network.

Closing thoughts

So, hopefully, you now understand why Managed IT support for SMEs is so vital. Combining a powerful mix of cost-effectiveness and scalability with the type of peace of mind you need to be able to focus all of your efforts firmly on your business.

At Managed IT Experts we view all of our customers as close business partners. If you would like to talk to us about your own specific IT needs then please don’t hesitate to contact us – and set up a no-obligation 30 minute discussion with one of our IT experts.

We are here to help.