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Businesses of all sizes require an IT infrastructure that is well maintained so it consistently operates at an optimal level. Choosing the best IT support and service provider is vital, so when you make that change, you'll experience a problem-free relationship.

1. Look for depth

When approaching prospective maintenance providers, fully investigate the company behind the sales and marketing façade – making sure they possess the appropriate technical expertise to support their claims. Confirm that the maintenance supplier can support your IT estate from older legacy equipment through to models more recently out of warranty. Investing time to visit the company HQ and its engineering offices will help you get a real feel for the company and its people.

2. Thumbs up from others

The provider being considered should be able to produce testimonials to demonstrate its history of successful maintenance delivery and customer satisfaction. Gaining an understanding of the company through its customers, will be the next best thing to first-hand experience of the service you will be receiving.

3. Financial health check

Investigate potential providers’ balance sheets and profitability. You will be placing your business-critical equipment in the hands of this company, so it’s imperative that they will be around for the next three to five years to fulfil your contract. Furthermore, placing trust in the fact that you have a long-term future with the maintenance provider may allow you to negotiate reduced fees, on longer contract terms.

4. Loyalty and commitment

Ask the provider to reveal figures on its staff retention over the past 5 years. High staff retention is a good indicator of a well-managed supplier. Empowered and well-trained staff will be able to deliver quick, informed decisions, something which will have a positive impact upon the service delivery levels you receive.

5. A strong presence

Consider providers with regional offices that manage engineers locally and retain an extensive stock of spares. Also, if providers offer specifically-assigned engineers, they will quickly become familiar with your IT set up and systems - which should ensure a swift, pain-free, resolution of incidents.

6. Keeping promises

Examine a provider’s ability to meet the SLAs you have in mind. If you expect a 4 hour break/fix SLA to be met, you must ensure that the provider has the in-house engineering breadth and expertise to meet this - as well as good fleet infrastructure, calls tracking and management processes. Beware of companies which use sub-contracted staff to deal with ad-hoc projects and problems, as this will undoubtedly compromise the service levels you receive and their ability to tackle in-depth technical issues.

7. On the same page

When it comes to tying down the details in the service contract, gain a clear understanding and definition of the service parameters. Investigate exactly how cases are received and tracked by the provider’s call centre, and understand how they are escalated.

For instance, what is the definition of ‘logging a call’? At what point does the clock start? To you, it will be the moment that you ring the call centre and log the problem. But in some cases it’s not straightforward – you may experience long waits reaching a customer service agent, difficulty logging the call and lengthy investigations before the case is activated. This means that your 4 hour break/fix promise won’t be progressed until all of this is complete – up to 24 hours after the problem first occurred.

8. Trusted advisor - Shared values

You may have found a provider who ticks all the boxes, but the final ingredient for a successful relationship is trust. You need to be sure that they possess values that mirror your own and that you’ll be supported when you need them most. Look for a provider that can deliver a personal investment in your relationship, with a flexible approach to service delivery - to ensure a more effective, enduring partnership.

By Paul Timms, managing director at the Maindec Group.