Information Technology (IT) and today’s business world go hand-in-hand – no matter what industry you are in. In other words, every company has IT needs, the question is how well they are being met. Most companies fall into four major categories with IT:

  1. There is a complete IT team in-house (usually bigger companies)
  2. There is a small IT team in-house (one or more people).
  3. An employee manages the IT in addition to another role.
  4. There is no in-house IT team.

Companies that fall into the last three categories are almost always supported by an outsourced IT company – known as a managed services provider (MSP). In most cases, the in-house IT staff works closely with the MSP to ensure everything runs smoothly. In other cases, the MSP covers ALL the IT duties of the business. Managed services providers are everywhere, but not all of them provide a level of support on par with industry standards. Managed services are about covering the entirety of a company’s technology infrastructure, empowering the in-house IT support, and making sure the business technology is directly contributing to success. For this to be a profitable reality, you need a provider that meets the industry’s IT standards. This involves making sure all technology components are in good working order, managing upgrades, keeping the business safe from threats, and more. Companies should expect their IT company to:

  • Provide centralized support for ALL business technology
  • Give the organization reliable IT guidance for the long term. Ensure their technology is aligned with business goals.
  • Actively monitor their network for risks (before problems arise).
  • Regularly back up business data.
  • Respond to issues quickly and never leave them hanging.

Your IT company may be providing these elements, but are their benchmarks really meeting industry IT standards? As a business owner – who may not be closely in-tune with the IT industry – understanding these standards is not always black and white. Sure, your technology works and meets your internal standards, but are you getting the full value for your investment in your MSP? In this post, we want to clear up any mystery related to the support your IT company is providing. We’ve put together a list of questions you should have firm answers to about critical areas of your IT infrastructure. Let’s dive in.

Backups

Backups are one of the most critical tasks needed for a healthy business infrastructure. A few years ago, The Economist famously claimed that data was now more powerful than oil. This claim becomes truer and truer every year. As a modern-day business, your data is your livelihood; if you lose it, you’re in a world of trouble. In the event of a data breach, natural disaster, or something as simple as human error, losing your precious data shouldn’t even be a concern. Here are the answers to questions about backups your IT company should make perfectly clear.

  • Where is our backup data being stored?

Your IT company should be carrying out DAILY offsite backups of your business data to the cloud. In the event of a disaster, they should have a plan to restore everything from the cloud quickly and painlessly. This is a key part of today’s IT standards. The biggest sin in data backups is not having an off-site plan. If data is only backed up on local hard drives, an unforeseen disaster or human error can be detrimental. Data could get lost, end up in the wrong hands, or get damaged. Having a safe, off-site backup location is the best way to ensure everything stays protected. Your IT company needs to be proactive about any concerns related to your data. This is to ensure every single backup goes off without a hitch. Again, your IT company should be completely open with you about this.

  • What exactly are we backing up?

This isn’t so much a question you should have to ask your IT company – this is something they should have asked you. Now, you may not know exactly what data you need to back up to the cloud. This is where your IT company should communicate closely about what all needs to be covered. Regardless of the industry, companies need to have a backup plan for these three data components:

  1. Company personnel records – taxes, payroll, benefits, etc.
  2. Administration documents – sales and marketing information, business plans, administration data, and so on.
  3. Financial data – revenue, inventory records, bank statements, expense receipts.

Every industry has different requirements on what they should be backing up. Based on the IT company’s experience, they should give you their recommendations and guidance based on industry best practices.

  • How will these backups help us?

Lastly – and most importantly – your IT company needs to be vigilant in making sure backups are carried out properly and comprehensively every time. To give a worst-case scenario, say there’s a flood in your building and your entire IT setup gets ruined. You and your employees should know exactly what the process is to restore your data. In addition to conducting daily backups, there needs to be a crystal-clear testing verification to ensure there is never a need to worry. Bad things happen in IT, even with the best support money can buy. Accidents and disasters are sometimes unavoidable. With a good MSP, you will always have a clearly-define emergency protocol to get you back up and running in a day or less.

Hard Drives

  • Are our hard drives encrypted?

If required, your company hard drive MUST be encrypted. However, the process may be different depending on the data you use. For instance, if you handle healthcare data, there are a number of boxes you have to check to ensure your process is HIPAA compliant. All financial and personally identifiable data must be properly protected. Failing to abide by data compliance rules can potentially result in a fine or worse. Making sure your company is handling and securing data the correct way is a key part of your MSP’s job duties and IT standards. They should make this clear from the get-go.

  • What happens if hard drives fail?

Similar to backups and disaster recovery, your IT company needs to have a game plan to recover data and revive your server if a hard drive fails. More importantly, they should be able to do so with minimal business downtime.

  • Does the data on your workstations require backups?
    • Has the IT company asked about this?
    • Have they trained your employees on best practices?
  • Is the server properly designed to manage hard drive failure?
    • Is the server set up to be functional even if one drive fails?
    • Are there alerts set up to notify you of hard drive failure?
    • Is there a plan to repair the server in a reasonable amount of time?

Security

Security is a cornerstone of any decent managed services plan – especially nowadays. Businesses need sound security for:

  • User training
  • Endpoints
  • Networks
  • Cloud
  • Applications

Cybercrime saw a 600% uptick due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cybercrime is unfortunately a harsh reality of the world we live in, and one that’s not going away. Industry IT standards are that MSPs must hold security at the very top of their priority list. To give you a better idea of how important security is: the average cost of a data breach in 2020 was $3.86 million – according to IBM. Here are the most important things you need to know about your company’s IT security.

  • Do we have protocols in place for work-from-home networks?

Work-from-home (WFH) setups have been on a steady rise for most of the 21st century. As soon as COVID-19 hit in March of 2020, these numbers skyrocketed. Pre-COVID, roughly 17 percent of workers were in a full-time WFH setup. Post-COVID, this number shot up to 44 percent! Unfortunately, this mass shift to WFH opened the door for all sorts of cybercrime. Now I know this is in hindsight by now, but guiding companies through the shift safely was/is an essential part of an MSPs responsibilities. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Verifying that each employee is using a strong WiFi password for their at-home network.
  • Educating employees on common phishing scams and cyberthreats spawned during COVID-19.
  • Implementing antivirus software on personal devices.
  • Ensuring screens can be locked from accidental access.
  • Developing a plan if a company computer is lost/damaged.

If your IT company didn’t address any of these concerns back in March/April, you’re in trouble!

  • Are our firewalls adequate?

Cybercrime is constantly evolving to navigate around safeguards (firewalls). That said, your IT company needs to keep you ahead of the curve. This involves:

  • Keeping licenses up-to-date.
  • Ensuring access rules are accurate.
  • Closing all unnecessary firewall ports.
  • Making sure remote desktops are constantly secure.

MSPs should be managing these tasks in the background – however – you shouldn’t ever be left wondering about the health of your firewalls. MSPs need to be proactive in their communication with clients and provide frequent reporting.

General

Now I’d like to get back to the basics of IT standards. The best partnerships with MSPs result in a company’s technology working seamlessly. To put it bluntly, you shouldn’t have to question the health of your IT infrastructure, ever. The questions to ask aren’t so much directed to your MSP; they are more of a self-reflection.

  • How well are our applications working?

Today’s businesses are only as good as the applications they use – and they need to function properly at all times. You shouldn’t be having recurring issues, like system crashes, freezes, lost data, etc. Problems with your applications should not be an everyday part of work life. The best MSPs work behind-the-scenes making sure these apps function without problems.

  • How consistent is the experience of a new user setup?

New user setups are one of the best ways to gauge the quality of an IT company against industry IT standards. On a foundational level, MSPs should have set processes and standardization for the user experience of setting up new equipment. Standardization in new user setup is crucial for a couple key reasons. For one, it eliminates unknowns in the process. New users abide by a set of rules to get up to speed as quickly as possible. Second, standardization makes it easy to spot shortcomings in the process. MSPs should be monitoring the efficiency of each setup and constantly looking for ways to improve. So ideally, the company is getting smarter each time. MSPs should never be making shots in the dark, especially with new user setups. Industry IT standards include taking the time to understand the uniqueness of each company, and customizing an ideal plan to add new users as the business grows.

Wrapping Up

Establishing internal IT standards for an IT company can be tough – especially if you’ve only worked with an in-house staff – or a one-man IT department. Regardless of your IT history or current setup, your internal standards need to be on par with industry standards. Hopefully, this post helped shed some light on what should be expected from an MSP. Simply put, your IT should function as a powerful tool for growth, never an obstacle. Do you have any more questions about IT support or industry standards? Give us a call at 408-320-0450 or reach out to our team at Level UP MSP today. We’re happy to set up a strategy call and learn more about your business!