What kind of relationship should you have with your Managed IT provider (and how can you improve yours)?

How is your relationship with your Managed IT Service Provider?
How is your relationship with your Managed IT Service Provider?

What does a good relationship with your Managed IT provider look like? We examined our best client relationships and found these common attributes. Does your current IT relationship look like this or something else entirely?

IT is “owned”. No provider is perfect. But the mark of a good provider is being able to admit that you got it wrong, communicate that you now understand the issue better and that you have a way forward. Owning mistakes without playing a blame game and acting quickly to close identified gaps are the marks of a good IT relationship.

Forward thinking. IT Roadmaps are something we develop for each one of our Managed Services clients. The IT Roadmap charts a path from the business’ current state to achieving its future business goals, mapping out the IT support required to achieve them. Has your provider demonstrated that level of forward-thinking?

Challenging. Your IT provider should not be afraid to challenge your assumptions about your business and its current path. It’s their job to understand your business like they were a senior employee. Would you listen to a senior employee if they had something important to say, and would you expect them to feel they could talk openly? That’s the relationship you should have with your service provider.

Straight-talking. It goes without saying that if your provider is talking in technical jargon then they don’t really understand you. Your relationship must be one that’s based on your business, using terms that you understand.

Declining Break-fix Rates. By definition, a break-fix is an unanticipated problem that has to be resolved quickly because some part of your network is broken. If you’re in the first 12 months of a managed services relationship, the number of break-fixes should be steadily declining from around the fourth month. Barring the introduction and bedding down of new technology, by the 12-month mark the break-fixes should be at historic low levels and remain there for the term of the contract. If they’re going up at any stage from 12 months in, you’re not in a good relationship.

Monthly Account Management. This doesn’t mean that you have to have monthly face-to-face reporting – several of our best clients don’t want that. But every month, a dedicated account manager should be reviewing the performance against agreed service levels, and advocating for you, the client, where it’s necessary. That inbuilt advocacy loop is a vital part of keeping service levels high.

Fast, effective communication in a crisis. At some point, a router dies or a contractor somewhere cuts a communications line, or someone in your accounts department clicks the wrong link in a malicious email, and chaos breaks loose. If you’ve ever been through this, did you finish the event with more or less confidence in your provider’s communication? Swift response and frequent updates, even if it’s just to say “we’re still working on it” is very important in such a crisis.

What can you do if you’re in a bad relationship?

Although you might expect us to say that you should break up with your provider and move to someone like Computer One, in fact, the first thing you should do is talk to your provider about how to improve service levels.

Ask them these three questions:

  1. What will it take to improve service levels?
  2. What is happening in your business right now?
  3. What can you confidently commit to?

These questions will leave your current provider in no doubt about your position, while also giving them the opportunity to deliver honest information that helps you determine whether to stay with them or move on.

Don’t be surprised if part of the answer to the first question is: “renegotiate the rates for service”. If your procurement team did their job they’ll have locked down the managed service provider to a tight contract. Perhaps a little too tight. If the provider can’t make a profit servicing you for the agreed rate, they must reduce their service or cut ties themselves. But many will opt for option one as it’s the path of least confrontation.

If you get an honest answer to the second question, perhaps you’ll see that the service disruption is likely to be only temporary as new staff are bed down into the organisation or a change of ownership is finalised etc. Choosing to stick with your current provider despite them having a tough time is a great way to win long-term service favours IF the provider stays in business.

The third question is all about setting a timeline for a minimum level of performance improvement. In essence, it’s a way of giving the provider a set amount of time to demonstrate a performance improvement before you make the choice to stay or go. When you set a date for improvement, the decisions that follow that date are easier to make.

It’s worth repeating: no provider is perfect. We don’t have the relationship we have described above with every client and at some points we’ve been the company saying “actually, could we renegotiate the rates?” to the first question above.

Clear, effective communication that runs both ways is the best path forward.