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IT Support - Is it delivering?

In any walk of life, unless you are a professional in the field concerned, it can be very difficult to know whether a professional service you are using is being carried out properly.

Computing is no exception. If you have a breakdown and someone fixes it, that’s generally pretty clear cut. If however, a firm is being paid to look after your systems, it can be pretty difficult to figure out if they are doing all they should.

IT Support is usually arranged through a contract with a service provider. What you are entitled to is therefore determined by the contract. However, almost every contract should cover what is necessary to keep your system running smoothly, safe from virus attack or intrusion, and properly backed up.

Remember that a well-configured and well-maintained system will generate few issues and therefore few calls. You should expect, as a right, a high level of system availability and reliability.

A key reason that people or businesses pay for external IT services is because they don’t understand the technologies well enough to do the job themselves.

This brief guide is intended to help less technical users of computer support services to assess the performance of their IT support provider.

What steps can you take to ensure you are getting what you paying for?

1) Keep records and make your own checks

a) Monitor responses to calls. How long to get a response, how long until an issue is resolved. Do you have to make repeated calls on the same issue?

b) Classify the calls. Try to break them down into those that occur because a user needs help or training to understand what they are trying to do, and those that result from some sort of system problem or error.

c) Keep a record of problem events on your system. Eg. crashes, reboots, periods of slow running

d) If the service provider includes routine on-site support or reviews in their contract, are you getting the visits promised?

e) If the service provider is monitoring the system, what evidence is there that they are doing this. Do they call you (before you call them) when there is a problem?

f) Review the speed of your system. This one is difficult to judge – speed is always subjective and it is particularly difficult to make a judgement over time. You can time a chosen process (eg opening up a database) and see if this gets slower over time. An individual PC that gets slow is easier to spot by comparison with others on the same network.

g) Check that the antivirus software is up to date on all machines in the network. Most antivirus packages leave an icon in the system tray, and clicking on it will show you if needs updating.

h) If you have a number of system users, check what functions and files other users have access to when logged on as themselves. Is this what you expect, and is it safe?

2) Ask the service provider questions

Is the system being kept up to date? Microsoft and other suppliers publish updates to their software for security and other reasons. Antivirus software needs to be updated frequently to be effective.
• What is the service provider policy on such updates?
• Is your system being updated in line with this policy?

What routine checks or maintenance do they do on your system?
• How often do they do these?
• When were they last carried out?
• What action was taken as a result?

Ask questions about your Backup.
• Is it working every time (usually daily) as intended?
• What is being backed up (does it include everything it should do, is there anything new or extra that should be added)?
• What backup copies are kept other than the most recent (how far could you go back if you had to)?
• Ask for a demonstration of recovering a randomly selected file – this should go at least as far as you being shown that the file can be seen on a list generated from the actual recovery media – not just from logs on the system.

Is your system secure?
• Ask questions about the internet firewall - ask the supplier to demonstrate and explain the settings that show it is properly in place.
• You should also ask the service provider to check and show you which user accounts have remote access rights, and which accounts have control over the rest of the system (in a Windows network these are known as Domain Administrator accounts).

What else can you do?

If you are unable to satisfy yourself that your existing service provider is doing a full and professional job, then you should seek further advice.

An independent IT consultant or service supplier will be able to do a review your systems. This should not cost a lot of money, and will give you peace of mind. If it shows that your support service provider is not doing all they should, you will then have the necessary information to tackle them.


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