Small business CFOs wear many hats, often including that of chief information officer (CIO). Whether due to time constraints (strategic planning, financial reporting, business partnership, and other hats take time, too) or competency (not every CFO is a technology wizard), you likely rely heavily on the IT team. And you likely have occasional sleepless nights due to a cyberattack, system outage, or other concerns.
Imagine starting with a very small IT team, say two or three staff. Then COVID-19 hits, the option of remote work becomes a reality, and each member of the IT team gives notice that they have accepted new roles allowing them to work permanently at home for out-of-state companies with significantly higher compensation.
What do you do? Maybe your first thought is to hire a new team, but quickly you realize it will be nearly impossible to find all the requisite skills assuming you are lucky enough to find anyone at all. And what will you do during the interim if the systems go down and you literally have no one left? Might outsourcing the IT help desk and related activities be the answer?
Partnering with a managed service provider (MSP) to provide an IT help desk and related support can certainly mitigate the risk of unexpectedly losing an internal team. More importantly, such a partnership can provide access to a group of IT professionals with varying areas of expertise and skill sets.
As such, your new team will likely provide a deeper and wider level of IT support than the typical internal IT department, and potentially at a lower cost. Your MSP partner can even provide CIO-level support, enabling you to engage in long-term IT planning and strategy development. In short, outsourcing IT can help you sleep better
Here are nine keys to successful IT outsourcing.
Entering an MSP relationship is like a marriage, requiring chemistry, trust, vulnerability, and hard work. Ensure there is alignment with your culture and values, solicit feedback from your network, conduct background checks, and meet all key members of the MSP’s team. Also, ask about areas of expertise and look at résumés. And, if appropriate, test their competency, including technical skills and leadership ability. By carefully selecting your MSP partner, you improve the odds that the relationship will work long-term.
One advantage of an MSP relationship is potential cost reduction. But the price is only one consideration. In addition, clarify the scope of activities to be outsourced, whether limited or end-to-end IT support. Clarify who is accountable for which risks and that your partner will maintain appropriate liability insurance coverage. Ensure balance in the various contract terms. In short, negotiate a fair agreement that is a win-win.
Setting expectations starts with the partner’s scope of responsibility and service response times as outlined in the contract. Ideally, the agreement will clarify if they are responsible for help desk support only, handling break/fix needs, or identifying and correcting root causes. But fully clarifying expectations, such as when help desk tickets should be closed, what should be communicated to who and when, which procedures need to be documented, or who plays what role regarding vendor management, will be an ongoing process.
Change management will be key to a successful transition.
When you have an established internal team, they inherently know their responsibilities and the steps to take in each situation (e.g., in onboarding a new employee). When you engage a new MSP partner, although they may have standard procedures for a given activity, they may need to customize these procedures or develop new ones to meet your needs. Formalizing appropriate desktop procedure documents allows you to verify the MSP’s understanding of your expectations and facilitates consistency going forward.
Change can be hard, especially if internal customers were accustomed to immediate, hands-on support whenever needed. Explain why you are outsourcing the IT help desk and related activities. Introduce the MSP team, ideally in person. Clarify and reinforce how employees should create help desk tickets. Ensure the internal team has realistic expectations regarding support and turnaround time. Change management will be key to a successful transition.
As you transition to an MSP partner, it is imperative to hold them accountable. Holding weekly sessions to review help desk ticket resolution, discuss new issues, prioritize next steps, and gain a commitment on due dates is a great way to ensure alignment. These sessions are also a great way to highlight if your partner is falling short of their commitments and needs to course-correct accordingly. Accountability goes both ways. You, when wearing the CIO hat, are ultimately accountable for the success of the MSP relationship. You own it!
As with any relationship, working with an MSP partner will be challenging at times. Consider conducting a survey about six months into the transition to solicit employee feedback on what’s working and what’s not, then coordinate with your partner to make appropriate changes. For example, we received a recommendation to collect feedback each time a help desk ticket was closed. Our partner has now implemented a mini survey after closing tickets (for all their clients), and we are reviewing a monthly recap of this feedback to identify trends and opportunities.
Strive to instill a continuous improvement mindset in your collective team.
Your MSP partner should build your awareness of technology trends and implement best practices on your behalf. Are you losing sleep over the threat of cyberattacks? Knowing your partner is monitoring 24/7 for risky user sign-ins, scanning all URL links and attachments before they are opened, performing penetration testing, and conducting employee phishing simulations, including follow-up training as needed, should mitigate your stress.
Whether providing help desk support, monitoring system health, setting up new employees, mitigating cyber risk, or enhancing the MSP partnership itself, there are always opportunities to do what you do better. Thus, strive to instill a continuous improvement mindset in your collective team.
As CFOs continue to tackle shifting responsibilities and priorities, including, for many, a need to secure IT infrastructure and introduce new technologies, it’s important to have vendors you trust to keep the company and its staff protected and working well. If you’ve decided it’s time to outsource IT, take the steps above to ensure you’re setting up everyone — including yourself — for success.
Steve McNally, CMA, CPA, is CFO of The PTI (Plastic Technologies Inc.) Group of companies and chair emeritus of the Institute of Management Accountants.