Just because startups are small, it doesn’t mean they don’t have large scale IT support needs. The truth is, unlike their major corporate counterparts, emerging new businesses tend to have an even more diverse BYOD environment as well as a mixed bag of operating systems, applications, and peripherals. And unlike enterprise-sized accounts, they less frequently have the budget to justify hiring a full time IT person let alone an IT department. As a result, they need their IT services provider to do everything. So where do they turn for support?
Unfortunately, most Managed Service Providers don’t pursue startups, because they prefer accounts of the behemoth variety with streamlined end user support needs mostly confined to MS Office products. That way they can handle only the low hanging fruit of Level 1 access and connectivity issues, leaving more complex troubleshooting to internal IT desktop technicians and network engineers. Or they’ll charge a premium per incident rate for those higher compensated Level 2 and 3 services. The problem is, with startups, those roles are either nonexistent or shared among the executive team members who are already spread thin. Given those circumstances, a standard per incident pricing model leaves them vulnerable to upcharges for those premium services which, in an unstable environment, can add up to sticker shock on the monthly invoice. This nickel-and-dime approach simply does not work for small businesses especially when considering there is no built-in incentive to proactively anticipate and deter technical support issues as they’re generating revenue for those MSPs.
A Question of Priorities
Startups don’t necessarily fall short on technical knowledge. It’s just that even their most IT savvy staff with “smart hands” have more urgent priorities than managing end user and network support on a regular basis. Though small business professionals tend to wear many hats, the VP of Finance doesn’t necessarily have the capacity to install and configure a router. In fact, it’s often because their job descriptions are a mile long that the need to outsource to an MSP eventually reaches a critical mass or core business functions succumb to neglect. The good news is, because small office staff are forced to be self-sufficient and interact with everything IT first hand, they are best suited to define their technology wish list for the future as they evaluate prospective MSPs. They are both the executive team and the end users most likely to report the technical issues, so they are thoroughly invested in identifying the best solution.
The votes are in. Ideally, startups are looking for a versatile, agile MSP that will manage everything IT from mobile devices and PCs to the network, both remotely and promptly dispatched onsite when needed, all for a flat, per-device monthly price.
For businesses with less than 50 employees, the all-inclusive model makes the most sense, not only because invoices are predictable and affordable, but because there is no guesswork or anxiety about which types of support will be covered. In addition, the MSP is incentivized to maximize end user and network uptime and implement solutions that promote high availability as well as align with how that startup leverages IT both operationally and as part of its growth strategy.
Virtual CIO Services
Since startups tend to have few if any dedicated internal IT roles for support, they may not be in the best position to evaluate and recommend the appropriate software, hardware, and infrastructure investments that an experienced CIO or CTO would recommend. An all-inclusive MSP that offers executive level guidance and a well-defined technology roadmap positions itself as a true value-added partner. What may have worked during the organizational infancy in terms of BYOD smartphones, tablets, MacBooks and PCs, self-sourced freeware and other software, may not work as employee headcount doubles and triples at an annual rate. As startups begin to experience those growing pains, standardization and scalability become greater priorities when considering future technology investments. They need a consultative partner to provide input on anything from data storage to CRM to collaboration tools to personnel management tools to web site hosting and management tools.
Shawn Sumner, TechNoir’s Director of Client Operations, has extensive experience addressing startup growth challenges. “When you’re a smaller organization you can get by with certain pieces of equipment that you can’t when you grow,” Sumner explains. “For example, you may buy software that can only run on a machine with a set of specs or specific user count, but you’ll eventually have to replace it with a more expensive piece of equipment.”
Rather than set up startups for wasteful IT expenditures, an effective MSP plans for their growth trajectory versus patchworking technology from where they are today. That means creating a best-case scenario that allows room for expansion in bandwidth, user counts (establishing software license management policies), and accessibility.
Five common IT challenges most startups face include the following:
- Limited IT budget (equipment costs and maintenance). Can’t afford a full time IT person or a fit a per incident pricing model. Preference is an MSP that assumes ownership of everything IT for an affordable, flat monthly rate.
- Limited internal resources dedicated to technical support. Support is often self-service courtesy of Google which is not a sustainable approach to maintaining IT functionality as startups grow.
- Little to no capacity planning. Since they often don’t have a CIO or CTO on staff, startups need guidance on what technology to leverage for their business needs (proper software, networking equipment, bandwidth from ISP, etc.)
- Lack of standardization. As startups take on new staff, they rarely conform to any standard especially in a BYOD environment. Nobody knows what equipment will be introduced. Difference between consumer and enterprise grade equipment. Due to limited brick and mortar real estate, startups tend to employ more remote teleworkers.
- DR and security needs. Due to the lack of in-house data security expertise, startups don’t always focus on how to secure their environment and consider the financial and operational ramifications of a DR event. Downtime and recovery time as well as the costs associated with data loss and service restoration can be cripple any organization.