What is IT?

Information Technology, or IT, is the study and use of computer systems that manage data.

On a small scale, IT covers how your personal computer connects to the internet, saves information, and communicates with other computers or devices. If you are having trouble connecting to the internet, or your printer, an IT provider would be the person to call for assistance.

On a larger scale, IT professionals manage how governments and international corporations store, send, and receive data. Consider your Facebook news feed. When you log in and view your newsfeed, you immediately see photos from friends, family members, and acquaintances. How does Facebook know which photos are most relevant to you? Where are these photos stored and how are they accessed? The full answer to that question is a very long one, but the short answer is that Facebook employs an in-house IT department to manage the systems and databases that make this experience possible.

Why do companies need IT support?

Companies need IT support because the technical skills required to manage computers, networks, and data systems are typically not their strong suit. Just think about a steel manufacturer. This company is an expert at milling, cutting, and delivering steel to job sites around Southwest Montana, but when it comes to managing raw material inventories, phone systems, and maintaining a secure network of company computers, they probably need some help.

Companies rely on IT service providers to bridge the gap between business objectives and the technology to support these objectives.

What types of IT service providers are there?

There are two basic types of IT service providers:

Break-Fix Providers:

These companies get called when a computer system is not working correctly and do little to support the long-term growth and goals of a company. These firms typically bill hourly and do not offer service agreements.

Managed Service Providers:

These companies work with firms to develop information systems and manage these systems around the clock to prevent issues. Managed Service Providers, or MSPs, typically offer service agreements which cover the majority of problems that a company will encounter.

The difference in these models comes down to management. Is someone always watching, monitoring, and updating your computers and systems, or will they only show up for you when something goes wrong? Research shows that there can be significant savings for companies that partner with an MSP rather than the break-fix model.

According to Gartner, a $1,200 PC used for four years will have a total cost of ownership of around $5,867. However, if the company uses security measures and and managed PCs proactively, this total cost of ownership drops to just $3,413 over the four year period – down 42% from the break-fix model.

Keep in mind that this $2,454 savings is per computer. A company that has 15 computers could expect to save $36,810 every four years by using the MSP model.

Every company’s experience will be a little bit different, but the overarching theme of this research shows that the more a company can control their computers and networks, the less indirect costs they will incur.

What does a Chief Information Officer do?

Many large companies employ a CIO, or Chief Information Officer, to manage the information technology needs of the entire company. In the most basic terms, this person is responsible for aligning information technology systems (computers or networks) with long-term corporate goals.

If a company wants to launch a new product line, a CIO would be responsible for building computer systems that can manage the sales and distribution of this product. This could include building databases (networks of computers which store data) and determining how the sales team will access this data.

According to PayScale.com, the average salary for a CIO in the United States is $162,188 per year. For this reason, many businesses take a do-it-yourself approach to strategic IT planning. The good news is that WolfGuard IT provides virtual CIO services to companies with 10 to 100 computers at a fraction of this cost. Click here to see how our virtual CIO service works and to learn if it is the right fit for you.

What questions should you ask when hiring an IT provider?

Asking the right questions of potential IT providers is critical to finding the right fit. Here are six questions we have identified during the last two decades working in IT.

Understanding what type of businesses a potential IT provider works with is critical. Some IT service providers specialize in working with mom-and-pop small businesses while others specialize in supporting international firms or groups like the Department of Defense. The majority of firms are somewhere in the middle. By understanding what type of companies an IT provider supports, you can find the right provider for your needs.

WolfGuard IT specializes in servicing companies with 10 to 100 computers.

This is technically a two-part question: #1 how long has an IT firm been in the industry and #2 how long have their technicians been in the industry? The point here is that a company with a long history might be assigning entry-level technicians to manage your systems. As in any industry, experience counts.

WolfGuard IT was established in 2010 as Big Sky Computer Solutions, and our founder, Chris Kimbell, has been working in IT since 2000. When we can’t find expert technicians locally, we will bring in professionals from out of state. When you call WolfGuard IT, you always receive world-class technical support.

The IT industry can sometimes feel like the Wild West: loosely regulated and filled with heroes, villains, and many people somewhere in between. Asking for certifications is one of the few ways a customer can be sure that their IT consultant is capable of meeting their needs. It is important to remember that these certifications are just a starting point, and they don’t always demonstrate experience.

What these certifications do show, however, is that an IT provider is willing to invest time and money in their professional development. Common certifications to look for are CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, Microsoft Certified Professional, Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator, and Cisco Career Certifications.

This question gets to the heart of an IT providers business model. As we mentioned previously, there are two major types of IT providers: break-fix firms and Managed Service Providers (MSP).

Break-fix firms will charge an hourly rate based on the time they spend resolving issues. The problem, however, is that this model creates a conflict of interest between the IT service provider and their clients. By fixing underlying issues, the IT provider may be limiting their long-term billable hours with the client. Why fix the root cause when you can bill a client each month to fix the symptom? While this is not a common issue, it is something to be aware of.

MSP firms will offer service plans which are paid monthly and provide proactive system management. Unlike break-fix firms, MSPs using monthly service plans have the incentive to keep your computers and networks running smoothly. Monthly plans typically include:

  • 24/7 computer, server, network, and security monitoring
  • Managed and monitored antivirus and cloud backups
  • Managed update management for computers and servers
  • Server self-healing
  • Asset tracking and monitoring
  • Computer and server performance reporting

This is an important one, as your business can’t wait days (or weeks) for a computer issue to get fixed. Ask any IT provider how long their average response time is and demand a straightforward answer. If they don’t give you a guarantee, response times will probably be slower than what they quote.

One of our core guarantees is to be onsite, or working remotely, to fix issues within one hour of receiving a call. Additionally, we have an emergency technician on-call and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Okay, we admit that this is a bit of a “gotcha” question. Every IT provider should know what the cloud is, but it is important to ask because a good IT consultant should be able to answer technical questions in simple terms using very little jargon. Here is how we would answer this question.

Imagine if opening a business or moving into a new home meant having to create an entire electrical generator from the ground up. You’d have to maintain it, manage it, handle any blackouts, and pay for any repairs. You’d also have to find the physical space for the generator and pay for all the costs up front.

Today, this is the way many businesses handle their computing needs. Everything is on-site, and they end up either having to learn how to manage the problems themselves, hiring consultants when things go wrong, or hiring an IT person onto their staff. They pay for all the hardware, software maintenance, backups and foot the bill for the cost of expansion as their business grows.

But of course, we don’t have to build an electrical generator from the ground up, and we don’t have to manage all of our computing needs in-house anymore, either. This is where the cloud comes in. Just as you can plug your appliances and electronics into the wall and only worry about paying for the electrical power you use, the cloud allows you to plug your computer into the network and only pay for the computing power you use.

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