Choosing the Right IT Partner: A Checklist

As a small or medium-sized business (SMB), your technology infrastructure is fundamental to daily operations and growth in today’s competitive landscape. 

However, managing IT in-house, especially for a smaller business, can be a burden, draining resources and hindering focus on core business activities. It can also be difficult to source expertise due to various factors, such as budget, or not knowing exactly what skills you need.

Mastering the process of IT management, then, often begins with recognizing the need for assistance or partnership with a specialist. Managed IT services, also called managed service providers (MSPs) are one such option, helping run IT systems smoothly, securely and easily. This translates into increased efficiency, cost savings, and freedom to concentrate on what you do best – driving your business forward.

This checklist is designed to guide you through the most essential criteria to consider when choosing the right IT partner for your SMB’s business needs.

1. Technology expertise and specialization

When selecting an IT partner, it’s crucial to evaluate their breadth of expertise and areas of specialization across the latest technology. A managed IT services partner with a broad knowledge base in IT, and specific experience catering to SMBs and your sector with a variety of different technology implementations, can better offer customized solutions that fit your unique needs, which will naturally shift as your business grows and technology evolves.

Stellar IT support in today’s world does not solely consist of 24/7 on-call assistance or support ticket systems, but proactive and consistent guidance around the latest tech. Many SMBs are now aware of this requirement, with 50% of small businesses wanting to bring industry-specific expertise onto the team when considering an IT partner, according to a Clutch survey. 

Here are examples of the most important fields, based on conversations with our customers:

Expertise in cybersecurity:

Cybersecurity is a critical area for small businesses across all sectors, owing to an alarming increase in cyber security threats such as ransomware, social engineering and data breaches – in fact, the latter reached a record high global average cost of $4.45 million USD in 2023, according to IBM’s 2023 Cost of a Data Breach Report. SMBs today need to have a strong security posture to combat these threats and their many consequences – reputational damage, financial loss, sensitive data leaks – so choosing a partner with services and experience in deploying solutions around application security, cloud security and network security is a must. The best MSPs also provide cyber awareness training programs to help educate your internal teams around cyber security best practices and uplift their own skill-sets.

Cloud solutions specialization:

Cloud computing is synonymous with digital transformation, allowing businesses to move computing power and data storage into digital-based servers for scalable, on-demand resources and systems modernization. Migrating your operations to the cloud is a big move if your SMB is not already there, so choosing a managed IT services partner with proven cloud expertise in helping small businesses not just move to cloud platforms, but actively assist in the ongoing optimization, training and management of your new cloud environment, is an essential specialization. For SMBs still learning about what cloud can bring to your overall IT infrastructure, we recommend reading our Ultimate Guide to Cloud (2024).

Technology certifications:

Certifications demonstrate a managed IT service provider’s competency with specific technologies and platforms. It’s very important to research certifications relevant to your needs, and identify whether a MSP you’re considering has certifications across those technology categories. For instance, if cloud computing is essential to your near-term IT objectives, look for partners with Microsoft Azure certifications such as official recognition as Microsoft Solutions Partner. If better networking systems using Cisco solutions is a goal, ensure the MSP you select has official certification as a Cisco Meraki Certified Partner.

Ultimately, it’s important to take note of the areas of service and solutions a MSP specializes in, so you can ensure they will be able to help forward your IT objectives across multiple areas.

Communication is an important consideration when choosing a Managed IT Service provider

2. Communication and transparency

Effective communication is paramount. Not just in your SMB, but in your dealings with an outsourced IT expert handling the implementation and management of your IT infrastructure. Without it, you risk mishandled technology adoption, rising costs, and a lack of transparency.

Your IT partner should be readily available to answer any questions you have about your technology state, explain complex matters in clear language, and keep you informed of any potential issues. Furthermore, a transparent pricing structure with clear service level agreements (SLAs) fosters trust and ensures you understand exactly what you’re getting for your investment into their ongoing assistance. Here’s what to look for regarding communication and transparency:

Dedicated account manager:

A designated point of contact within the IT provider creates a crucial line of communication. This allows you to build a relationship with someone who understands your business needs closely, and can readily address your concerns around costs, solution implementations, newly arising issues, compliance, and much more.

Regular communication channels:

The MSP partner you choose to manage your IT should offer multiple communication options beyond just email, such as phone support, online portals, and even face-to-face meetings. This ensures you can reach them quickly when necessary, and that your team feels confidence to reach out when any issues may arise.

Clear and transparent pricing:

The pricing structure should be straightforward and easy to understand. Look for providers who offer tiered service packages or customized solutions that align with your specific needs and budget. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) should clearly define performance metrics, response times, and service credits for any downtime. For more information, we recommend reading our blog, Cost of Managed IT Services: A Guide (2024).

Clear, consistent and collaborative communication is a universal must when selecting an IT partner, but it’s quite often lost in the conversation among other priorities. Make sure this is one you don’t miss when assessing the managed IT service providers available to your SMB.

Managed IT Service providers should always be aware of compliance.

3. Proactive approach to compliance

Compliance is a non-negotiable aspect of your IT infrastructure in 2024. With more concerns around data privacy and threats to sensitive information than ever before, an IT partner’s proactive approach to your data compliance can be the difference between having smooth operations and a costly data breach. 

Data compliance is crucial in choosing the right IT partner because it ensures that your partner’s handling of your SMB data meets strict legal and regulatory standards, protecting your business from legal issues, fines, and reputational damage. Non-compliance can lead to severe penalties and undermine customer trust, impacting your business’s bottom line and growth prospects.

Many industries also have strict data security regulations that businesses must adhere to, and it takes preparation and dedication to keep on-top of new legislation or rules. Your IT partner should be familiar with relevant compliance standards to ensure your systems meet those requirements and that they can proactively help you in understanding the importance (and consequences) of going the extra mile with protecting your business and customer information. 

For example, if you are a financial services SMB company, you may be looking for an IT partner experienced in the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) compliance, as it can help reduce risk of regulatory fines around your data. 

In general, there are three ways to spot an IT partner that specializes in compliance:

Certifications and accreditations:

Look for partners with recognized certifications in data security and compliance standards relevant to your industry, such as ISO 27001 for information security management, or specific certifications like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for healthcare. These certifications indicate the partner has met rigorous standards for data protection and compliance. This ensures they’re equipped to manage your data privacy and compliance with the highest standards of excellence.

Proven track record:

Seek partners who can provide case studies or references from clients in similar industries or with similar data compliance needs. Success stories that detail how they have navigated complex compliance challenges will demonstrate their expertise and experience in maintaining data compliance.

Comprehensive compliance strategy:

A specialist IT partner will offer a detailed compliance strategy that covers not just the technical aspects, but also employee training, regular audits, and a clear process for staying updated with changing regulations and mitigating risks. This holistic approach to IT will show that they understand the complexities of compliance, and are prepared to keep your SMB’s data secure and compliant with current laws and standards.

Next steps: Choosing the right managed IT partner

It’s vital that small and medium-sized businesses thoroughly review the key considerations outlined in this checklist when selecting the right IT partner. The process of vetting potential partners based on their expertise and specialization, communication, compliance practices, and alignment with your business goals is more than just due diligence; it’s a strategic investment in your company’s future.

SparkNav is one such managed IT service provider specializing in comprehensive managed IT solutions and IT support for SMBs who need a proactive, guiding hand to drive their technology goals forward. Speak to a member of our team today, and learn how our experts can provide the expertise, communication and compliance assurances your business needs to thrive.

Robert Griffin
Robert Griffin
As COO, Robert Griffin plays an instrumental role in aligning operational excellence with strategic goals by leveraging his decades of experience in enterprise leadership. With deep knowledge and expertise in security, governance, risk, and compliance (GRC), and AI, his insights are often shared through thought leadership channels, including LinkedIn and blogs. → Follow Robert on LinkedIn.