Five questions to ask when building your field service strategy

A business can’t survive without being able to adapt to rapidly changing technology. But sometimes maintaining complex IT infrastructure surpasses the skill level of internal staff, and it becomes necessary to seek out reinforcements for your organisation’s IT department.

Fortunately, there is an array of vendors who offer field service to alleviate your internal IT staff. These vendors, called managed service providers (MSPs), handle key parts of your on-site IT needs, such as hardware repairs or desktop and server support. But knowing what to look for when working with an MSP to form an effective field service strategy is often difficult.I’ve found that it comes in handy to ask the following questions.

1. Does the MSP have high service levels?

In today’s on-demand culture, your customers expect immediate service and don’t tolerate downtime. For this reason, the MSP you work with to establish your field service strategy needs to have the ability to get you up and running sooner rather than later so you can provide the expected level of service. The last thing you want is to have to wait for the field engineer to order spare parts before they can repair the equipment.

MSPs typically gauge the success of their field service offer by their first-time fix rate, which is 88 per cent or more for best-in-class field service organisations, according to Aberdeen Group. Enquire after the MSP’s first-time fix rate, and find out what processes the organisation has in place to maintain this service level. For example, how many active field engineers does the MSP employ in your region? When are they available? Does the MSP have a strategic dispatch process in which engineers are assigned to a job that best matches their skill level? Does the organisation have geographically dispersed parts centres to cut down on time spent waiting for spare parts to be shipped?

One of the best ways to gauge the MSP’s commitment to quality service is to ask to see the provider’s service level agreement (SLA). The SLA states that the vendor will provide services measured by predefined, quantifiable metrics, such as a guaranteed fix within four hours. If the vendor can’t fulfil these obligations, the SLA gives you recourse, such as fee reimbursement.

2. How will the MSP prevent system malfunction?

A first-time fix for system issues is ideal, but if an MSP can prevent a system malfunction in the first place, that’s even better. Maintaining high uptime is particularly important when it comes to meeting your customers’ expectations of on-demand service.

3. Can the MSP adapt to changes in technology?

Technology is changing so drastically that if business owners don’t keep up, they’ll be left behind. Not all businesses have the wherewithal to build out their internal IT infrastructure themselves, but working with a forward-thinking MSP can help your business keep pace with technology growth.

4. Does the MSP follow best practices for data processing?

Regardless of the industry, regulatory compliance is a top priority for many organisations. Working with an MSP can help your organisation adhere to appropriate regulatory standards, especially if field engineers will be operating on hardware that consists of confidential data.

Under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, businesses that process EU citizens’ personal data are held to stringent requirements for protecting that data. Noncompliance can result in fines of as much as 5 per cent of annual worldwide turnover or €1 million, whichever is greater. With such high stakes, it’s important to ensure the MSP has proper policies and procedures in place to ensure the availability and security of any data they process.

To assess the MSP’s ability to adhere to data processing best practices, ask if the MSP has adopted a business continuity standard or undergone a third-party accreditation process. These certifications could include ISO 9001 (for quality management systems) and ISO 27001 (for information security management systems).

5. Are the MSP field engineers knowledgeable?

It’s difficult for your business to stay up-to-date if you rely on unqualified engineers to help maintain your IT infrastructure. When working with an MSP, it is important to make sure the field engineers are familiar with all the products and services the MSP provides, whether it’s IT networking services, hardware break-fix, print management or cloud-based data vaulting. Having an unqualified engineer working on your hardware runs the risk of voiding your hardware warranties. Verifying that your MSP’s field engineers are fully capable of repairing equipment from a variety of manufacturers will ensure your warranties are kept intact.

With technology constantly evolving, find out whether the MSP invests in ongoing training and additional certification for its field engineers.

There’s no doubt that the field service options on the market are overwhelming. However, if you ask these five questions when building your outsourced field management strategy, you’ll not only take the pressure off your internal staff but also gain the edge over your competitors.

Matt Kingswood, Head of Managed Services, IT Specialists (ITS)