Understanding Different Types of Small Business IT Services
There was a time when being connected to the web wasn’t necessary for SMBs, but that day has been gone for a long time; of course, the same might as well be true for critical IT services. But which types?
For the uninitiated, it’s perfectly understandable if you’re unfamiliar with the fact that there are a slew of different IT services to choose from—everything from managed print services to sophisticated cybersecurity.
And you could take advantage of all of them if you like, not that we recommend it. While there’s certainly a wide range of different software tools and services to choose from, each with its own unique benefits and capabilities, not all of them will be right for you.
The type of IT services you’ll really want will vary based on the size and needs of your business.
There’s also the question of whether or not the tools and software you land on should be managed in-house, outsourced to a contractor, or handled by a managed service provider (MSP).
If this feels like it’s starting to get a little overcomplicated, don’t worry.
The whole point of this article is to help you get a clearer understanding of which IT services are right for you and your business so that, by the end, you’ll have explored the topic thoroughly enough to make a decision for yourself.
There are a total of 16 different IT services we’ll be exploring in this section. There are certainly more that we could delve into, but we think these are likely to be the most relevant for businesses like your own.
Managed IT Services
This is a fairly broad service that’s typically handled by an MSP. The service relates to your business’s IT service needs, which can be fairly extensive depending on your business type, size, and industry.
Some common features of Managed IT Services include:
- Workstation Management
- Email Security
- End-User support (Help Desk)
- Server Management
- Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery
- Network Management
- Vendor Management
- Device Management
Something to note is that the features included in Managed IT Services may vary depending on which MSP you choose to go with.
The main function of these services is to make sure that your business’s systems and applications are functioning properly and to detect and alert you of any suspicious activity that’s noticed.
Some of the things that are generally monitored include:
- Network Availability
- Application Performance
Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR)
BCDR is one of the most important IT Services available and we highly recommend its adoption. In simple terms, BCDR’s purpose is to make sure that your business is able to function during any disruption with as little interruption as possible.
Business continuity and disaster recovery have important distinctions:
- Business Continuity — Focuses on what your business needs to continue operating even during times of disruption, such as a cyberattack, power outage, natural disaster, etc.
- Disaster Recovery — The next line of defense when Business Continuity cannot be maintained. Refers to the decided actions/processes that restore business operations to nominal levels.
Scenarios that should be taken care of with BCDR services include power failovers, internet failovers, cloud failovers, and hardware failovers.
In many ways, firewalls are the gatekeepers of your business network; without them, your network would be vulnerable to all sorts of nefarious entities trying to abuse your network and the proprietary data in it.
Firewall services refer to the management of your business’s firewalls and, if done well, will accomplish far more than your standard-issue firewall could do.
There are a few types to choose from, such as hardware firewalls, software firewalls, and firewalls built specifically for the cloud. For some of the best protection, you should look to next-generation firewalls (NGFW).
NGFWs are more feature-rich than their traditional counterparts, and as such, provide a more robust service capable of countering more sophisticated cyberattacks.
Cybersecurity services are one of the more broad categories. Think of it as an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of service types dedicated to the security of your business.
Many of the service types we cover in this article could fall under the umbrella of cybersecurity services, including firewalls, network monitoring, layered networks, antivirus, and more.
Because this service encompasses so much, its management will likely be outsourced to a provider or MSP unless your business is large enough to justify an in-house IT team, although it’s likely an MSP would have a greater breadth and depth of experience.
Security and Compliance Auditing Services
When it comes to the security and compliance auditing of your business’s IT, it’s not enough to make an assessment of your hardware and software. The people and processes within your organization are as important as the technology when it comes to this type of audit.
To do a holistic security and compliance audit effectively, you’ll need an objective third party to come in. This can be accomplished with an MSP, an individual auditor, or an auditing team.
The types of audits necessary for this kind of assessment include but aren’t limited to:
- Email Policies
- Mobile Device Policies
- Wifi Policies
- Network Equipment
- Data Access and Backup
- Vulnerability Scanning
- Phishing Tests
- Application Policies
- File Server Policies
- Workstation Policies
- Firewall Policies
Whoever you choose to oversee your IT audits should be competent in auditing compliance for HIPPA, GDPR, SOX, PCI DSS, and Sarbanes-Oxley.
These services relate to anything and everything that has to do with the successful implementation of your business’s network, including security, optimization, building network infrastructure, setting up physical devices like routers and modems, and others.
Generally, businesses tend to set up their network in-house, but you can also have your network provider send a specialist to help with set up or have an MSP take care of everything for you.
Email Hosting Services
Given that email is a ubiquitous form of communication in the world of business, this is one of the more important services on this list. It may not deal specifically with security, but it relates to both internal and external communication, which does pose some security risks.
When choosing an email host, it’s important not just to consider which brand you’re familiar with, but also which one offers the best security and added tools, such as calendar, among others.
There are a few different emails hosting types to consider here:
- Self-Hosted Email — This type of hosting is a little less common than others because it usually requires your business to have your own servers on which to host your email, rather than just using a third-party provider like Gmail or Yahoo. This option gives you more control over the service and its security, but you also have to pay for the added costs that come with the servers and systems admins that maintain them. This option also makes it more difficult to keep your business’s email from getting marked as spam.
- Shared Web and Email Hosting — This is when your email hosting also comes from the hosting provider of your website. Many times the email hosting is added to the web hosting service for free.
- Third-Party Email Hosting — This type of email hosting is usually paid for via subscription and comes with more features—shared contacts, calendars, messaging, and even built-in video conferencing—than you’d get with your web host provider.
Antivirus Protection Services
Given the ever-increasing sophistication of malware, quality antivirus protection services are crucial to your business and should not be ignored. Being a subset of cybersecurity, these services are generally more common in the IT industry and come built into many devices.
Cloud Computing Services
Cloud computing has quickly risen in popularity as the go-to for businesses needing a flexible and scalable IT infrastructure, and for good reason to.
Instead of having to purchase, maintain, and later upgrade on-premise servers, businesses like yours can instead invest in cloud services like Microsoft Azure or Amazon’s AWS which tend to be more budget-friendly without compromising performance or efficiency.
Cloud services also enable your team to have access to critical files wherever they are so long as they have a secure wifi connection.
However, depending on which type of cloud service you go with, you may not have nearly as much control over security as you would with physical servers.
There are three main types of cloud computing services:
- Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) — Managed by a cloud provider like Google or Microsoft, this type allows your business to use the software as though it were just another locally installed program.
- Platform-a-a-Service (PaaS) — This service is where lower-level resources, such as your business’s operating system, are managed by the provider. Your business is still in control of the applications you use and their associated data going in and out of the platform.
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) — IaaS is when your provider manages the storage, virtualization, and server resources that allow your business to customize your operating system down to the individual applications.
Mobile Device Management
Bring your own device (BYOD) policies live in this type of service. It deals with mobile and remote networking which allows your employees to work from the convenience of home or simply out of the office (OOO).
Though this type of IT service isn’t absolutely necessary, the demand for it is growing as the popularity and practicality of working remotely continues to scale.
Unified Communications & Voice Over IP Services
As its name implies, unified communications deal with the bringing together of all your business communications via careful planning and software solutions. So instead of communicating from multiple platforms, you do so in one convenient space.
This service can be set up on your own, but it can also be managed by an MSP.
Voice over IP (VoIP) replaces traditional telephone lines by allowing your business to make and receive calls over your internet. This service typically comes as a subscription and is often packaged with other services like video conferencing and messaging.
Business Intelligence & Data Analytics Services
One of the most valuable assets of almost any business is their data, but nowadays, there’s almost too much data to process and make sense of. This is why having business intelligence and data analytics services is so crucial.
Without these services, properly extracting, analyzing, and transforming lots of data into meaningful reports is borderline impossible.
IT Development Services
Keeping up in the technological race is difficult, especially since tech is only getting more and more advanced. But an added difficulty is properly transitioning out of legacy solutions and into the new tech—which is one of the problems IT development services can solve.
Instead of trying to handle things like migration, app development, and maintenance on your own, you can hire a third party to take care of these tasks in a professional manner.
Managed Print Services
While many modern businesses likely won’t engage with this type of service, managing your business’s print was a large task that was often taken care of in-house. However, there are some instances where it was taken care of by third parties for high volumes of printing requests.
There are still some versions of this service that manage and maintain the backups of your digital documentation, as well as the organization and safety of your virtual files.
Help Desk Services
You’ve likely encountered this service if you’ve ever needed to call in help for a faulty printer or to troubleshoot your network’s servers. Help desk services assist with the installation, set-up, and ongoing maintenance/repair of your office tech equipment and some appliances.
Popular examples of companies that offer these services include Geek Squad and Support Ninja, but an MSP may also be able to help with these services, depending on which you go with.
Creating a holistic IT business strategy
Clearly, there are a lot of different IT services to choose from, but you obviously don’t need all of them. Depending on what your business does, many of these services are likely to be irrelevant or, at most, one-off services you use only every so often.
The types of IT services you ultimately decide to go with should fit in with your IT business strategy.
In fact, it’s when businesses skip this strategic step and simply jump on the bandwagon of whatever IT service is in vogue that misalignment occurs between their IT and business operations.
Keep in mind that choosing which IT services you adopt is an interactive process as well. Try them on and see if they fit. If they don’t, you can always leave it behind and try out a different service.
Consequences of misalignment between IT services and business strategy
The most important thing when choosing your business’s IT services is that you don’t commit to ones that aren’t aligned with your business strategy. Doing so can lead to:
- Investing in technologies that don’t fit into your growth plans. For example, choosing onsite servers for the control they offer when in reality your business needs the cloud’s flexibility and scalability).
- Prioritizing the wrong IT projects instead of taking the time to consider which ones are truly essential
- Wasting money by upgrading technologies that don’t actually support business goals or needs. For example, upgrading to a top-of-the-line traditional phone system instead of investing in VoIP.
- Trying to expand your business into areas that are not supported by your current IT infrastructure.
- Investing in top-notch IT technology but not dedicating enough time or resources to maintenance or upgrades, leading to tech debt, issues with capacity, etc.
How to create a strong IT business strategy and choose the right IT services
Choosing which IT services to bring into the fold of your business is an important decision, and luckily, it’s not something you have to do on your own.
The best way to make sure that your IT services are in alignment with your business strategy is to work with an MSP, IT consultant, or internal IT expert to help you and other decision-makers figure out what services and solutions are most important for your business’s long-term plans.
A good step in the right direction would be to write up a list of what the objective would be for each IT service you want.
When doing this, do your best to assign each objective a clear KPI metric that you want to track. This will help you assess whether or not the services you went with are truly fulfilling their purpose.