Proactive vs. Reactive managed IT support

Finding the right IT provider is essential because a good provider not only answers questions but maintains your technology and systems while helping align and adapt everything to your changing business goals.

IT provider styles often fall into two categories: proactive and reactive. Knowing your current or potential provider's style can help determine whether they can meet your organization’s needs.

WEBIT Services has helped clients reach their IT goals for over 25 years. In that time, we’ve studied the positive habits of successful providers and applied them to our business model.

We’ve found that matching your business style and expectations to your IT provider’s service style leads to a mutually beneficial relationship. Because of this, we created an article to help you find what provider style might fit you best.

Of course, as an IT provider, we have a bias towards a proactive service style, but we understand that this may not be everyone’s preference.

This article will walk you through the different philosophies and practices that separate a proactive IT provider from a reactive one and give you tips for identifying both service styles. Ultimately, you will know how to pick the best one for you and your business.

Defining proactive and reactive IT managed support

We could summarize the ideology of each service style using common idioms. For example, a proactive managed IT support might say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. On the other hand, reactive IT support might say, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”

When IT support first became an industry, providers were paid on a time and materials basis (T&M). Essentially, IT was not called until there was an issue with the technology, and they were paid based on the time and materials it took to resolve the problem.

Some would call this approach reactive because IT was only involved in direct response to an existing issue.

As businesses became more reliant on technology, many IT providers have moved away from this mindset and now focus more on monitoring and proactively maintaining systems to prevent issues before they arise and detect them before the users do. This is considered proactive IT management.

Proactive vs. reactive practices

One way you can identify whether an IT provider is proactive or reactive is by their approach to these five practices.

1. IT roadmap and IT strategy

The IT roadmap is an essential part of the overall IT strategy. The IT roadmap is a collection of the client’s short- and long-term goals for their business. From there, strategies are developed to meet these goals within an agreed-upon budget and timeframe.

Proactive IT support relies heavily on the IT roadmap and accompanying strategy.

If you’re with a proactive provider, you’ll have:

  • Quarterly meetings to review your IT roadmap goals.
  • Your provider will complete larger IT projects on the roadmap’s schedule.
  • Most of your IT-related expenses should be expected as they’ve been plotted on the roadmap.

Reactive IT support will use an IT roadmap sparingly, if at all. For example, if you did not meet with your provider to create an IT roadmap during onboarding, your provider is likely reactive.

If you’re with a reactive provider, you may experience:

  • Few or no meetings regarding strategy and planning.
  • IT projects are performed as the need arises.
  • IT-related expenses are often unplanned.

2. System maintenance

IT systems often require an IT expert’s hand to run updates and make sure everything is functioning correctly.

Systems regularly need “patches & updates” to ensure that hardware and software are running at optimum productivity and security. In addition, hardware may require an expert’s examination to ensure it’s running properly or to see if it needs to be replaced.

Proactive providers structure their teams to update, examine, and improve systems before a problem occurs.

If you’re with a proactive provider, they will:

  • Initiate patch updates and make sure they’re installed correctly.
  • Schedule regular maintenance windows to examine systems and perform routine maintenance.
  • Check and monitor hardware for “warning signs” (i.e., blinking red or amber lights) and attempt to correct them during scheduled visits.

Again, reactive practices often do not focus on system maintenance until concerns arise.

Reactive providers may:

  • Update systems or software if users experience frustration with a system or program.
  • Send a technician out for emergencies but not for maintenance.

3. Division of labor

Very often, managed IT services are divided into three kinds of tasks:

  1. Helpdesk – resolves IT-related questions, unexpected issues, and remote repairs.
  2. Field – performs regular maintenance and also repairs that cannot be performed remotely. Usually handles implementing all projects.
  3. Strategy – focuses on helping the client achieve IT-related business goals.

Proactive providers often have teams for these three fields (Helpdesk representatives, field technicians, and virtual chief information officers—vCIOs). This allows them to divide labor and create specialization.

On the other hand, a reactive provider may not practice the same kind of specialization. Instead, a reactive provider employee may “wear all three hats” and assist in every type of task. As the saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

4. Helpdesk Tickets

The number of helpdesk tickets your provider solves monthly can be an excellent indicator of whether they are proactive or reactive.

In the 90 days after onboarding, you should generally see your ticket numbers trend downwards with a proactive provider. This will be due to scheduled maintenance and vCIOs examining ticket history to find trends.

A proactive provider is ideally looking to resolve issues before they become tickets. A vCIO will review them with a technician and may notice reoccurring and related concerns that lead them to the core problem. By identifying and solving the core issue, the likelihood of a repeat event is minimal.

On the other hand, a reactive provider may see ticket numbers trend upwards after onboarding. This could be due to a variety of factors.

However, this could result from seeing each ticket as a single concern and not tracking ticket trends or root causes. If the reactive provider does not have the resources to view tickets strategically, they can only treat symptoms, not the root cause of the issue.

5. Pricing

The IT industry is as dynamic as its technology—constantly moving and updating to match technological advances. As it changes, so does the cost of managing an IT business.

When it comes to hiring talent, IT is an incredibly competitive industry. As a result, attracting and retaining quality IT specialists becomes increasingly expensive.

How does this relate to proactive vs. reactive support? Unfortunately, the price of a provider can be an indication of which service group they fall into.

A proactive provider is often not the least expensive option. This is because they fully know the resources needed to run an IT business and meet customer needs. This usually means hiring more employees, which is not an inexpensive investment.

On the other hand, a reactive provider may have a low service price. This, of course, could be due to a variety of factors. Often, reactive providers have fewer employees, so their expenses are not as high.

However, it is important to note that, over time, reactive providers are often more expensive than their proactive counterparts. This connects back to IT strategy, budgeting, and scheduled maintenance or system replacements.

Proactive providers follow the IT roadmap so that customers are rarely surprised by IT expenses.

Reactive providers may cost less initially, but businesses often find greater, unexpected expenses due to the lack of strategic planning and budgeting preparation. Over time, it does add up.

Deciding if a proactive or reactive provider is right for you

Proactive and reactive providers can be determined by how they view five aspects of their industry:

  1. IT roadmap and IT strategy
  2. System maintenance
  3. Division of labor
  4. Helpdesk tickets
  5. Price

Essentially, proactive providers will try to anticipate, identify, and prevent problems before they occur. Your business may be a good fit for a proactive provider if you:

  • Like to have a more predictable IT budget.
  • Prefer to have IT perform updates and routine maintenance.
  • Like having a plan and sticking to a schedule.

Reactive providers, on the other hand, will address problems only as they arise, not before. These providers may be a good fit for your business if you:

  • Don’t have a defined IT budget.
  • Are comfortable with the risk of performing updates yourself if needed.
  • Are comfortable with no set IT maintenance schedule.

You can reach out to your IT provider to ask them how they approach the different elements of the IT industry to find out if they are proactive or reactive.

If you, your teammates, and your employees are happy with your provider, you likely have a healthy business relationship and have found a fit for your business needs.

If your organization is consistently unhappy with your provider’s responses and outcomes, you may be experiencing a service style or expectation mismatch. In this case, it may be time to search for a new provider.

For over 25 years, WEBIT Services has proactively served hundreds of satisfied clients. If you are looking for an IT provider in the greater Chicago area, schedule a 30-minute consultation to see if WEBIT Services might be a fit for your organization.

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