Choosing an Outsourced IT Provider – 10 Things You Need to Know
Choosing a competent outsourced IT provider need not be like trying to hit a bulls-eye on a dart board if you keep some reasonably straight forward principles in mind. The following 10 steps should keep you in headed in the right direction.
1. Availability – what are the support hours and do they fit your business model? What are the response times and do they have Service Level Agreements to back them? What is their current utilization rate and do they have the bandwidth to take on more? Do they have multiple technicians with multiple skillsets or is it a “Mom & Pop shop”? Will they be able to handle more than one critical outage at a time? Do they regularly service your geographical area? All important questions that will determine how available they will be to you in times of trouble.
2. Competency – what sort of certifications do the technical people (and the company in general) possess? How long have they been with you (high turnover rate is bad)? How long has the company been in business? Do they support other companies in your industry (knowledge of your niche is critical)? You need to know that they are qualified to work on your network. These are good starter questions.
3. Flexibility – do they have plans that suit your needs or will you have to fit into a “cookie cutter” service template? Do they accept multiple forms of payment? Can they handle the specific and unique needs of your company the way it exists today and are they flexible enough to evolve along with you? Do their service levels make sense to you? It has to make sense to you, not them. If it doesn’t, move on.
4. Managed Services and Remote Monitoring – Do they have a system in place for keeping tabs on your network equipment? Do they have an escalation policy in place that provides 24 hour coverage? Monitoring is essential to ensuring you incur as little unplanned downtime as possible. Do they have an “all you can eat” service level that keeps costs in check? To be agile and efficient, your network needs these things so if they don’t offer it, keep right on going.
5. Continuity – do they have a revolving door of technical people? Check to see how long their current staff has been in place. The last thing you need is to pay for a new technician to relearn your network once a month. Do they offer you a technician dedicated to your site. Familiarity with your site is crucial to the troubleshooting process, not to mention having the knowledge necessary to recommend the right products and configurations.
6. Billing Practices – do they offer flexibility in terms? Do they offer monthly and yearly options and discounts for “paying it forward”? Are their bills straight forward and easy to understand or will accountability always be called into question. The right support team will furnish you with billing options that suit your needs and the bills will always be concise and easy to understand with full accountability. Do they offer flat fee billing or is it all about break & fix and time & materials. Flat fee billing is the best way to get a handle on expenses. No one likes to get that surprise bill in the mail.
7. Reporting and Accountability – do they offer you monthly reporting and periodic meetings to discuss your needs or do they “set it and forget it”? Being able to report that everything is running as it should be may be boring but you should demand it anyway. You need to know that your support company is actually doing what they say they are and reporting should provide that peace of mind for you. Do they meet with you periodically to ensure you are still on the right path in terms of technology requirements? Your support company doesn’t know what your business requires until they ask so if they are asking questions about your needs, you should be asking yourself some questions about their support.
8. Company Culture – this one is important. You need to be absolutely sure that the vision and mission of the support company you choose fits with the type of company you run. Ask them about the company owners and what their background is. Do they have a vested interest in seeing you succeed in the long term or are they looking for the “quick hit” and moving on? Do they communicate in lay terms or tech-speak? Being able to communicate openly and effectively is an important key to ensuring you get what you want and need. Ask them directly and if it doesn’t give you the warm fuzzies, the relationship is unlikely to last.
9. Vendor Relationships – are they vendor agnostic or do they only offer one line so to speak? Have they forged good relationships with their technology partners and distribution outlets? Their vendor relationships are very important in terms of being able to support you long term so you will want to ask about that. And although they should have strong ties to their vendors they should not be locked down to any in particular otherwise they may not have the options you require. And most important for this subset; do they offer Tier One products. In other words, do they offer clones and consumer grade solutions (not good) or do they offer business class products with world class support? The relationships they have will determine how well they will be able to support you.
10. Industry Peer Relationships – your support company should belong to several peer networking groups from the general (Vancouver Board of Trade) to the specific (VentureTech Network). No man is an island and peer networking groups help keep your support outfit in the know. Being able to identify key industry trends is important. So is being able to have a sounding board for technical issues and concerns. Peer group members often share best practices and provide each other with key resource overflow and can provide competencies outside of your current support company. Lack of membership with peers and businesses means isolation and that won’t help you in times of need.
These are only a handful of questions you need to consider. There are plenty more but these should provide you with better than 90% of what you need to know and that in itself should give you a leg up in the selection process. Syncronet can answer all of these questions positively, as we should. We didn’t load these questions in our favour, we loaded them in yours.