Information Technology (particularly communication, systems, and data) is the lifeblood of most businesses. A strong IT system can give organisations a competitive advantage as well as streamline processes, simplifying communication, and adding value.
Whilst the majority of businesses have systems in place, invariably there is a requirement to review IT service provision from time to time. Typically this occurs when either looking to upgrade existing systems, or when reviewing companies to provide ongoing IT support.
The IT industry as a whole remains incredibly fluid and fast-paced. Cloud service provision no means that businesses can do without physical servers. Mobile computing is so sophisticated that employees can genuinely remain productive wherever they are.
With this in mind, partnering with the right IT outsourcing service provider is more critical than ever. Quite simply, there are thousands of potential partners in the market (ranging as always from the one-man band of this world to the global outsourcing giants) – choosing the best one for your organisation needs careful consideration of a number of factors (discussed further on).
Should I employ someone to look after IT?
That really is the first consideration, should we employ an IT manager (or equivalent) or use a specialist third party provider?
Generally speaking, for any organisations with less than 35 users, employing a dedicated IT manager is not going to be cost effective. There will be exceptions to this, and many organisations employ an IT person who has other functions.
This is in some ways great – there are a pair of hands on-site, issues can be resolved quickly, you have a degree of budgetary control, and with the right person you can have a long-term IT strategy.
There are a number of downsides of employing an IT manager, which include:
- Cost – A salary of around £30k (plus NI etc) is rather expensive unless the workload warrants it).
- Knowledge – When you are reliant on one IT manager you can never be sure you are getting the very best advice. Furthermore, will they be able to look after everything or will they still need to use a 3rd party for specific support?
- Holiday and sick cover – Do you make arrangement or “wing it”?
- Risk – If they leave, are taken on long-term sick, etc. you may be horribly exposed.
- Agenda – Will they be interested in certain technologies to make their CV look good, before departing for pastures new?
- Getting the right person is not easy – good staff are hard to find.
So, some tough decisions there. If, like the majority of companies with up to 50 users, you decide to outsource your IT requirements, how do you go about choosing the right company?
Surely IT Companies are all the Same?
In a word, no!
With the advances of cloud computing and virtualization, many smaller companies have simply been left behind in their cocoons of Microsoftt’s Small Business Server!
This is increasingly common with service providers looking after clients with smaller requirements (up to 20 users, for example). In these cases, often the systems in place are less sophisticated and when the service providers are either too busy or too set in their ways to explore the latest technological advances, it tends to result in stagnation.
On the other hand, those IT service providers who invest in R&D and training are able to discuss a range of solutions and their clients ultimately can take advantages of the best solution for them individual needs.
So what questions should I be asking?
1. Staff – how many are there and what are they like?
It is not necessarily the case of the bigger the better. However, you should find a company you are comfortable and visit their offices to get a feel for what makes them tick. If you have bigger requirements (i.e. if you have 150 staff), then you should obviously not be using an IT service provider with a couple of engineers. Conversely, if you want a friendly and personal service to look after a dozen users, you should probably not be considering a glocal IT giant!
2. Stability – have you looked into their financials?
Companies do come and go – it is prudent to check that potential service providers are financial sound and, ideally, steadily growing.
Has the potential outsourcing partner been established for a good period of time? What is the skills base of the engineers? Are the management team experienced?
4. Flexibility and fairness
The success of an outsourced service will be the relationship between the service provider and the client. With a long-term relationship, there may be times when a flexible approach from the service provider is required. Things do change, often for unforeseen reasons, and the ability of a supplier to react favourably and fairly can be vital.
Let’s not beat around the bush, when things stop working you don’t want your users sat around twiddling their thumbs for any longer than is necessary.
System downtime = lost revenue + costs
It is important not to choose a service provider purely on the basis of cost. Often you get what you pay for!
When comparing IT support proposals from alternative suppliers, it is imperative to check what you are getting from each and, as much as possible, ensure that the proposals are as similar as possible.
There is no point comparing a cost for free remote support (limited to 5 minutes per issue, subsequent charges of £300 per hour) to a well-balanced proposal which factors an expected number of support issues into a fair monthly cost.
Speak to some of their existing clients. If you are discussing IT support, ensure you speak to a number of their IT support clients. If you are considering them for cloud services, ensure you speak to clients using their hosted solutions (just because they are good at one doesn’t automatically mean they are good at everything)!
We have kept this to last but it is incredibly important. The better IT companies tend to be more proactive. Keeping you informed of technological advancements, potential issues with your systems, and generally not being a reactive organisation will stand you in good stead moving forward.
The decision of whether to use a third party for IT support or IT service provision will come down to a combination of factors, some of which have been discussed.
Choosing the right IT company for your business is a more complex consideration and one which is more important than ever to get right.
We at Akita Systems firmly believe that we are the ideal IT partner for small and medium-sized businesses. To discuss this in more detail, call us now on 01732 762675 or email firstname.lastname@example.org