Today, more than ever before, the idea of running your business with a skeleton staff while outsourcing major roles is extremely appealing. Not only does it obviously minimise the operational impact of world-wide pandemics – it also means you sidestep a lot of the legwork involved with maintaining a large staff team.
Since IT represents the foundations of most companies, it’s not surprising to find that IT is at the top of most people ‘outsource’ lists. IT is an extremely specialist area that moves quickly – so it often makes sense to task an external specialist company with your requirements. That said, given that IT is unlikely to be your core business focus, it can be a tricky area to outsource confidently; how can you be 100% certain that the company you’re trusting with your digital world can deliver exactly what you need?
Here, we’ll explore some of the questions you should be asking to make sure you’re working with an IT support or provider that will meet your requirements.
Start looking in the right places
Perhaps the biggest challenge when you’re trying to source IT support is knowing where to look. As much as Google is a trusted ally for a lot of things – having a good SEO team doesn’t necessarily mean an IT provider is going to be able to deliver what your company needs from a systems and infrastructure point of view.
As such, it’s a good idea to talk to partner companies about who they use to support their IT needs. This doesn’t commit you to one provider or another – but it does mean you’ve got a real-life testimonial from a company that’s at least somewhat like your own.
Of course, not everyone has a wide network of business associates that they can use for supplier and contractor recommendations – so using online networking platforms like LinkedIn can be useful in this regard. Look for businesses that are at least somewhat like your own – in terms of size or industry – then look at the IT connections they have. At the very least, this gives you an idea of the businesses who are working in your industry or geographical area – and hopefully gives you a bit of insight into their reputation too.
Do they talk your language?
For some people, IT is a science they can never hope to understand – but for other business decision makers, IT is something that they have a personal interest in.
It doesn’t matter where you are on this spectrum of understanding or interest – what’s important is that you find a provider that will meet you and your team wherever you are. This is usually apparent from the first few meetings with a potential IT provider – frankly, if they’re pitching their services above your level of understanding – you can probably expect more of the same going forward.
It’s not absolutely essential that you understand the ins and outs of every piece of networking technology that’s keeping your business moving – but it’s reasonable to expect an IT provider to be able to give you an overview that at give you the broad strokes in understandable terms. What’s absolutely essential is understanding enough about what the team are doing for you to decide if they represent a good investment of your money and time – and it takes some basic understanding to decide if that’s the case.
Can a business grow with yours?
When it comes to IT, you’re potentially going to be looking at working with companies who could be accompanying you to your first large financial milestone. Whether that’s turning over $10,000 or $1,000,000 – you need to be confident that the company you’re working with can keep pace with your ambitions, no matter how big they are.
This is where it’s vital that you ask the right questions in the first instance. An IT provider isn’t going to be like the company that provides your offices with coffee – when they’re in and working with your systems, swapping them out for another provider is going to be very difficult – so you’re going to want to find a company that you’re confident can grow with you.
What’s on the horizon for your potential IT partner? What would happen if you called them tomorrow and said you’d just landed a multi-million-dollar contract? Could they keep up with where you’re going? Could they provide the quick infrastructure changes required to keep you agile?
Most companies will say they can help – but to make sure you’re working with a partner who can truly accompany you into the future, you need to be confident that they can back those words up with demonstrable action.
What does their service level contract look like?
You might be able to pick up a cell phone contract that fits virtually everyone – but the kind of contract you’re going to signing with your managed service provider more than likely needs to be far more tailored to your business’ precise needs and plans.
Talk to any potential IT provider about what a contract might look like. You may find that they have standard packages that fit – but more likely, you’re going to want to talk to them about putting a service together that’s made with you, your company, and your specific needs in mind. Do you need round the clock systems monitoring? What kind of up time figures are suitable and achievable? Do you have growth plans that you’d like to factor-in to discuss throughout your relationship?
Don’t be afraid to ask to see everything you require documented. Remember, an IT provider isn’t there to force you into a mould that suits them – they’re there to create a wrap-around service that suits you perfectly. If you’re lucky, an off-the-shelf plan will work for you – but if it doesn’t and the company aren’t willing to or can’t move on what they offer – then it’s time to find a service that offer a unique package of support to drive your business into the future.