Choosing the Right IT Provider

A few months ago, we wrote about how business leaders could determine when it was time to use an outside IT vendor. (See “When Should an IT Leader Use a Vendor, Part 1” and Part 2.) Once the decision has been made to seek outside help, the logical next question is how to choose the right IT vendor. Before you begin that selection process, you need to assess your organization’s needs:

  • Do you have an in-house IT staff and just need a consultant for specialty work? Or do you need to outsource a broader spectrum of services, such as comprehensive help desk support, fixed fee monitoring and support services for your workstations and/or servers, and consulting services to help you establish future technology direction? A consultant may have different pricing approaches for different types of IT projects, while the broader spectrum of services is probably best handled via a fixed-fee monthly support contract.
  • What, exactly, are you looking for? Do you need a single project completed? Are you looking for design services, deployment services, post-deployment support, or some combination of the three? Do you want your vendor to provide a complete package consisting of hardware, software, and services, or only part of the solution? Will the project be built on premise, or do you want to go to the Cloud? IT providers frequently specialize in different aspects of the IT world, so make sure you have a talk with any company you are considering to determine if they can fulfill all of your needs, or if you will need multiple providers to achieve your end goal.

After you’ve determined your needs, you will want to identify IT providers that offer the services that you need. Some providers are very specialized, and others have boad offerings. You will want to do your due diligence by checking out the provider’s own Web site as well as supporting sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. But don’t stop there – dig deeper and examine their credentials. Look for case studies, testimonials, and references. Ask if you can actually speak to the customers who are profiled in these case studies, testimonials, and references. If you’re looking for a comprehensive support agreement, ask to review the contract to make sure all of your needs are covered and that the proposed Service Level Agreement (“SLA”) meets your requirements. Some of the questions you’ll want to answer are:

  • How qualified is the provider’s staff? Are they certified with the vendors whose products they will be working on in your environment?
  • How big is the provider’s company? Size and reach matter – you don’t want to have a service emergency and discover that the only person who knows how to work on your systems is gone on vacation. On the other hand, if your organization is small, your business may be less important to a very large provider and you may get more attentive service from a smaller one.
  • What geographical areas does the provider cover? This is obviously important if your own organization operates in more than one area, but will also be important if you’re considering a potential move or business expansion.
  • Does the SLA include a guaranteed response time? More importantly, does that guaranteed response time meet the needs of your business? It might be nice to have a one hour guaranteed response time, but shorter guaranteed response times are likely to be more expensive…so if your business really doesn’t need that SLA, why pay for it?
  • If you’re signing a support contract, make sure you clearly understand what services are covered, what is excluded, and what your cost is for items that are excluded from coverage.

Did we miss anything that you have found to be important? Let us know in the comments.

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