We mention this first because it’s the most important factor by far. Do you feel that this IT service and support provider really understands your business? Do they know how you work, how customers find you and how you meet their needs? Have they really got a handle on your internal processes?
You should be able to talk to your IT service and support provider in purely business terms. In other words, you should be able to explain the issues you face, or the outcomes you want to achieve, without even referring to software, hardware or specific technologies. Your IT service and support partner should be able to build a bridge between your expressed needs and the technical details of their solution, and explain their proposal in terms that you can easily understand.
There’s more to business focus than just the nuts and bolts of operational detail. Cultural factors are important too. Will this IT service and support provider fit in?
Remember, members of this IT service and support team will be visiting your premises, dealing with your staff and possibly training them in how to use new software and hardware. New IT systems bring changes, and change is something that many people find difficult. You’re looking for people who can offer the right level of tactful, patient IT support, regardless of how technically literate your team is.
Quality of proposals
If you’re considering investing in IT, or an ongoing IT service and support contract, you’ll want your potential provider to submit a written proposal outlining the approach they recommend. As you review it, here are some questions to consider:
· Is the proposal readable? Has the supplier made an effort to express their ideas in plain English, so that you can understand it as a general business person? Have technical terms been explained, or can you easily request an explanation from the supplier?
· Are the prices clear? Are you confident that the price you see is the price you’ll pay for your IT service and support, with no hidden extras?
· Can you compare? Has the IT service and support provider made it easy for you to compare like with like and confirm that their price is competitive?
· Are the third-party brands included in the proposal reassuring? Is the IT service and support provider proposing well-known, leading IT brands, or proprietary solutions you’ve never heard of?
· Does it feel tailored? Do you get a sense that the supplier has genuinely tried to build a solution around the IT service and support needs of your business, or are they trying to push you towards the products they favour?
Price and value
Obviously, price is a factor in your choice of IT service and support partner. Obtain proposals from a few suppliers and compare prices between them by all means – but do make sure you are comparing like with like. If prices differ, look carefully at what is actually being offered. You need to get to the heart of the business value offered by each proposal, which usually means looking beyond the price and understanding exactly what will be delivered, and how it will support your business.
As the old saying goes: ‘buy on price, buy twice’. Nowhere is this more true than in the area of IT service and support, where choosing a solution that doesn’t meet your needs, or isn’t futureproof, can lead to significant costs further down the line.
Breadth of expertise
IT service and support is a broad church, encompassing a range of areas including networks, servers, email, mobile communications, backup, remote support, data storage, accounting and operational support, VoIP telephone systems and more. The key point to consider is whether a supplier can offer you IT service and support in every area that’s relevant to your business – now, and in the future.
Attempting to buy IT service and support on price, or to focus on one area of their business when choosing suppliers, can lead to awkward multi-supplier arrangements when requirements change or develop. (To be fair, a multi-vendor environment is sometimes unavoidable, for example in situations where a company has committed to a particular software package and its users are completely familiar with it.) So as far as possible, aim to ‘future-proof’ your IT service and support arrangement by striking up a relationship with an IT service and support provider who can meet all the needs you can foresee. And if you do have legacy arrangements in place, opt for a IT service and support partner who can demonstrate the skills and understanding required to deal with it.
Some IT service and support providers profess to have a broad mix of skills, but are actually specialists in one area. It’s easy for firms to put up a web page claiming expertise in many areas of IT service and support, when their actual knowledge is much narrower. Look for verifiable customer testimonials that back up the supplier’s expertise in the areas of IT service and support you are interested in.
Qualifications from reputable third parties are an important indicator of a IT service and support provider’s skill and application. Accreditations such as becoming a Microsoft Certified Partner are hard-won, only being acquired by firms who can demonstrate consistent, reliable skills and prove their knowledge with the products of a reputable brand. At the end of the day, world-leading companies such as Microsoft take no chances with their brand – yet, at the same time, they need IT service and support providers who can deliver their products to customers effectively. Look to high-profile accreditations for proof that you are dealing with a reputable, committed and highly professional IT service and support company.
Closely related to the question of breadth of expertise is the issue of integrated IT service and support. Having multiple skills is great, but the real value is generated when they all come together in the service of your business.
For example, an IT service and support provider who can offer a Unified Communications service will be able to integrate your email, fax and phone communications into one seamless system, drawing on a range of expertise in the process. Similarly, an IT service and support company with skills in networks, servers and remote backup will be able to develop a coherent, rounded strategy for managing your business information – rather than putting forward piecemeal ideas that make you feel like you’re simply buying a product rather than creating a solution that supports your business.
Size of team
IT service and support providers vary widely in terms of the size of team that they offer, from small teams and one-person operations right up to much larger concerns with hundreds of personnel.
If your enterprise is small or medium-sized, you might be tempted to opt for a smaller supplier, or even a one-person outfit. If you go down this road, remember to make sure you’ll have adequate cover in the event of sickness or time off – if you’re dependent on a single individual, you’ll be without support if they’re not working. A small team gives more reassurance, but there still may be capacity issues if all their clients call for IT service and support at the same time.
Conversely, a very large concern will be able to give much stronger reassurances (perhaps at a cost), but with a trade-off in terms of the personal touch. You may not get to know the people who support you, or it may be a different technician who visits you each time.
For many clients, a medium-sized IT service and support provider offers the best of all worlds – enough team members to provide reassurance in terms of service levels, but a small enough enterprise to deliver genuinely personal service.