Updated: Mar 11
Your business can benefit a lot from working with an IT service provider. However, you need to avoid several key mistakes when choosing a partner.
Time spent on trying to figure out the technology you use in your business can be costly. While doing that, you can’t focus on your business needs, which can then result in poor customer satisfaction. While larger enterprises generally have full internal IT departments, that's simply not realistic (or necessary) for all but a handful of small businesses.
This is where third-party IT service providers come into play.
They enable you to outsource hardware and computing-related services, such as managed IT security and cloud computing. IT providers can also provide a robust IT infrastructure so that you can direct your attention to revenue-generating activities.
While there are numerous IT providers to choose from, not all of them may accommodate your business’s specific needs. Partnering with the wrong team can raise your spending due to irrelevant services, recurring security issues, data backup problems, and downtime.
Therefore, you need to be extra careful when selecting your team. The only way to avoid disappointment is to avoid these eight common mistakes when looking for the right IT provider.
The Eight Mistakes
Mistake #1 - Insisting on the Newest Technology
Many advertisers want to trick you into believing that the latest technology will resolve all your issues. While the newest virtualization or cloud offerings can boost operations in many enterprises, they might not suit your business.
Hence, don’t let the hype surrounding the latest products and services dazzle you.
When you work with an IT provider, you work together to create your desired business outcomes. Be clear about the outcome you're looking to achieve. If the provider believes their solution can help you get there, they will address those points and why their solution is a good fit within that context. Whether the solution includes any of the newest or latest technologies you've heard about is honestly irrelevant. "Shiny" won't help you achieve your goals. It's about what's most effective.
On the other hand, if the provider you're considering just wants to sit you down and drone on about all of the state-of-the-art features they offer, they're more concerned about selling their solution than supporting your goals. This wastes their time and, more importantly, yours.
Mistake #2 - Failure to Consider Responsiveness & Availability
Determining the response times and availability of your prospective IT providers is essential. You need to ask them how long they usually take to reply to queries and begin work and measure it against your business' needs. This goes for on-site (if applicable) as well as remote service.
Constant monitoring can help ensure IT issues are detected early. With this, the provider can be alerted to problems and respond much more quickly to remediate most issues before they can affect your workflow. Some issues, such as with certain hardware or cloud services, don't necessarily have a tell or otherwise give advanced warning of a failure. This is where availability becomes a factor.
Consider; a small office may not have a physical server to worry about, but a single workstation or email service being down might halt operations. On the other hand, a larger corporation may not even feel a handful workstations being offline, but chaos will ensue if a server or website goes down. It all comes down to what your business needs and its tolerance for potential downtime.
Mistake #3 - Describing Your "Solution" Rather Than Your Need
An all-too-common mistake is trying to tell an IT provider the solution, product, or service you want to implement rather than describing what you are trying to accomplish. It's like telling your doctor you want to try this or that drug you saw on TV instead of discussing the symptoms that prompted the visit. This ties loosely in to Mistake #1 above, as the business' point of contact tries to find a provider that will sell them the newfangled thing or service, not realizing it may not address the business' needs in a meaningful way (if at all.)
When looking for an IT provider, make sure your list of items to discuss consists of issues you're having and the outcomes you want. When you look over the list, if any of the line items seem to describe a solution, re-think that item. What is it that "solution" is supposed to address? Cross off that item and write down the need instead. Just keep in mind, coming up with the solution is the provider's job. That's why you're looking for one in the first place!
Mistake #4 - Setting an Unrealistic Budget
Most IT providers operate under a monthly recurring model, often on an annual (or longer) agreement. This generally helps minimize up-front investment and stabilizes monthly IT spending. However, failure to realistically budget for this can leave you with "sticker shock" - where the numbers presented don't even remotely resemble what you "expected." That said, IT services (especially for small businesses) are one of the most cost-effective investments your business can make. Even larger enterprises are starting to see the benefits, and they have their own internal IT!
You need to consider the cost of running your business, how critical technology is to that end, and just how bad it could get if any of that technology broke down or if the company's - or worse, clients' - data were lost or compromised in a cyberattack.
Some Items Your Business Needs to Consider:
How long can operations be down? (lost revenue)
What would it cost for each week/day/hour/minute down? (sunk costs)
How many prospective clients might we lose or miss out on? (lost opportunities)
What would be the impact on our brand if news of a breach got out? (lost reputation)
How much data could the company afford to lose? (productivity setbacks)
What federal and/or industry regulations are we subject to and are we compliant? (fines)
How many clients (and/or their insurers) would likely sue if their data on our systems becomes compromised? (legal fees)
How much would even one settlement cost in such an event?
Even if under mediation or arbitration, how many settlements could we afford?
Compare those numbers and considerations to the ones your prospective provider is showing you to put things in perspective.
One tip is to bring your financial advisor into the discussion. Have them sit in on the presentation and raise questions. Their point of view is going to be different and may expose a shortcoming or unexpected additional benefit that could make or break the deal, or even change the conversation entirely.
Mistake #5 - Not Factoring Scalability
One of the biggest impediments to growing your company is choosing an IT provider that doesn't match your growth goals. You need to make sure you are clear about your plans for growth and make sure the IT provider you choose can handle the increase in scale at the pace you set.
If you're looking to hire 20 more employees and open another branch within the year, your needs will be different than if you're a one-off boutique or specialty shop with only a few employees and no such plans. Make sure you set those expectations up front so that providers that aren't an appropriate fit can be eliminated early, saving everyone time.
Mistake #6 - Not Understanding the Service Agreement
When in discussions with an IT service provider, make sure you understand what the Service Agreement (SA) entails. This isn't just a legal matter, but one of scope and responsibility. The SA defines the relationship between your company and the IT provider, including setting expectations and responsibilities on both sides of the agreement. Yes, that means the hiring company also has responsibilities!
It's true that a lot of the agreements we all accept on any given day - such as EULAs - are intentionally lengthy and hard to read, however an IT provider's SA contains a lot of important information. Sure, there may be segments of boilerplate text, but the majority of the document is going to be pertinent. Take the time to read it, or at least have someone available who can process and relate the important bits to you. When in doubt, get your attorney to read it over.
Mistake #7 - Lack of Team Training and Feedback
The story doesn’t end once you’ve found and partnered with a trustworthy IT provider. New technologies won’t magically increase your bottom line and resolve inefficiencies just because you paid the bill.
To accomplish this goal, you and your employees will still need to understand how to use the new tools and procedures, where applicable. Also, you'll need to be patient, as not every team member may be able to grasp new tools easily, and some may even prefer the existing platforms. This is normal and expected but should not be a deterrent.
A good IT provider will train (or at least have training programs available for) you and your people in the basics on how to use all the new stuff they'll be working with. Many will also offer more advanced training, either directly through an on-staff professional or via online courses. This advanced training is often for an additional fee.
Performance Monitoring and Feedback
Some businesses (regardless of size) set up internal training programs but fail to monitor their team’s performance. This can lead to confusion, inconsistent workflows, and some employees trying to work "the old way", causing additional problems. Monitoring in this context isn't about "keeping an eye" on employees. It's to gauge the ease of adoption and allow addressing of potential issues or confusion before problems can begin, as well as where opportunities for additional training may be desired.
Questionnaires and other forms of feedback collection are great tools to help determine and address any shortfalls. Always encourage feedback and pay particular attention to negative remarks. Catching frustration early can smooth out the transition.
Mistake #8 - Ignoring Experiences with Previous Clients
Choosing an IT provider is similar to buying most other products or services. Failure to check reviews can lead to anywhere from disappointment to disaster. The number of reviews is less important than what the reviews say. Always look for patterns in the reviews, particularly the negative ones. If these reviews are unrelated, each pointing to a different, seemingly one-off issue (and/or the provider responded appropriately), it may be a non-factor. However, a pattern of complaints about something specific (support responsiveness, lack of resolution, etc) is generally a red flag and needs to be taken into consideration.
If the provider you're checking out specializes in your industry, don't be afraid to ask them for references from other clients in your field. If they're good, they shouldn't have any trouble getting a couple for you.
After doing your due diligence, you should be able to eliminate several providers and whittle your list down considerably.
Find the Right Fit
Nobody wants to end up with an IT provider that can’t deliver the results you need, leaves your company open to cyberattacks, or causes other vulnerabilities. Your investment goes down the drain, and your operations suffer.
Luckily, we can show you a way out.
Let’s arrange a quick, 15-minute obligation-free chat. We can discuss more ways on how to find the right IT provider for you and ensure you get your money’s worth.
This Article has been Republished with Permission from The Technology Press.