Four Tried-And-Tested Tips In Selecting An IT Support Company
Many companies, particularly the smaller ones either can’t afford or don’t need full-time in-house ICT support. The smaller usually hope that their systems keep operating and call in support when they don’t, or the wiser ones have a support contract with an IT Support Company to provide periodic and on-call support services. Larger companies can have support contracts with an IT Support Company to support specific parts of their IT environment on an outsourcing basis.
You need to be careful when selecting an IT Support Company to ensure that you receive the best value for money support. Here are four tips to help in making your decision.
Know what you want.
Before you go ahead with choosing an IT Support Company, it is important that both you and they understand what they are being hired to do. You need to draw up a schedule setting out the work they will be expected to do. Most problems between a service provider and a client arise from a misunderstanding about what services are to be provided, and by whom.
Setting out the scope of work will go a long way to preventing problems further down the line.
From the schedule that you can derive two things: first, the technical requirements of the support services they will be expected to provide; and second what you will need to provide to allow them to carry out the work.
It will act as a measuring stick against which you can assess the capabilities and suitability of a candidate. Most people categorise the requirements in three ways, mandatory, good‑to‑have and nice-to-have. A candidate must meet all the mandatory requirements, most of the good-to-haves and hopefully some of the nice-to-haves.
The schedule will be the basis of a Service Level Agreement setting out the contractual liabilities of both parties to the agreement, yourselves and the successful candidate.
Using your schedule of work as a template, make sure that the prospective service company have staff on board with the appropriate skills and experience.
It is also important that they have backup staff in case the usual person they send is not available.
Service Level Agreements.
You are about to enter a business relationship with an organisation that will be critical to your future success. As noted above, most relationships founder on misunderstandings, and a prudent business practice is to write down the roles and responsibilities of each party to a relationship so each understands what they are, and what will happen if they default.
The relationship is usually defined in a Service Level Agreement setting out the terms and conditions around the business relationship. While not a full contract in the legal sense of the word, it does set out jointly and for each party:
- Who does what, and any service requirements, for example response times;
- What they are expected to provide to enable each party to carry out their responsibilities;
- Any management requirements, for example regular review meetings;
- What happens if either party defaults; and
- Some legal boilerplate about arbitration and so-on.
It will be based around the schedule of work you prepared earlier.
If a candidate is not willing or reluctant to work with you in preparing and signing one, reject them.
It is important to find out what the candidate is really like. They may have glossy brochures, an impressive list of customers, and a host of well-qualified employees. Remember you are talking to sales. You need to find out what they are really like and what their reputation is in the market.
Do research into their financial standing, basically a short due diligence. If they fold, you will be left without support, and will need to go through the selection process again. Murphy’s Law will ensure that is the time when you desperately need support.
Contra-indications are if there is a single customer providing the bulk of their income, if there are market rumours about an impending takeover or questions over their financial stability.
Take references. Ask each candidate for at least two, and ideally three or four of their current customers to be used as reference sites. Ask around friends and acquaintances if they have had any experience of the candidate. Check on the Internet for any positive or negative reports of the candidates or individuals they have proposed.
When you have been through this process, you will have a good view of each candidate. Go with your gut feel, because you are about to enter a long-term business relationship with one of the candidates. Sometimes the best technical fit is with an organisation you don’t like the look of, but a lesser qualified candidate is one you could feel you could happily work with.