Five Key Questions You must ask an IT Support Company before Outsourcing

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All IT departments are today faced with a need to maintain and improve service levels, whilst managing and reducing costs.

One option facing an IT Head is to reduce IT Support costs by outsourcing management and day to day support of operational systems to an IT Support Company or Managed Service Provider (“Outsourcer”).    A range of options is available, from a labour broker supplying personnel, to a full transfer of the data centre to the Outsourcer premises.

Five Key Questions You must ask an IT Support Company before Outsourcing

Before embarking on outsourcing, there are two basic things to do, first, to establish exactly what it is that you intend to outsource, and second, what are the criteria that the outsourcer you intend to engage must meet:

  1. You need to fully understand what business functions are to be outsourced, the objectives, financial and otherwise that are to be achieved by outsourcing, and how you will measure your progress and success against those objectives. The output of the process will be the framework of any Outsourcing Agreement.
  2. Specification of the key characteristics of the Outsourcer you are to choose.

A full description of the selection process is outside the scope of this short article, but to help the IT Guy develop selection criteria for an outsourcer, we have set out some key focus areas below and related questions to ask the potential outsourcer.  Broadly speaking they include:

  1. Outsourcer Business Profile;
    1. Sustainability;
    2. Relationship and Cultural Fit;
  2. Outsourcer Technical Capability;
    1. Infrastructure
    2. Qualifications
    3. Support Environment

The agreement you will have with an outsourcer is different from a normal supply contract in that it defines a process of continuous service delivery.  It, therefore, lasts over a period of time, often years.  In terms of business sustainability you need to ask the potential outsourcer:

  1. Your Customer Base. Please provide a list of your customers showing their business specialisation.  Provide contact details for three that we can speak with. If they rely on a single customer for the bulk of their current income, then they are in trouble if they lose that customer for whatever reason. It is also likely that if that customer has a disaster they will divert all their resources towards resolving it, probably diminishing your level of service while they sort it out. A related question is their experience in your industry. If they specialise in a different industry, for example, distribution companies and you are an accounting practice, it may not be a good fit.You need to know that the business relationship between your two organisations will be properly organised and managed and that your organisations will work well together. Again, if you are an accounting practice, you might not feel comfortable working with an outsourcer who operates in an informal environment. To have a feel for the cultural fit, you need to explore how the day-to-day interaction with the potential outsourcer would proceed:
  1. How does their organisation operate?
    Will we have a dedicated account manager, a technical head that we can call on, and access to your technical staff? If the answer is no, be worried.We feel that we need a dedicated account manager who will become fully conversant with our business, its current and future needs. In that way, you can provide a fuller service, tailored more closely to our needs.
  1. Do they operate a formal suit and tie environment or a more informal style.You can then assess how well your people will work with their people.  Another good indication is how they propose to deal with your staff following the outsourcing.  Will they transfer to the outsourcer on at least equivalent terms, are they to be “let go”, or are some to transfer and some to remain with you.   The success of the outsourcing will depend on the commitment of the staff to it.Answering all these questions is necessary, but the potential outsourcer must have the infrastructure to support your business systems.
  1. What is your operational infrastructure?You need them to tell you about their equipment and network infrastructure, who they have technology partnerships with, who their internet providers are and how you can use them to reach your information and the locations of their main and backup data centres.  You need to know who they have in key posts, for example, DBA or Security Officer, their qualifications and experience.  You must make an on–site visit to the outsourcer data centre to confirm their answers.
  2. Ask them bluntly “What is the biggest client disaster you have faced recently, how did you fix it, and are they still your customer?”. If the potential outsourcer is honest they will give you straightforward, warts and all answers.  “Never happened and never will” is not a satisfactory response.

Bottom line, what you are trying to assess here is the level of trust that you would have with a potential outsourcer.  Your business relationship will be intimate, and trust and respect are key to the successful operation of the outsourced environment.  If your gut feel says you don’t trust and respect them, walk away.

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