Putting a Price on Effective IT
Irish companies lose millions of euro each year through underutilisation of Information Technology. We here at ActionPoint believe that one of the primary causes of this relates to a poor IT partner selection process, which is exacerbated by a lack of knowledge of IT.
Once an IT partner has been appointed they are rarely changed regardless of whether they underperform. This underperformance means that a customer’s business is not leveraging IT to its fullest potential and could even be responsible for operational outages costing thousands of euro in lost productivity. A lack of knowledge on the customer side and some technical jargon from the IT partner leaves the customer feeling that “It’s better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”
When a company recruits a new employee there is a clear process in place; a role is defined; A job description is published, CVs are reviewed, interviews are conducted and reference checks are completed. Once the new employee starts, there is a 6 month probationary period. If the process for hiring can Why can’t a similar process be used when appointing an IT partner?
This blog attempts to define a process to help companies select the right IT partner in 6 clear but often over looked steps.
Define your expectations
The first step is to define what your expectations are of the IT partner. This can be a relatively short list and should detail measurable items such as:
- Hours of operation – the times of the week in which you may need to call on your IT partner for support.
- Issue response times – how quickly do you want the issues responded to?
- Issue resolution times – how quickly do you want the issue resolved? Prioritise the key operational systems as if these are down, you’re business is losing money.
- Frequency of server health checks – these should be both onsite and remote. Remote only is insufficient as the environment in which the server exists can affect server reliability.
- Monitoring and reporting on health of critical systems – Your IT partner should know when something is about to fail and pre-empt the issue.
Define the goals of the business
A good IT partner recognises that if your business is successful then their business will prosper from this success. They should show an interest in where your business is going over the next 5 years, as this is how long any hardware systems should last, and the goals of your business will impact upon the specification of any solutions.
- Are there any planned expansions over the next 5 years?
- Do you believe there are any aspects of your business that could perform better with improved technology?
Know what you have
The best way to protect yourself from techno jargon is to better understand what you have. This is easier said than done and may require an independent IT consultant to assist. Knowing what you have isn’t just about inventory and its age, but also about risk exposure and understanding what systems are core to the operation of the organisation. Better understanding what you have means that you can better direct any future investment.
A good IT partner will guide you through this process and will insist on performing an IT Audit before agreeing to provide services to you. Without undertaking this, any commitments or guarantees that they make are merely lip service.
On larger sites an IT Audit should provide you with the following:
- Infrastructure documentation including diagrams
- Inventory of all equipment and its age
- Comprehensive list of any risks ranked by exposure level
- Recommendations as to how to address any risks
- Any other observations
Being armed with the above information enables you to plan future investment appropriately. A general rule of thumb is that IT equipment has a usable life of 4 to 5 years. Server equipment should be refreshed every 5 years, and every year between, you should replace one quarter of your desktop and laptops. This enables you to spread your expenditure out and avoid costly one-off refreshes.
Generating a shortlist of prospective IT Partners
Now that you know what you have and have defined what your expectations are, you should start the process of shortlisting IT partner A list of pre-requisites for any engagement should be as follows:
Accreditations – the company should carry recognisable Industry Accreditations such as Microsoft, Dell, HP or others. Being accredited by one of these companies is an indication that the partner has well trained professional employees, which in turn means that when something does goes wrong, the issue can be solved as efficiently as possible.
Professional Indemnity Insurance – always ask for proof of this. A reputable IT partner will have this in place and is an indication that they conduct their business in a responsible manner.
Current Tax Clearance Certificate – always ask for proof of this. Even today as the economy is buoyant, you need to protect yourself by ensuring the prospective IT partner is operating a sustainable business.
Reference Sites & Testimonials – it’s a good idea to do a background check on any prospective partner. Ask for case studies demonstrating where they’ve previously done similar work and take the time to speak with their customers. This won’t take long and ensures that you know everything about the partner.
Adequate holiday cover – Some companies prefer to engage with a lone operator who may be an existing contact or where there is a pre-existing relationship. In this instance, make sure that the individual has an arrangement in place for support to be provided when they’re on holidays.
Flexible Payment Schedule – The IT partner should be able to offer you monthly, quarterly, or annual invoicing for support and maintenance services. To protect your investment, you should consider the monthly or quarterly payment schedule, until you are satisfied that the partner is meeting with your expectations.
Once you’ve appointed your new IT Partner it’s critical that you measure their performance by putting some simple metrics in place. The IT Partner should be able to report on these metrics as part of the agreement. For example:
- Quantity of Calls per week
- Details of response times
- Details of resolution times
- Proof or records showing that health checks are being performed as agreed
One of the most important aspects of a good working relationship is culture. If client and partner can work together well and the personalities gel, then there is a good chance that should any differences arise, that they can be worked through in an open, honest and professional manner.
The above information in this blog should give you enough information to develop your own process for appointing your IT Partner. The key to remember is that it’s your business, and by taking a few hours up front, you can save yourself a lot of heartache in the future. If you have any more questions or you are currently reviewing your IT Partner, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.