As organizations look ahead to their post-pandemic futures, their core objectives now extend to making exponential improvements in customer and employee experience, cost optimization, internal efficiencies, and sustainability. New research reveals that increasingly, they’re seeing IT service providers as key partners in reaching these digital transformation goals.
While augmenting your own team of in-house IT experts is a sensible move, the IT service marketplace is a crowded one, and domains of available expertise are broad. How do you select the right level of support and services?
In this article, we’ll step through some best practices for ensuring you engage with an IT service provider that checks the most critical boxes and positions you for growth and profitability.
Step 1: Do Your Homework
The obvious first port of call is research. This should include scanning online reviews, news articles, and analyst reports and ratings. Specific questions to ask might be:
Can Your Provider Grow as You Grow?
If you’re going to invest substantial time and effort in selecting and onboarding an IT service provider, it’s not enough that they just meet your immediate needs. What happens in 6,12, or 18-months’ time? Perhaps, by then, you’ll have diversified your product or service offering, expanded your global footprint, or doubled your customer base. With such growth and expansion come increased requirements for IT capability in areas such as network performance, storage capacity, worker enablement, and security and compliance, to name a few. Thus, it’s important that your provider is positioned to scale according to your needs.
Are They Commercially Viable?
Following on from the previous point, the last thing you want is to find yourself on the precipice of unprecedented growth or diversification just as your provider is closing up shop. It’s vital that you enter any partnership with a fair degree of certainty that your provider will remain financially stable for the duration of the relationship. Here, it’s a good idea to look at things like the price point at which they offer services compared to their competitors – if it’s unusually low, it could be a red flag. Also, scour news articles to see if there’s any evidence of large-scale divestiture of assets or workforce retrenchments.
Scrutinize Your Provider’s Support Policy and Procedures
Most service providers will be quick to assure you that they have a dedicated and responsive support team. But what does that really mean? Simply giving you a phone number and email address is no guarantee that they’re committing to being there when you really need them. So, probe a little deeper, and ask for answers to specific questions, including:
- What’s your guaranteed response time?
- What’s your process for escalations (and who gets involved?)
- Will I have a single point of contact within the organization, such as a dedicated account manager?
It’s also entirely acceptable for you to ask to see a formal, documented procedure that outlines answers to all the above questions. How your potential partner responds to these questions and requests will give you a good idea of how established and robust their support organization truly is.
Step 2: Set Expectations on Both Sides
Once you’ve narrowed down your shortlist of service providers, it’s time to start asking pointed questions to ensure both parties are aligned in terms of what’s expected of them. Areas to focus on should include:
Technical Skills and Expertise
This might sound obvious, given that any business that looks to an IT services partner is seeking to access skills they lack or augment their internal capacity. However, it’s no longer sufficient that your partner has people who are knowledgeable about a standard suite of technology products and systems. Ideally, you should look for providers that have deep and demonstrable expertise in the vendor technologies within your installed base. In addition, they should be on top of the latest product releases and enhancements and willing and able to customize solutions for your unique business requirements.
Market and Customer Insights
The size of your organization and the industry and geography in which you operate will all affect your internal culture, the way you operate, and the unique challenges and opportunities you face. So, look for a provider that’s up to speed with current developments within your particular industry. For example, if the lion’s share of a service provider’s client base operates in the realm of B2C retail and entertainment and you’re in the B2B energy, mining, or logistics sector, it’s unlikely you’ll be a good fit.
Transparency and Trust
Today, digital technology is the lifeblood of modern business. This means that when you engage with a service provider to run a large or even a discrete portion of your IT estate, you’re essentially “handing over the keys to your kingdom.” Any reputable IT service provider will take this responsibility seriously and be transparent about what they can and can’t do. Importantly, they’ll be willing to spend time and effort building your trust and backing up their capabilities and achievements with credible and accessible data-driven evidence.
A Sharp Eye for Security and Compliance
No organization wants to be in the news headlines for the wrong reasons – and a devastating and high-profile data breach or other security incident is probably among most CEOs’ worst nightmare scenarios. For this reason, interrogate your potential partner’s security practices and protocols. They should place emphasis on building security into every element of your infrastructure from the ground up – rather than simply “bolting it on” as an afterthought. Are they experienced in applying the principles of zero trust and secure access, service edge (SASE)? What’s their approach to backup and recovery? Today, only businesses that are secure by design will be safe and resilient.
Step 3: Consider People and Places
These might seem like “softer” elements but remember that “people and places” matter when it comes to successful IT service delivery. So, the next phase in your partner evaluation journey should focus on:
Clients and References
As we touched on earlier, you should preferably work with a service provider that has a solid and successful track record in delivering projects for other clients in your industry niche. But don’t just take their word for it. Seek out written case studies and references as well as contactable references in client organizations from your country or industry.
The quality and experience of the individuals assigned to your account or project can potentially make or break it. Proof of technical certifications is only the start. Other questions to ask include information about the seniority of personnel. And this isn’t restricted to technicians and developers; it also includes those working in support functions such as business development and accounting/finance. In addition, look for any indicators of unusually high staff turnover within the organization and check out the company’s employer ratings and employee feedback on platforms such as Glassdoor.
The physical location(s) from which your service provider operates deserve close attention. That’s because time zone differences can actually work in your favor. If you need around-the-clock access to technical support, a provider that has a global footprint and offers a “follow the sun” remote support model could prove to be ideal. However, if your operations are more localized and you need regular ad hoc, on-site technical support, a significant time difference could be problematic.
A Final Word
Once you’ve identified your preferred partner, the lines of communication should remain open long after the ink has dried on the contract. Schedule regular check-in calls to provide a forum for parties on both sides to raise any concerns and flag potential issues proactively.
And if you're not happy with the service for any reason, speak up! Like with any good relationship, honest and iterative communication is key when it comes to client-IT provider partnerships.