Nearly every business owner eventually encounters the need to hire outside help to support the information technology (IT) needs of the business. Too often this need comes at a time when one or more critical components have just stopped working and brought the business to a standstill. Unfortunately the added urgency of such a situation makes it more difficult for you to think clearly, while at the same time making it more difficult for your chosen consultant to act in the best interest of your organization.
Start Looking When Nothing is Broken
If possible, you should research and engage with an IT support provider during a time when business is operating normally. In this way you can have a calm dialogue with the staff of the support company and clearly communicate the business objectives you need their help to accomplish. Start by writing your objectives down. Here are a few possible questions you might want to include:
- What business objective do I wish to accomplish by hiring an IT support company?
- What kind of communication will I expect from a support provider?
- What level of responsiveness does my business need from the IT support company?
- Do I need to leverage my existing technology or am I willing to make changes to my equipment or systems based on recommendations from the provider?
Check with Your Peers in the Field
Almost everyone has had a bad IT experience. It’s for that reason that if you ask a colleague or peer in your field about the experience with his or her IT support provider, you’ll usually get an honest opinion. If your peers recommend a company to you, you’ve got a great start.
Questions to Ask a Potential Candidate
It’s a good idea to meet more than once with any potential support provider. After all, you’re charging this provider with taking care of the systems you use to run your business. In many ways this process is similar to that of interviewing a potential new employee. Consider questions such as the following:
- How many clients of our size and type are you currently supporting, and can you provide professional references?
- How can I escalate a problem if a service issue should occur with our normal contacts within your company?
- May we arrange a tour of your facilities?
- Do your hours of operation match our production hours?
Interview Multiple Companies
Just as you would when hiring a new employee, it’s important to take a look at two or more potential IT support providers. Not only does this practice help you identify any slight differences between the companies and help you decide, it affords you the opportunity to get the best possible pricing structure and support terms.
Follow Up on Your Choice
Once you’ve chosen a partner for your IT support needs, it’s a good idea to periodically check in with your staff and find out their level of confidence in the provider. Swiftly bring any concerns to your key point of contact within the support provider’s organization. Work with the provider to stress-test the company’s processes and communications. Doing this when your systems are running properly, may help you avoid serious frustration when something actually does stop working.
Treat the Relationship Like You Would Any Business Partnership
Your use of an outsourced IT support provider can be a very rewarding experience and can help you compete on a new level in your market. The most important thing to remember is that this is a partnership just like any other. If you maintain high levels of communication and accountability on an ongoing basis, you may soon wonder how you ever got along before.