10 Steps for Selecting the Best Outsource IT Services Provider
There’s more to selecting a strategic technology services partner than conducting a quick Google search, reading a few reviews and making a call. When selecting the best outsource IT services provider for your business, consider completing these 10 straightforward steps to help ensure the new relationship is effective and fruitful.
1. Review whether your firm is ready to outsource technology services
Before beginning the process of selecting an outsource technology services provider, consider whether your firm is ready to include an external partner within its operations, especially when doing so could change existing processes and workflows. If your business, one of its directors or any of its internal employees believe they know better than an outside provider, or if anyone within your firm will be instructing the new IT partner to circumvent best practices to accommodate the company’s unique needs, take a step back. Your organization may not be ready to outsource IT services.
Whether seeking accounting, tax, legal or technology assistance, firms typically recruit outside professionals due to the knowledge, experience, expertise, vendor connections, scalability and capacities consultants provide. If a firm is going to resist or debate best practices, especially in areas outside their own expertise and in which they know their understanding, comprehension and skills fall short compared to an organization composed of career-trained professionals operating, in some cases for decades, with expertise in that field, it may be best to just save your time and money.
But if your firm respects consultants’ knowledge and experience and is prepared to receive their guidance and implement recommendations—whether seeking an accountant, tax service, legal partner or technology provider—the next step is to determine which services (in this case information technology services) should be outsourced.
2. Determine which IT services should be outsourced
At first, the question of which technology services should be outsourced might seem obvious. However, considering firms outsource everything from application development to hardware procurement, cybersecurity services, help desk support, telephony responsibilities, web site design, maintenance and hosting, search engine optimization (SEO) tasks, server administration, data center management, voice and data circuit sales, project management, mobile device management, network support, cloud services administration, infrastructure management, business continuity and disaster planning services, wireless networking, printer and scanning assistance and software support, there’s much to consider.
Transitions to working with an outside provider typically proceed more smoothly when an organization’s owners, directors or managers first agree as to which specific services can be competently fulfilled in-house versus those that should be entrusted to a capable outside services partner. When meeting with representatives from a technology consultancy is a poor time to air possible dirty laundry or debate the nature of services and assistance the organization seeks. Make those decisions before contacting a technology services firm. While you can always adjust the actual services being outsourced later, it’s typically better to confirm consensus before recruiting assistance.
3. Consider on-demand versus flat fee strategies
Once an organization has confirmed it’s appropriate to outsource technology services and which specific technology services an outside partner should fulfill, the firm should consider whether it seeks on-demand service or a flat fee structure. The differences involve far more than just the billing method. Organizations seeking to outsource technology services should understand the various corresponding distinctions, as the method chosen also dictates how the two companies work together: cooperatively and collaboratively versus as needed and cost-consciously.
With an on-demand arrangement, the technology consulting firm responds when needed. Subsequently, the consultancy bills the customer organization for most every service and on-site call. Such costs can vary widely each month and lead to unpredictable expenses.
With a flat fee structure, the technology services partner essentially bills the customer the same unchanging fee each month. The key difference is that, with a flat fee agreement, the consultancy usually assumes a more cooperative posture.
When implementing a flat fee relationship, technology consultants can work proactively to prevent failures. Instead of being reactive and responding similarly to a fire department when emergencies arise (as with on-demand services), flat fee arrangements enable an outside technology services provider to become more of a true operations partner.
Without a flat fee services structure, the relationship can actually become adversarial. Your company could run the risk of expecting its service partner to unrealistically keep old and outdated equipment running and secure, an unreasonable expectation. In extreme cases, employees can be discouraged from calling the technology services partner and reaching out for critical assistance, even when the nature of that support is real and the situation turns dire, such as with a breaking ransomware or socially engineered cyberattack in which each moment counts.
Ultimately, it’s up to your organization to determine not only how service and corresponding billing should be structured, but the nature of the outsource services relationship altogether. But know that, while an on-demand arrangement can end up feeling like a nickel-and-dime proposition, flat-fee relationships skew more toward true partnerships. It’s probably for this reason that flat fee retainer structures have long been the standard for outsourcing accounting, tax and legal services.
4. Explore whether an MSP is a proper fit
The next step in selecting the best outsourced IT services provider is to explore the question of whether a managed service provider (MSP) might be the best fit for your organization. Typically an MSP will prove a better consideration if your organization believes a flat fee approach is appropriate, but it’s not necessarily required for working with an MSP, as some continue providing on-demand services.
Just what is an MSP? IT industry consultant Gartner defines MSP as a firm delivering “services, such as network, application, infrastructure and security, via ongoing and regular support and active administration on customers’ premises, in their MSP’s data center (hosting), or in a third-party data center.”
MSPs typically bundle a variety of services—including help desk support, workstation and server maintenance, systems and network monitoring and cybersecurity protections—within a single solutions package. The ability to actively monitor your organization’s systems and network provides the MSP with the ability to better defend applications and data and better service a customers’ users.
Organizations considering outsourcing technology services should explore whether such a proactive and potentially encompassing relationship is the fit it requires. Or, if your firm simply seeks to outsource a few specific technology services, an MSP might prove appropriate, but MSPs typically prove most effective and cost-efficient managing multiple aspects of a client’s technical platforms, as MSPs leverage agents, systems and software that work together to better position the technology consultancy to effectively manage technical environments regardless of their location, composition or industry.
5. Review provider options in your area
Once you’ve determined whether an MSP might prove a good fit, begin reviewing corresponding providers in your area. While most technology consultants rely upon automated software agents and remote connectivity systems to monitor and expediently address service needs, there’s sometimes no substitute for “boots on the ground.” In other words, sometimes a technician is physically needed onsite to trace a failed low-voltage cable, diagnose a failed network switch or confirm a router’s hardware is damaged. Numerous other situations can dictate a technician report onsite, too, so knowing the solutions provider you select can be onsite within a short time is an important consideration, even a potential deal breaker.
But, and here’s where it gets tricky, it’s not necessarily a requirement that the technology solutions provider you select have technicians present within every city in which your organization maintains an office or operations. Forward-thinking consultancies that serve most of your markets can tap a trusted partner to assist them in a fourth city where you might have just a small branch office or a few employees working from home requiring onsite assistance, such as is sometimes required with specific security equipment, for example.
Overall, though, having multiple technicians physically available, especially in those locations where multiple servers and workstations are present, pays repeated dividends. Equipment requires maintenance, systems drop offline and hardware sometimes requires in-person troubleshooting to enable repairs. Working with a technology services provider with staff nearby is an important consideration.
6. Schedule meetings
Once you’ve identified technology service providers in your area—and after you’ve asked trusted colleagues and partner firms about their experiences working with your potential candidates—it’s time to reach out and schedule exploratory meetings. Anyone unwilling to come to your company’s facilities, review your infrastructure and meet with you in person should be struck from your list of considerations.
Schedule at least an hour, more if you wish to provide a potential technology services provider with a tour of your facilities, servers and network equipment. The more information about your systems, equipment and operations you can provide a potential outsource technology provider, the better they can develop a proposal to assist your firm.
7. Request a free technical assessment
Once meetings are set, and after you’ve provided a potential technology services provider with information about your software, hardware, facilities, operations and needs, request the provider prepare a technology assessment the two of you can review together. As with any provider unwilling to travel to your site and meet with you in person, any outsource technology firm that refuses to provide a free assessment of your organization’s IT systems should be eliminated from consideration.
Just because you’re requesting a free technology assessment doesn’t mean the resulting report should be brief or ineffectual. At a minimum, the prospective technology consultant’s review should cover your organization’s software, workstations, servers, network and cybersecurity posture, not to mention provide general business continuity and disaster planning elements.
The care and detail with which the technical assessment is prepared and delivered will likely reflect the IT firm’s overall commitment to servicing its clients. While it’s not necessarily true that you must agree completely with each finding and recommendation included within the report, it’s unlikely you’ll find long-term success working with a technology partner that phones in such important discovery work or omits important details.
8. Speak with a few of the potential providers’ clients
Once you’ve received technology assessments, ask to speak to a few of the technology providers’ current clients. Sure, the services partner is likely to cherry pick a few of its best customers. But, that also means the provider has customers its worked to satisfy.
By speaking with current customers, you can obtain a better understanding of the technology provider’s culture, the urgency with which it works and its attention to detail. You’re also more likely to learn more about the technology provider’s skills, knowledge and expertise.
Just because the technology provider may have no experience supporting other customers operating within your industry—say veterinarian medicine, for example—you may speak with a dentist that’s the lone dental client for the outsource technology provider you’re considering. That dentist may tell you how the consultant threw itself into learning its software and even worked to get two technicians certified in its use. That’s insightful information that will attest well to the provider’s professionalism versus just a “they respond when we call and the price seems fair” response.
9. Ask questions
After making it this far in the process of considering outsourcing technology services, meeting with a couple candidates and reviewing their initial assessments, you’re bound to still have some questions. Be sure to ask those questions.
Wondering how the consultant triages services when multiple requests for urgent assistance arrive simultaneously? Curious how the technology provider ensures its technicians keep sensitive client information confidential? Maybe you’re confused how a technology services provider can really obtain Dell computers at a better price or more quickly than you can on your own.
Ask the consultant these questions. There’s no better time. The answers could go a long way in helping you better appreciate a potential partners’ strategy, mindset and approach.
10. Weigh potential providers’ sense of partnership
If you’re selecting a service provider to mow the lawn or maintain your firm’s landscaping, competency and pricing may be all that matters. But when it comes to managing and supporting your organization’s technologies, that’s a much more comprehensive “ask” that directly impacts your business’ people and operations.
After having spoken with potential providers’ customers, reviewing their technology assessments, asking questions and hearing the corresponding answers, patterns should emerge. It should start to become clear which providers might be seeking to meet best practices and maybe fulfill minimum requirements versus those that seek a true understanding of your needs, goals and budget and finding ways to make all those ends meet.
In the IT space, especially, there are typically multiple ways to meet a need. The technology providers that take the time to best understand your organization’s unique needs and objectives and who are willing to grow as you do deserve a second look. Such firms often prove to be much more than just service providers but important consultants that become true partners in your growth and success. And that’s the goal when seeking to outsource technology services, so don’t settle for less.