Businesses are increasingly outsourcing their IT operations to external providers, and there are a whole lot of very good reasons for this. Information technology is a fast-moving world, and maintaining your own in-house structure means constant retraining of staff and upgrading of systems, both of which can be expensive and highly time-consuming. Entering into an agreement with a contractor whose specialist area this is, and who will take on the costs itself, seems to make a good deal of sense. But what are the down sides to all this and how can they be avoided?
These are all questions you will need to ask yourself and, more importantly, to answer before reaching the decision to outsource. Because in the end, as with any other arrangement that you may make, the benefits do need to outweigh the drawbacks.
Will an external service provider understand the way my company works?
Let’s be honest, it is absolutely crucial that any service being provided to you is aligned with your business model. Always remember that you are calling the shots here, and so it is incumbent upon a Managed Service Provider, or MSP, to work in a way that suits your operation and not the other way around. The tail should never be wagging the dog.
So if a contractor always works in a certain way and is unwilling to adapt its method to reflect the specific character of your business then you should stay clear from the get-go. This is why it is important to discuss your requirements in detail with any potential provider and to be clear that it can deliver in the way that you require before you even consider entering into a Service Level Agreement (SLA).
Take care also not to accept “yes” for an answer, at least before the service provider has made some effort to understand the way in which your company operates and to discuss ways in which it can tailor its own operation to best meet your needs. Only by achieving such an understanding can it realistically hope to deliver according to your wishes.
And whilst in terms of commercial objectives you need to be on the same page, it is also important that an MSP knows how to speak your language. IT has a lexicon all of its own, and so your contract provider needs to know how to convey what it is doing in a way that you will be at ease with. You should not assume that because the company to which you outsource your IT operation speaks in jargon that it knows what it is talking about and that your business is therefore safe in its hands. It needs to do things your way, and if it cannot communicate usefully with you then you cannot be confident that this will happen.
Discuss expectations, targets and impacts – and talk about which projects will be carried out externally, and which you’ll manage in-house. Make sure your MSP understands where you want to go with your business and that it is comfortable about working with you to achieve your objectives.
Is my MSP working for the benefit of my business?
Your contractor will name its price for the services it delivers to your company, but once it is working for you its job is to help with the effective working of your operation. You need to be comfortable with the level of commitment that it offers towards helping you to achieve your goals. The level of provision that it promises and the time that it dedicates to honouring its contractual obligations to you need to be as agreed. Usually it will have other clients, and the level of priority that it gives you is a matter that should be discussed and resolved before any service agreement is signed.
It can be a good idea to seek references from an MSP’s former or existing clients. The testimonial on its own website will give you some useful information about the company’s history, structure and operation but don’t expect it to provide objective testimony when it comes to its overall performance and attitude.
When seeking out a second opinion try to find a customer of a similar size, and with similar needs and expectations to your own. In this way you will not only be able to establish important facts about the MSP’s attitude, you will also gain some useful insight as to its capabilities when it comes to managing an account like yours.
Can I expect proactivity from my MSP?
Downtime can be extremely costly to any business, but particularly to one that is entirely dependent upon a stand-alone IT system.
A good IT provider will remain ahead of the game, identifying potential issues before they occur and taking appropriate evasive action. Fixing a system after it has broken down means lost time, lack of access to records and potentially a substantial amount of lost business in a competitive world where every second counts.
You should talk to an MSP about the strategies it employs to avoid system failures. Does it provide guarantees? Does it offer a full 24-hour service?
One of the benefits of working with an outsourced provider is that is able to provide a round-the-clock service of a kind that you may have found it difficult to upkeep in-house. But this needs to be quality tested, so that you can be reassured that any issues will be given its undivided attention whenever they might occur.
Can your provider grow with you?
The aim of almost any business to get bigger, and there is little point in engaging an IT provider which will not have the capacity to respond to your future demands as well as your present ones.
You should do some research to ensure that it will have what it takes to continue to manage your IT operation in the event of reasonable expansion. The terms of your SLA could include some provision to cover this, but either way it would be a disaster if you were to find twelve months down the line that you have been left exposed because you have outgrown the capabilities of your contractor.