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How do you know when you are talking to the right organisations for your needs?

Introduction

Outsourcing certain business processes has long been considered a good idea, if done properly, but how do you know when you are talking to the right organisations for your needs? Outsourcing allows you to concentrate on what you do best, managing sometimes complex ancillary functions e.g. the accounting or IT management function with a service partner who takes away all the headaches and when it works well, represents cost certainty to the business and for which organisations should rightly expect a thorough and well-run department or service.

The challenge however is being able to select the right partner when the service in question isn't your core area of expertise. If it is a discipline that you don't know much about and require outside help it can be difficult to know when you are on the right track when evaluating potential partners.

How to begin – develop the IT Support brief

Finding the right IT support service provider is much the same as any other critical outsourcing decision in that it must all begin with you being very clear about what you need and expect and as best you can, engaging in some internal analysis and discussion and developing as clear brief as possible.

It is very likely that as you discuss your requirements with external IT support companies that you will develop a better understanding of what you need as your vocabulary and knowledge grows, and this should be fed back into the brief to develop an accurate set of requirements and expectations. In doing so you may find that what you end up with is very different from the brief you started from, and if this is the case don't be afraid to revisit earlier potential partners you spoke with to refresh the dialogue with your better understanding in mind. They would much rather you did this than discount them from having you as a potential new client because of your relative inexperience.

outsourcing brief meetingMake sure all stakeholders have a chance to contribute to the brief, from users to senior management

In developing your brief you need to understand what are your own plans for growth and development for the business because if you aren't clear about where you are, what you need and where you are going it is going to be very hard to communicate your requirements.

IT technologies tend to be fairly ubiquitous and highly transferable, so you would expect most IT support businesses worth their salt to be able to cover at least the majority of your technical requirements. However, something not to be taken for granted is how this service is delivered as this is equally important, if not more so, as there is not much point having a supplier with a broad skills pool that is so heavily restricted, or far too expensive to use day-to-day, for your organisation that they effectively provide no proactive support at all.

Both aspects need serious consideration: whether they can meet your technical needs (and also how they do this) and also how flexible and accommodating, and service oriented, they are. As there are implicit cost implications, you need to be clear about how important each factor is – highly customer service oriented technical superstars who pro-actively want to engage with your IT and just “get on with” whatever is required are few and far between at the lower-cost end of the spectrum, but that might not be what you are looking for.

Where to find IT support companies

There are many IT services and consulting organisations, spread geographically to match the density of the business population. It’s a very competitive market – there should be no shortage of options. We will mention later important factors to consider when reviewing potential partners, initially and importantly their physical location, however the very first step in opening a dialogue with an IT company is creating a shortlist of who to contact.

Online Search

As with any business search looking online through the main search engines like Google will yield many results, and Google is getting smarter and smarter in how it presents search results taking into account such things as location of companies found relative to your location. However, as being found online becomes more and more critical to businesses such as IT support providers more and more time, money, and effort is spent on attempting to manipulate placement within the search rankings over and above trying to promote their relevance.

This technique is known as SEO (or Search Engine Optimisation) and as you'd expect, being IT savvy, most IT support organisations have become very, very, good at it - much better indeed in some regards than at delivering a quality IT support service.

outsourcing googleUsing terms such as "IT Support companies" and "IT Outsourcing" will yield huge numbers of irrelevant search results. Add your location and industry to narrow the field immediately.

The battleground for placing higher in search results has become such that it is impossible to tell the size, relevance or quality of an organisation by its placement in search rankings, which seem to churn constantly anyway based on which companies are dedicating significant resources at which times. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as determining a company's relevance or quality by how far up the search results it comes. The best you can do in this regard is produce a "long list" from which to boil down to an initial shortlist based on things like location, services which they have openly published on the websites which match your requirements, and your gut feel based on an initial review of their website. It's pretty imprecise, but it is a very competitive marketplace and there are a lot of IT support companies competing for clients and, as with any service, many are of very varying quality.

Word of mouth/referrals

The most reliable method for generating a shortlist is by word of mouth. Ask colleagues, friends or business partners that you trust for a recommendation as to who they have used in the past or who they currently use, as this provides an extra level of reassurance if you can be given a recommendation from someone that is currently using or has used a service provider that they rate positively.

Expos and IT Support company directories

Other avenues for coming into contact with IT support organisations are things like trade expos, local business directories or affiliations with groups that you may be a member of. All of these promotional avenues often entail significant expense on the part of the service provider which, as with all business expenses, finds its way back to you in terms of the fees you pay. A direct affiliation with a trade body may mean that they have valuable prior experience with technologies and issues unique to your industry, a not to be underestimated bonus.

Next steps

Once you have clarified your needs and prepared a list of companies to contact, there are a few things worth knowing about IT Support companies beforehand that will help you in your initial review.