Finding an external IT support provider to take the stress out of managing your IT and supporting your users can save you time, and money, and make IT a positive force within your business rather than a costly liability. If you find the right partner.
If you currently do not have an internal IT resource and are struggling to stay on top of your IT issues and support, it is strongly recommended you consider outsourcing the management and support of your IT to an external provider. With the right partner, once you have completed the difficult and potentially stressful selection process and brought them on board it will make day to day life a lot simpler. Finding the right partner is key, of course.
DIY IT vs professional help
Unless you are prepared to invest some time in your own technical development, going it alone usually leads to security blunders, potentially inefficient or non-functioning systems and missing out on what advancements are available from those who have an ear to the ground for what is current in the IT industry. You may also miss out on the input of those who have a better understanding of ‘the bigger picture’ when it comes to an organisations IT.
Working with an external IT partner can greatly empower your organisation, improving your users’ quality of service and the reliability of your systems and can also prove to be cost effective. An experienced partner can source equipment and licencing at competitive rates and provide cost-efficient project services.
In all but the smallest organisations it rarely makes sense to carry out all the IT work in-house and much larger companies would consider taking this function in-house (though not always) and start-ups and very small entities tend to keep a close eye on expenditure until there is enough head room to take on another regular expense. For all other organisations, there are many compelling reasons to let a professional IT organisation take the strain.
Benefits of outsourcing your IT management and support
All the generic benefits of outsourcing also apply to retaining an IT partner:
- Better cost management – working to an agreed budget or an actively managed spend can reduce costs in the long run, especially when working with a vendor neutral and cost-conscious supplier
- Your time is better spent focussing on your core business without distraction
- Access to a complete range of IT services – most SMEs can’t afford the staff costs required to have access to the broad range of technologies and services available, something that every competent IT business should have on tap
- Reassurance that your IT security is being given appropriate consideration by suitably trained and experienced professionals
- Access to the latest technologies. Working with a qualified and experienced partner will help identify relevant and beneficial technologies and bring pertinent innovations to your attention faster
- If simple and clear criteria are set for a realistic service level agreement, you can relax in the knowledge that the appropriate effort is being expended on ensuring your systems remain reliable
- Continuous coverage – no gaps in support or administrative coverage due to holidays, illness or disciplinary issues
- Reduced management complexity – you are relieved from having to manage the resources who support your systems. For technical professionals this can be considerable in terms of identifying and funding training, scheduling workload, day to day personnel management, project management, pay and benefits reviews and discipline and grievances management
- Last but by no means least, when working with the right partner you should have access to expertise and experience which would not be practical to afford in-house, and to a team who work to best practices as a matter of routine.
Potential pitfalls of outsourcing your IT
Outsourcing your IT may not be without drawbacks however:
- confidentiality and security – your most precious asset, your data, is now accessible to a third party who has access to all of your systems. If you don’t trust your partner, you shouldn’t be working with them
- service delivery problems – if you are tied into a long-term contract and your IT supplier is lagging behind in quality of service, and is squirming around under the protection of a lengthy service agreement making it hard to police, or fire, them then you may need to wait them out to terminate the agreement
- rigid working agreements – you might not have the level of flexibility you need to run your business effectively, especially if your partner has copper fastened every aspect of your working agreement to their advantage or for their protection. You may need your partner to be flexible in terms of billing, service peaks and troughs or simply being prepared to work with you as you chart a course through what may be the unknown for your organisation
- instability – if the organisation isn’t long established or has an unsound financial background you could be left in the lurch should they go out of business
- Impersonal service – if you are working with a huge outsourcing partner, you may never deal with the same person twice and never build a human relationship with them. Also, it becomes less likely that staff will build a body of knowledge of your organisation and its systems and care about your IT as if they were an employee of yours
- Loss of control over a key business process. Depending on how much your supplier is willing to integrate with your organisation and work with and involve you in the management of your IT you may find yourself locked out of influencing and controlling one of your most important business functions.
The Service Level Agreement (SLA)
It’s important to understand the rules and mechanics governing your relationship with your IT partner. Unless you have a very simple relationship whereby you pick up the phone whenever something breaks, or need a new computer, then you are going to be working closely together and they will need to understand your business, and you will need to understand how to instruct, manage and evaluate your supplier’s performance.
Having a clear idea about the service you need and the level of service you should expect from the supplier is key. A practical SLA is the cornerstone of managed service relationships and IT service delivery is one of the greatest examples of where this can go very right, or very wrong.
If the terms of engagement, expected duties and metrics for managing and reviewing the relationship are clear (and realistic) then it can only be positive thing for all parties. You make sure that you have reliable tools to do your job and have the stress of keeping your organisation running efficiently and your users happy taken away from you. Get it wrong, and you spend more time chasing your supplier, arguing, fighting and pointing fingers at arcane and labyrinthine clauses in unfriendly agreement documentation to get things done.
You know when you’ve found the right partner when you don’t find yourself referring to your contract at all. They should simply want to keep you working and have priced their services and tailored your services package such that everyone is confident in them to just get on with it.
When you have picked a partner that you are satisfied meets all the important criteria, make sure they document what they are going to do, and what they have done and ensure that they share this information with you as you build your own documentation library.
Teaming up with a good and responsive IT services partner and managing the relationship well to mutual advantage will help your business in many ways, not just in getting better IT support. The cultural benefit of taking your IT more seriously cannot be overstated; if staff feel their productivity needs are being taken seriously by the organisation, and that they are being given the best tools to do their job and can rely on their back office systems, then the influence this can have on their morale and their loyalty to the company can be profoundly positive.
Conversely, working with a poor IT outsourcing partner who never seems to get things right or deal with the company’s pressing issues can lead to a rising chorus of discontent.