The role of your technology partner is one of the most critical relationships your business has… but with cloud making it possible for almost anyone to set up shop as an IT provider, how do you know whether that relationship is made to last, or whether you could do better? We’ve compiled 10 questions you should ask about your IT provider, to help you make a great match.
1. What can my partner’s online reputation tell me?
Start by checking Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn to make sure your partner has a reputable online presence. A few minutes will tell you if they have good feedback, how long they have been in business, and whether they support organisations similar to yours. You should be able to easily uncover information about their solutions, as well as policies and procedures. A smaller organisation may be limited by their capabilities, meaning they could put forward less mature solutions.
2. Do they have great references?
Once your online research has resulted in a shortlist, it is time to check references. If the potential partner has case studies listed on their website, you could approach those organisations directly. Just as you would when employing staff, ask open questions that tease out a comprehensive picture of the partner – for example, ask the referee about a situation where they had a dispute, and how the partner handled it.
3. What are the contract terms?
We can’t stress enough that lengthy, lock-in contracts are to be avoided. If you are tempted, look carefully at the get-out clauses and auto-rollover arrangements. Our philosophy is that if we are a great partner, we don’t need to force our customers to stay. If a partnership isn’t a great fit, it may be best for both parties to part ways.
4. What are their guaranteed response times?
There are a lot of promises made, but it is worth asking for response time statistics over the last three to six months, and questioning how this is monitored. You may be surprised how seldom the ‘guaranteed times’ are ever documented.
5. What is the account management process?
Account management means different things to different IT partners, so establish what you can expect. In some instances, it is a primarily reactive, sales-based role, but the best-case scenario is someone who has regularly scheduled meetings where they help with IT strategy, business lifecycle, and training. They should be your eyes and ears in the industry, actively looking for opportunities for your business, and facilitating networking with your peers.
6. How will they align IT strategy with business strategy?
Like most businesses, you probably have a strategic plan in place, but a good IT partner will help you to form an IT strategy that aligns perfectly with your direction. We always want to understand the business and people challenges our customers face, so that we can make the best recommendations – and in many cases, our virtual CIOs will help to flesh out a more robust strategic IT plan.
7. What monthly reporting will the IT partner provide?
Without regular reporting, it is hard to know if you are really getting the service you need, at the levels you are paying for. It is reasonable to expect reporting that covers infrastructure lifecycle, security, Windows updates, support ticket information, and a running analysis of support requirements.
8. Is their culture a good match?
Your IT partner plays an integral role in your business, so you want to know that your core values align. Visit their office – does it look tidy, are the people professional, does it feel like an extension of your own business? Find out about staff turnover – if people stay a long time, you won’t have to be forever getting used to somebody new.
9. Is managed IT a core part of their business?
Some customers have come to us after finding out the hard way that if managed IT is an afterthought or add-on, rather than a key focus, it leads to a rather ordinary experience. Managed services takes time and fine-tuning to get right, so you need to know how long it has been the partner’s core business, how many are in the IT team, and can you expect a fast, face-to-face response?
10. Do they understand your business and talk your language?
If your IT partner cares about the success of your business, they will ask a lot of questions about how you operate, who are your clients, and what are your products or services. The best IT people are inquisitive, and understand your business as well as your technology, so that they can always help you find new ways to get ahead.