It’s Too Important to be Taken Lightly
The Knowledge Gap
IT outsourcing is a common practice with business owners and CEOs. Increasingly it has become less expensive to put your vital IT processes in the cloud and hire an outside IT firm to manage your systems and network, and to provide users with support. Outside of tech-related or IT startups, the knowledge gap between a company and its IT vendor can be substantial. Stated quite simply, your IT provider is so much more well versed in IT than you are that there exists a much greater opportunity for business owners to get scammed. Closing the knowledge gap is sometimes impossible due to the sheer amount of learning involved, and the tendency for the IT environment to completely change as new technology is introduced. So, what is a business owner to do?
How to Properly Vet Your IT Service Provider
Instead of going back to school to learn IT, business owners can look for a few tell-tale signs of whether or not they are dealing with a reputable and capable managed service provider. It should be noted that business age and longevity are not necessarily
necessarily indicative of quality service providers or honest and reputable business people. There are plenty of businesses that have managed to hang around so long simply because they cut corners and rip off their clients. Similarly, there are many new, hungry IT service providers that will bend over backwards to please their clients because they recognize that customer service and honesty is beyond rare in the world of IT. That said, here are some guidelines that should help business owners navigate these waters:
- Check Their Website – First and foremost, do they have a website? If not, move along. Secondly, does the website look well executed and professional, or thrown-together and cheap. While this is not a deciding factor in and of itself, it can indicate whether the service provider displays the attention to detail and willingness to do things the right way that you are going to need from your outsourced IT company.
- Check Their Reviews – The internet is an amazing place with a ton of information at your fingertips. Use this to your advantage. Check places like Google, Facebook, Yelp and Bing for reviews relating to the company you are vetting. Not everyone is going to be perfect all the time, so don’t necessarily be turned off by a single bad review. Use this information to get a sense and feeling for the type of company you are doing business with. Look in to the businesses and people that left the reviews to get and idea of what type of businesses your candidate is doing business with. Do you best to differentiate between people leaving honest reviews and people looking to cause problems.
- Research Their Staff- Between their company website, Facebook and LinkedIn, you should be able to get an idea of who works there and what their credentials are. Check to see if there is a high rate of turn over, and definitely take a look at their education and work history. This can be a great indication for the type and quality of work you can expect during your engagement.
- Get Competitive Quotes – It is very important to get a number of different quotes to a.) establish a baseline for what technical concerns need to be addressed immediately, b.) get a better understanding of your companies ongoing IT needs, and c.) compare prices. Through this process you will find a happy place between the vendors that over sell because they are greedy and under-sell because they are lazy. Odds are you have a decent understanding of where you need to be. You just might need some help getting there. If you feel like you are being pushed in a direction you are uncomfortable with, it might be best to move along. Finally, don’t be afraid to share the competitive quotes with everyone involved and observe their reactions when faced with the competitors ideas. Make sure your b.s. meter is fully engaged.
- Ask for References – Any service provider that is unwilling to provide a reference or two from a current client is hiding something. At VanTech we are happy to provide references upon request. Our clients love us.
- Buy on Value – It is so tempting to buy on price and price alone. Remember, you are entering into a contract and will likely be doing business with you IT provider for, at least, a year to come. Over time, that lower price could end up costing your business more. Downtime and hastily planned and executed solutions sap the productivity out of businesses. Whatever you save on your monthly invoice, you will give back tenfold in lost productivity.
- Listen for Plain English – Big words and technical jargon are convenient ways of sounding smart and fooling unsuspecting business owners. Don’t fall for it. Your managed service provider should aim to speak your language so you always know what they are talking about. If you can’t understand the initial conversation, odds are you won’t be able to understand any of the subsequent ones. The job of the A+ service provider is ultimately to translate technical speak into plain speak.
- Get a Referral – Receiving a referral from someone you trust can cut through a lot the headaches and uncertainty you will feel when choosing an IT company. Ask the people you use who they use. See if they are happy.
What’s At Stake?
Here is a short true story. VanTech was called to the offices of a very small real estate company in Union Country, New Jersey to consult on general network and infrustruture issues that were resulting in a poor work experience for their three-person staff. Their current IT providers could not seem to figure out why their server, which ran their managed information systems applications, needed to be rebooted every day just to barely work. The IT company in question was also difficult to get in touch with and almost impossible to convience to come onsite.
The business owner was a man in his 60s with limted IT knowledge. He chose his IT service provider because he knew the owner through his church. The only information he collected on this trusted partner, responsible for all of his IT infrustructure, and therefore, his abililty to properly do business was that they went to the same church. Vetting started and finished at ‘hello’.
Here is what VanTech found when we took a look, four years later:
- The hardware my client was sold at the beginning of their engagement was sold ‘as new’ but was actually two-years old at the time of the transaction. Manufacturuers warranties were aleady expired before the hardware was ever set up. This included three desktop machines and a server. We were not able to asertain where the hardware was prior to installation, but we are sure that my client paid the premium for new hardware that he did not receive.
- The server specs did not meet the minimum requirements to run their managed information system.
- The software installed on their server was counterfit and unpatched. Windows 2008 r2 server was missing over 200 patches and a couple service packs, and was also unlicensed.
- Their desktop software was counterfit and unpatched.
- There were no security messures in place of any kind. No local antivirus. No firewall. No nothing.
- The local backup was misconfigured and had not run in months. There was no offsite or cloud backup solution.
In the end, my client was losing so much productivity that it all just started to feel normal. A server reboot every day takes up about 15 minutes. I estimate that as buring up 55 hours a year! Per person!! That’s over a week a year per person of downtime. When he was faced with this reality it seemed so obvious, something needed to change. That’s where VanTech came in.