Why would a company outsource its IT support function? And, once the decision to outsource has been made, how do you select the right provider? I wrote this blog to share some of my own personal experiences of being on both sides of the fence. Having worked as an IT engineer in a small/medium business and through running my own IT support services business, I have the benefit of seeing the challenges through two lenses.
One of the most obvious drivers to outsource must be cost efficiency. Small to medium businesses will have either no internal IT resource or one to two people. It makes clear economic sense to outsource the support to a managed service provider, as opposed to bearing the cost of employing full-time staff.
Another key reason is capability. Even if an organisation hired three to four IT resources, they would still not have the breadth and depth of technical knowledge to cover all instances of support requests, without having to seek outside help (at further cost!).
Throughout Clovertec’s journey – from starting out on my own to having 13 full-time staff – I’ve experienced the whole spectrum of outsourcing IT functions. Some of these have been very successful, while others are a complete flop. After analysing the reasons for these bad examples, I could see a pattern of poor selection criteria and investment. By selection I refer to the criteria used to evaluate a service company. As with most buying processes, you must have enough subject matter expertise to know what the right questions to ask are. For example, gathering enough information terms of experience, track record, right business for them and capacity. Similarly, investment is not just from a financial point of view, but also time to engage properly with the chosen IT support services to cover the detail.
It probably goes without saying that in the early days of my business – where the nappies were still on and we were learning to crawl – is when the less successful outsourcing experiences were had (as a recent new father you may hear a few more baby references)! Then came the next phase when the nappies came off and we were starting to talk and walk, learning from our previous faux pas. This is when we started to gain success with outsourcing. Now I believe we have mastered the art and while nothing is guaranteed, just like when hiring internally, we are equipped to give it the best chance possible.
What I am basically saying is just like evolving from a baby, through to toddler, then child/teenager, and finally adulthood, businesses go through a very similar process. We have done this many times for outsourcing – obviously not as an IT function (we wouldn’t be very good at what we do if this was needed), but for HR, marketing and design to name a few. Below is a bit more detail around selection and investment tips that I have learnt along the way:
- What are the values and the ethos of the supplier?
- What is their ideal customer?
- Meet the leadership team and understand the culture of the company
- References; ask for many for you to choose one, instead of them supplying one
- Understand what is it that you want
- Document the key deliverables and hold supplier accountable for these
- Understand the service levels that the supplier offers and evaluate the suitability
- Work out budgets for good, better and best services, if the supplier offers different levels (alarm bells would ring for me if they didn’t – they’re probably still in nappies!)
- Spend time to tell them about your business and what you are measured against for performance
Review repeatedly in the early stages, just like with an internal hire, the early days are a learning curve
- MOST IMPORTANTLY, treat the relationship as a partnership rather than a customer/supplier one
As technology and digital innovation continue to make a significant impact on every aspect of business, it’s essential that organisations select the right outsource IT partner!