Financial decisions can be tricky at the best of times, but when the operational success of your business depends on the tech service you’re buying, it makes sense to go into your search with a clear idea of what you need and how you want to be supported.
To do that well, it’s important to ask a few key questions – of yourself and of the IT service providers available - first. That way, when you talk to IT companies, you’ll can be confident and objective-driven when it comes to making the decisions.
Here are five questions to help get you there.
#1: Budget optimisation
For you: Do you know your IT budget and what it needs to cover?
Having a handle on how much you have to spend on IT, and how far it needs to stretch, is essential for creating a strong brief and refining your search. Bear in mind that your budget may be expected to cover business as usual operations, servicing, existing contracts, licensing fees, staff training, etc, as well as innovation and upgrades.
Being clear about what’s available for servicing and what’s left over for development, innovation or test and learn initiatives, will help you find the provider that can meet your needs best and deliver change well.
Remember, some services will incur VAT too. Always ask for quotes to include VAT where necessary, to avoid getting stung for an additional 20% that you might not have budgeted for.
For the IT company: Can you share some examples of how you’ve helped clients optimise their budget and achieve the best return on IT investment?
#2: IT Requirements
For you: Do you understand your IT requirements, or do you need expert help to review your business needs?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it: it’s what IT professionals do best, and because they’re impartial, they can run IT health checks to assess businesses and make suggestions for improvement, without being compromised by working for one department or another.
Even if you have in-house expertise and you’ve a good idea of what you’re looking for, it won’t hurt to let a fresh pair of eyes audit your current systems, sense-check your future plans, and share any new ideas or recommendations with your management team.
That way, you can be confident your IT plans take account of what’s happening inside the business, and allow you to compete with similar business models in your industry.
For the IT company: How can IT development allow us to compete and future-proof the business?
#3: Service Levels & Support Contracts
For you: What are your service level expectations, and do you have specific projects with delivery dates in mind already?
Business as usual (BAU) IT management can benefit from service level agreements, so everyone is clear on typical turnaround times for simple helpdesk queries and more serious issue management, maintenance and fixes.
Onsite services and remote management is also worth considering if you want the best of local, London-based support.
For project work, reputable IT service providers will be able to tell you how soon they can schedule work, and explain the process for scoping, management and delivery, so you know how it works up-front.
If, however, timescales aren’t up for debate, and you have completion deadlines you must hit, you need to flag dates at the outset, so providers can pull out or pitch with a full understanding of your targets.
For the IT company: What kind of service level agreements do you have in place with other clients, and can you talk us through the kind of typical project management support we can expect?
#4: Specialist services
For you: Do you need any specialist IT products, services or support to run your business?
This could be anything from the the OS platform, operating hours, or specific industry experience. If it’s important, it should be included in the very first conversation, so you’re only talking to providers who can meet your needs.
For the IT provider: Does your team have any specialist skills or experience that could benefit our business, or help us in our industry?
For you: What do our priorities look like, and do we want a provider who specialises in supporting SMEs?
What’s important to you or your team might differ wildly to another person or department, making the impartial and expert opinion of a third-party invaluable when prioritising business development plans and your IT roadmap.
Understanding where you sit in terms of the provider’s priorities is important too. In a city like London, an SME might be considered small fry compared to other global clients, so it’s wise to work with outsourced IT service providers who are happy to work with smaller clients, and maybe even those who specialise in meeting their needs.
For the IT provider: Would you be willing to consult on our IT strategy, and can we be confident we’ll get the same standard of service as bigger clients?
These are just some questions to get you thinking, but it’s safe to assume most IT providers will ask more – and that’s a good thing. Going into meetings with a view towards sharing as much detail as you can, and asking questions of each other, is the best way to kick start a collaborative relationship and get things moving in the right direction.