Heading into 2020, businesses named IT investment as a key priority for the upcoming year. However, just months in, many industries were brought to an unexpected halt due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While businesses must remain cautious as they adapt to the ‘new normal’, leaving investment completely on the back burner is a risk. Those able to invest in operational changes which boost efficiency and cut costs will be better placed to navigate the short- and long-term.
Innovation demands research and planning. Changes to business operations need to be seamless and avoid disruption — and this is no different for IT.
The first step
If an IT service provider is falling short — whether in pricing, speed or even communication — it eventually impacts the wider business.
Budgets get cut in other departments, employee tasks become disrupted and decision-makers end up spending valuable time fixing issues or negotiating with vendors.
The prospect of switching providers is seen by many as an enabler of cost-efficiency and growth. However, it is important to weigh up the pros and cons of potential providers to achieve a deal that makes sense for the business.
For example, if the priority is flexible working hours but your current provider offers unbeatable pricing, there may be a solution which delivers greater flexibility without paying over-the-odds.
In this case, it makes sense to continue a fixed contract with your current provider, while also outsourcing work to a vendor which offers more flexible hours, on an ad-hoc basis.
Define the key priorities in an IT service provider and begin by speaking to vendors who fulfil the top criteria — you may be able to negotiate in other areas, like cost or contract length, later.
Businesses outsourcing their IT workload entirely should place value on trust, reliability and speed. As the sole IT service provider, the vendor will act as an extension to the team — so, it is key they are trusted like an employee.
While trusted and speedy vendors may charge slightly more, it avoids the cost of downtime and disruption associated with a slower, less responsive provider.
Many businesses prefer to employ a dedicated in-house IT manager or team, as this often increases reliability and response times to issues. However, it is simply unaffordable for many start-ups and SMEs.
Employing an in-house team means covering salaries, onboarding costs, benefits and more. Given the inconsistent nature of IT demand, it is more financially viable to outsource work to a vendor as and when needed.
Managing an IT environment comes down to defining priorities. Those who prioritise speed and access — for example, e-commerce businesses – may look to invest heavily into an internal team, minimising the risk of downtime which could impact customers.
However, it is not always a case of one or the other. Businesses’ needs are likely to change over time and, for many, a mix of in-house and outsourcing provides convenience and financial stability.
An in-house IT director may be tasked with building out the business’ IT infrastructure and managing system performance, while unexpected issues or projects are outsourced to an IT provider, so not to impact daily work or disrupt employees.
Essential guide: How to choose a managed service provider
What to look for in a new provider
Partnering with an IT vendor which shares your ambitions and values provides the platform for growth — from cost savings to a quicker, more efficient and innovative service.
Compared with employing an in-house IT manager, businesses are able to harness the knowledge and labour-power of a wider team of IT specialists, all while only paying a set fee as and when needed.
It gives SMEs access to the specialist skills needed to streamline their IT systems, while also addressing complex and time-consuming tasks like compliance.
Compliance and security are among the ever-changing admin tasks which can drain IT resources. However, dedicated IT vendors make light work of the latest threats and compliance regulations.
Seeking IT providers who value these crucial business responsibilities makes life easier for small businesses. They can trust their IT partners to keep them safe and compliant while freeing up employees to focus on their main responsibilities.
Ambitious businesses also seek vendors which share their forward-thinking approach.
There is often a misconception with outsourcing IT, as simply a quick-fix or short-term approach. Businesses bring in a third-party when something goes wrong, then once fixed, the relationship is over.
In reality, modern IT outsourcing is an efficient way of managing an IT environment and it lends itself to long-term IT growth as much as short. These days, IT vendors work with businesses on extended projects, including building out their entire IT infrastructure and roadmapping for the future.
Making the switch
Communication is key in a smooth switch to a new IT service provider. Both parties must agree on the terms of the partnership — including responsibilities, working hours and points of contact.
Establishing mutual expectations from the outset minimises disruption throughout the relationship. For example, setting working hours to be outside the business’ operating hours minimises downtime or interference to employees.
Similarly, nominating account managers and key contacts mean your IT service provider gets to know the business as an employee would, acting as an extension to the team. It is this
intricate relationship that enables businesses to work together with minimal delay or disruption.
Businesses switching from an existing provider should set up a meeting between their current and new vendors. They will be best placed to get the new provider up-to-speed with the current IT environment, any unfinished work and ongoing projects.
For those with in-house IT departments, defining boundaries is crucial. Each team needs to understand where they have ownership and autonomy. This encourages efficiency and minimises delays associated with sign-off.
However, communication doesn’t end once the contract is signed. As with any business transition, there will be roadblocks to smooth out in the partnership, so it is recommended to arrange regular feedback sessions.
Set up a simple weekly call with the account manager to discuss completed work, schedules and raise concerns. It is important to address any issues before they become full-blown problems, keeping the partnership running without hiccups and reducing the risk of disruption.