Check out most IT Provider websites and you’ll notice that a standard offer for potential clients is a free IT Systems Assessment – as does www.itro.com.au.
Is having an IT assessment really worthwhile, or is it simply a gimmick used to attract new clients? Is it just a way for an IT Provider to rubbish what you have so they can sell you the proverbial ‘kitchen sink’?
Whilst dishonesty, lack of experience with IT and/or business IT or a tendency to solution preferences may influence some recommendations, you can get great advice from having your systems assessed.
Three simple questions can give you a real insight into whether the advice you are being given is valuable to your business:
- What convincing evidence exists of a problem, or need to upgrade?
- What benefits to your operations or employees – not features – will you get from suggested changes, and from your IT Provider?
- How flexible (expandable/non-proprietary) are recommended systems or solutions for any future developments?
Below are examples of how you can use these three questions to your advantage.
Get convincing evidence
Unreliable equipment or regular ‘down’ times are good reasons for reviewing what you have. However, what if you’re being told something isn’t working that you did not know about (eg, email, data backup, Internet, etc)? If you are told something isn’t working you are entitled to ask for proof. A good example is data backup.
Our engineers are amazed at how often businesses don’t realise their backup solution is not working. Worse, these same businesses were being told by their previous Provider that it was working! How do you know who is telling the truth?
One simple way is to choose a random file on your network and ask your IT engineer to restore it for you. Accounting files are good ones to pick on. Or ask them to demonstrate to you they can recover your full data on an alternate platform (eg, the Cloud) in a reasonable time.
What do you gain from updating or changing your system?
When being encouraged to buy new devices or solutions, ask why. Below are some good and bad reasons for changing devices or software:
Responsive and Proactive?
A good IT Provider is both responsive to your requests, employees and support calls, and proactive in advising you what you have, what is possible, potential risks (immediate and future), and the simplest or smartest way to accomplish your work.
A good IT Provider will have automated reporting and monitoring systems in place for monitoring the health of your devices and network.
A good tip is to ensure ‘Support Hours’ offered by a Provider suit your needs. For some, 24/7 support is crucial. If so, take the time to find out what kind of support is delivered 24/7 (eg, overseas or entry-level helpdesk, call centre, what response time is promised, etc).
And please check what is covered by the term, ‘support’. Complex contracts are being used by IT Providers to lock businesses into onerous terms. Before signing a contract make sure you clearly understand what ‘support’ covers (legal definition), how much it will cost you to make changes to your contract (no matter how minor), and what fees and charges are not covered (even if you think you’re signing an ‘all-inclusive’ contract).
How often is your Provider working on your system? You may love your IT guy, but are they in the office as often as your full-time staff, constantly ‘adjusting’ things? There’s only one reason for that: your system is being held together with duct tape and spit, threatening to fall over at any moment. Low hourly rates don’t always translate into good value.
Questions you can ask Providers to ascertain what kind of IT Provider you are getting:
- What qualifications do your IT staff have?
- What industries do you service?
- Do you have other clients similar to us? Can we speak to them for a reference?
- What size businesses do you look after (how many users, how many locations?)
- Have you implemented the solution you are recommending before? Or is my business your guinea-pig?
- Do you support both Cloud technologies and on-premise? What experience do you have in both fields? Do you already support multi-platform sites for clients?
- Are you familiar with the special line-of-business applications we use? What version do you have experience with?
- Can you look after all our IT needs and/or are you willing to work with other providers?
When considering an upgrade or new solution the most important questions you need answered are: will it work (never assume it will); how long will a transition take; what risk is there that your business could lose data (Calendar appointments, accounting files, sensitive client information, etc), and what contingency plans does the IT Provider have should something go wrong?
A good solution promotes easy flow of data and communication across your organisation, enhances security, is scalable, supports your existing line-of-business applications and doesn’t lock you down to a proprietary system or provider.