By James Page, Accede IT
Does this sound familiar? Your IT provider isn’t being as helpful as they used to – in some cases refusing to respond or resolve issues altogether – leaving you in a very difficult place. Even redefine what are clear bugs in their solutions as changes made by the business. Changes and amendments clearly cost the business. They usually hold all the keys and passwords to your system, including your website details they have absolute control; what should you do? In fact what can you do when things go wrong? How did you end up here?
With years of experience dealing with different IT Provider during my careers in insurance and briefly in horticulture I have seen first hand what some companies try to do. This article , I hope will outline my experience and what I learnt before going into business for myself. Accede IT, has been involved in with charities and businesses, and have given independent consultancy reports to try to avoid trouble.
Why does this happen?
In the world of IT we see fierce competition and various attempts to win business. Whilst some of this is helpful there are some issues that can easily arise. One of the biggest challenges is sustainability – this applies to IT companies as well as the actual organisations that require support – especially in the voluntary and charity sector. There can be many reasons:
- Too Cheap
IT companies can undercharge to win business but are unable to cover the subsequent cost of support effectively, leading to low standards and a lack of interest in fixing your issues.
- Too Expensive
IT companies are too stringent and will effectively overcharge – a constant desire to charge versus saving you money ensues and important IT work is delayed or discarded as being too expensive.
Personality issues with the IT company or individuals – the person doesn’t match or understand your bigger picture. Understanding how to deal with different personalities, especially when things go wrong, could save months of expensive litigation.
- Financial Problems
The IT company goes bankrupt due to poor business planning. Smaller companies sometimes lack business planning – what is their ratio of private sector and charity/NGO companies? What is their strategy for this ratio? Is there one?
- Emotional Attachment
“Creator Syndrome” – when an IT company or individual becomes emotionally attached to your IT system and won’t allow or understand essential changes to the system. You are effectively dealing with an overprotective parent.
- Lack of Knowledge
Not enough technical knowhow. Of course no one can know everything but you need to see and understand the level of skill that people have. Ensure that you have someone technical with you to do evaluations of IT companies. It’s good to have an external evaluations. Its also good to ask if they have specialist associates too. So you may get a great web developer but you find to get sage payments to work with in PCI compliance you need them to source the right person to work with.
- No Certification
It’s reassuring when you are dealing with a professionally certified organisation. It’s important to look for official and, ideally globally recognised certifications – that can be verified. For example, you wouldn’t employ a heating contractor to service your gas boiler if they weren’t on the GasSafe register. If they are a ESET partner or HP approved reseller can you check their status on a website? Have their certifications expired? ISO 9001 (Quality) is very good as is ISO 27001 (Information Security) but is it UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) approved or were they self-certified?
Certifications should demonstrate skill and adherence to standards – but this isn’t always the case – they can be borrowed or imply more than the truth. Don’t forget proof of the experience in forums on their topic area type their name in google, its amazing what you find out about individual today. People love to market themselves as the person who can help yo such as Database specialist.
- Lack of Values
A basic lack of a value system at work. Whether your values as an individual are based on faith or a basic notion of right and wrong it always will, and should directly affect how you deal with everyone – at work as well as out of work. Often IT companies only care about the bottom line profit and won’t provide anything extra to support the bigger picture.
What should you think about?
There are some useful tips here that you may want to observe that will avoid many of the issues from arising.
Scope and Costing
Look at the costs presented to you; does it look too cheap? Or too expensive? Does the IT supplier truly understand the extent of the work required or is there other stuff they are unaware of? It is probably a good idea to:
- make your requirements clear – understand what you need. In the business its called Scope creep, so try not to get your first design to far from the end product you require before implementing and proceeding with the design. Stopping and restarting a Implementation is like stopping a train. It can be stopped yes, but cost for related to new features, delays for resources already purchased and the the renegotiation of time scales to you can see alot of stress and money.
- get multiple quotes for support and project work to ensure you are getting good value for money. Again I had it drummed into me by a very good Finance Director the need for multiple quotes, and its sound advice. Make sure the debrief to all business quoting is the same, to avoid is quotes that end up being bumped in cost due to the misunderstanding.
- don’t have a one-way tendering process – ensure a little flexibility in the approach and provide a two-way communication path
- ensure you have a simple and uniform evaluation process
Is the IT organisation stable, how long has it been running and what do other customers think? Do you believe the references you receive in writing? Can you speak to their happy clients over the phone – are they like you in terms of their setup, size and IT requirements? How does the provider cope with increased requirements, in terms of staffing and training when required?
If possible make a trip and drop in for tea; after all you will be using them for a while.
Do you own the commercial relationships for your hardware, software, internet connectivity, network and website? Or are these wrapped up in a service bundle of some sort?
If you do have a service bundle, perhaps you could add a clause to ensure you retain ownership in the event of loss of the contract. Perhaps you could be the owner and the provider manages the service bundle – each vendor change/upgrade/change of password would have to be agreed by you.
What would happen if the IT provider decided to cut off your services? Do you have an alternative/backup plan that you have tested and it was succesful?
It’s best to hold the agreement yourself with the IT provider working on your behalf – you pay the bills or at the very least own the relationships. Any documents or contracts should have your company details on them – NOT the IT provider.
After meeting the IT provider, do you think they would have an allegiance to your cause? Or do you get the feeling that the company is only interested in business? Naturally companies are in business to make money but what we are talking about here is whether people ‘have a heart’ and whether they have that ethos in their dealings with you. In discussions consider the responses and pose scenarios such as out of hours or out of support scope requests; what is the response? You aren’t looking for something for nothing – just for a fair and measured response for a requirement. Does the organisation have the right attitude? Do they have an approach that is in the spirit of what you are trying to achieve? Do they have other not-for-profit customers?
The price must be right
The IT company must be stable
The organisation, not an individual, must have ownership of all hardware, software, network connectivity and websites
Thoroughly check out references
Have a backup plan in case things go wrong – keep control
Look for the right ethos in an IT company – what drives them?
If things go wrong and you start think you have a rogue, always try the gentler approach before the legal route – appealing to someone’s sense of right and wrong. A truly decent company will value your business if what your talking about will understand why you think something is right if you explain calmly.