by Reggie Gresham, vice president of enterprise sales, Matrix Integration
It’s a big decision to outsource IT services. With cloud services, 5G, AI and machine-learning now becoming commonplace in day-to-day business and manufacturing operations, businesses ranging from small service providers to national manufacturers are evaluating the same option – whether or not to work with a partner to handle a significant portion of their technology needs. A survey from outsourcing firm Clutch found that 80% of small businesses planned to outsource a business function in 2021 – number one being IT services.1 And while businesses of all sizes have traditionally outsourced individual functions, such as help desk or cybersecurity services, today it makes much more sense to work with a strategic partner who can see the business as a whole and help make technology decisions based on the company’s goals.
Choosing that ideal partner can be difficult, but CEOs, operations managers and stakeholders from throughout the organization have a role in that decision. CIOs or technology directors need to be involved – without a doubt – but non-IT professionals need to be part of the conversation too. The best IT partnerships emerge when clients are highly involved, from the top down, to ensure that the IT services the company is buying match all strategic objectives. That’s why, when evaluating a potential provider or an IT contract, it’s critical that these five key points are addressed:
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Just as businesses rely on KPIs to measure the success of various company functions, KPIs should be included in IT service contracts as well. The KPIs should make it easy to determine whether or not the chosen IT service provider is meeting the company’s IT goals and objectives. Some examples include goals for uptime (this should be maximized), limits for downtime, efficiencies achieved for specific business processes and security targets, such as number of attacks averted and/or mitigated quickly.
Detailed Guarantees. What happens if the KPIs aren’t being met? What if the network goes down, or the company’s security is breached? An IT service provider should be held accountable based on KPIs as well as other metrics. In addition, they should provide specific steps they will take, if, for example, the network goes down or a power outage occurs. Those guarantees should include detailed goals. For example, if the network goes down, the IT services company will guarantee that the communications system is back up within an hour, other data is back within three to five hours, and the rest is back online at a specified time.
These guarantees should be based upon your needs, and they should include what the IT service provider will do if they can’t live up to these goals. Will they provide a discount? Pay for losses due to downtime? Although some IT providers might be reluctant to include guarantees in their contract, they shouldn’t be. If they believe in what they do, they’ll take on the risk right along the company.
Specific Business Application Support. Most likely, a company uses one or two applications that are core to its business, such as a CRM application. Usually, it doesn’t make financial sense to outsource the maintenance of that application – that is typically best performed by internal employees or with help from the application’s vendor. However, an outside IT firm can provide assurance that the CRM is running on a strong, reliable platform that has high availability, and that if the main platform fails for some reason, there are solid backup and recovery plans. IT providers should be specific about how they will support a business’s most critical applications.
Regular Reviews. A strategic IT partner will understand the business – and that all businesses change. Regular reviews with key stakeholders in operations, sales and other business units will ensure that the agreement with your IT service firm stays flexible. As priorities shift, as they often do, IT resources can be reallocated with everyone in agreement. We recommend our clients conduct these reviews at least quarterly.
Cybersecurity Compliance Plan. If hiring an external IT partner for cybersecurity, make sure they understand the regulations the business needs to follow. These can include federal regulations, industry guidelines and insurance requirements, as well as additional mandates set by large customers. Understand know how IT partners will organize, test and provide documentation to interested parties so that the company is compliant with the necessary cybersecurity protocols.
Ultimately, a company’s IT service contract should serve as a living document that is flexible enough to handle changes in the company’s priorities as well as external circumstances. It should also reflect the fact that the IT service provider should be a dedicated business partner – one that has some skin in the game. Outsourced IT team needs to understand how the company works and what’s most important to it.
Growing that relationship takes time, but involvement from higher level management and building that trust is worth it. The benefits can include concrete, bottom-line savings in terms of operational efficiencies, top-line revenue because of the ability to handle a greater amount of business, and soft costs such as having a dedicated partner that can help solve problems and grow with the company as it evolves.
Reggie Gresham is the vice president of enterprise sales at Matrix Integration, a strategic IT and managed services provider for more than 1,000 businesses in Indiana, Kentucky and beyond. He has built a 20-year career in technology and is the former president of 100 Black Men of Louisville and a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University.
More information: www.matrixintegration.com
1. “Benefits of Outsourcing for Small Businesses.” Clutch, January 21, 2021. https://clutch.co/bpo/resources/benefits-of-outsourcing