5 Steps to Selecting the Right IT Partner

Company Connecting recently launched a service to help non-IT companies through the minefield of selecting an IT partner. We received comments about our new service on Linkedin and a much larger response via private messages and calls from people who had found the whole experience of finding an IT supplier a ‘nightmare’ – a word which cropped up in several conversations.

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Where do business’ start in their search for an IT partner? All too often the search starts with the “recommendations” from friends and business colleagues. The problem with these recommendations is that:

a) They are subjective and based on the person's network.  

b) Recommendations are provided without having a full understanding of the needs.

Identifying these as 'issues' may go against many people's modus operandi, but let’s be realistic, not even people who work in IT are qualified to provide recommendations without understanding the needs. Is an infrastructure specialist really the best person to advise on a business to business website?

Breaking the process down into five areas to concentrate on initially will help non-IT companies get some clarity on the service they need, and inject some objectivity into the process.

1. Recognise that IT Procurement is not easy

Let’s get one thing straight. Finding an IT partner or service provider is not easy. Large companies have IT procurement and contract specialists and spend time and money engaging with the ‘right’ IT suppliers.

This is not a job for “my mates’ son's dog knows someone ………”. All too often the complexity of IT is underestimated, and it is assumed that since we all use technology, then we all know about it. This is not true. It is not easy. The first thing is not to be intimidated by the apparent knowledge of others.

2. Understand your needs

This may seem obvious, but in reality, this is where things start to go wrong. A person who find the whole process intimidating often goes with a recommendation that is not based on the needs, but only on the “my mates’ sons’ dog …..” scenario. This is not helpful.  If you wanted to put in a new kitchen in your house, would you really go with a friend’s recommendation for a company that installs air conditioning in hospitals? Even if you know nothing about IT, you can still get a better understanding reasonably quickly:

  • Think about what it is you are trying to do.
  • Carry out your own research.
  • Talk to people that are working in the same area as you – even your potential competitors.
  • Get some help from an impartial IT expert.
  • Write it down
  • Keep it Simple

3. Set a budget

Another obvious piece of advice is set a budget. You may have a great idea which could cost a lot, but it doesn’t have to in the first instance. Starting up a new business, or growing an early stage is an iterative process and your needs change. Similarly, your requirements may change too.  Don’t get carried away with other people’s ideas and opinions and build a Taj Mahal when your budget is more suitable for a garden shed.

There is help out there to get things off the ground. Find your local  Enterprise agency e.g. Business GatewayBusiness WalesNorth East Business Support (NBSL) . They can advise on grants and also on partnerships with Universities.

You can start small, and at low cost. At company Connecting we worked with Interface to find an academic partner. Our original Proof of Concept was developed in conjunction with Strathclyde University at minimal cost.

4. Find a partner based on your needs and budget

If you are a small company with a modest budget, then it is far easier to work with another company that understands the constraints of small business, time and budget. Your business should be important to them.

If you do select a partner who has large corporate clients, then you need to be aware that your work may not be a top priority.

So when selecting an IT partner, consider the company size, who their other clients are, and whether you believe they will treat you as a valued client. Another important thing to consider is their current workload, can they meet your deadlines?

5. Get references

And finally, speak to current clients of the companies that you are considering. You can formulate an opinion on the way your potential IT partner works, its ability to deliver, and whether they are a good fit for you.

So we have reversed the process; instead of starting the journey with “my mates’ son's dog knows someone ………”, we should now have injected some objectivity into the purchase process. There will continue to be pitfalls along the way, and it is always useful to have some independent advice and help.

And finally……

This is a simple introduction to finding an IT partner. There are many considerations, and it’s not easy. If you want a bit of help, we are happy to have a 15-minute conversation to help you get things started.

If you need objective, impartial advice on finding your next IT partner, please have a look at some of our services

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"5 Steps to Selecting the Right IT Partner " First published on Company Connecting May 2017

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