At the start of the year, as SMEs were busy outlining their ambitions for the upcoming twelve months, IT investment was revealed as a key priority. Little did they know most of these plans would be halted just months into 2020, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the workplace.
However, delaying changes that could improve operations may end up doing more damage long-term. The reality is, adjusting the way a business operates could even help with navigating the short-term by cutting costs and boosting efficiency.
So, how should businesses approach reviewing and potentially switching IT service providers in the current landscape?
A fair assessment
As with any investment or business transition, switching IT service providers should not be an impulse decision. While the benefits of moving to a new provider can be attractive, it's important to review your current IT environment, identify where it falls short and how a new provider will improve or disrupt the business.
Common reasons for switching IT provider include:
- Poor customer service standards
- Speed of service
- Proximity – where a local presence is valued
- Many modern businesses also desire flexibility, meaning fixed contracts can be a deterrent when negotiating.
Define the business’ top priorities – for example, if your current provider offers unbeatable costs and customer service standards but operates under inconvenient opening hours, there may be ways to work around the issue, rather than simply ending the partnership.
In this case, sticking with the current trusted provider and working with an additional ad-hoc specialist on a freelance basis – outside of traditional hours – may be the most efficient and cost-effective solution.
For many businesses, IT has never been outsourced before – with an in-house director or team managing the IT environment. This delivers benefits in reliability and immediate response when issues arise, however, it's an unaffordable luxury for many SMEs.
Again, it’s recommended to weigh up the costs and benefits of running IT operations internally with those of working with an external provider. Those willing to invest significantly in their internal IT infrastructure will reap the rewards of loyalty and reliability, tackling issues immediately and avoiding downtime for the business and clients.
However, the limitations of employing dedicated IT specialists as an SME include covering full-time salaries and the relative limitations in knowledge and skills, compared with outsourcing to a larger team of professionals.
If cost-efficiency is the priority, businesses may look to outsource IT tasks to external providers on an ad-hoc basis, rather than fund salaries year-round for an internal team. This allows small businesses to free up cash flow to invest in areas like marketing and as a tool for attracting investors.
It isn't always a case of losing employees in favour of an external provider, though – the two can work together, for those who can afford it. For example, the internal IT manager may be tasked with building out the business’ IT infrastructure and maintaining daily processes, while external providers are brought in when needed, to troubleshoot and fix issues without disrupting the business.
What to look for in a new IT provider
While the costs and convenience of working with a third-party vendor will top the list of priorities for many SMEs, the technical expertise needed to fulfil the admin side of IT should not be underestimated. For example, compliance is a growing demand for IT and data management professionals, but it's often put on the back burner while businesses prioritize cost-cutting.
In reality, it's these complex, time-consuming and specialist tasks which provide the platform for genuine growth. Working with specialists saves time and ensures compliance, freeing up time and budget to invest in transformative and forward-thinking projects. Partnering with a new IT provider represents more than just cost savings or added flexibility. It's an opportunity to tap into the wealth of knowledge of a wider team.
Despite common misconceptions, IT providers are not just an emergency call to patch bugs or fix unexpected issues. Working with IT providers gives SMEs access to the knowledge and labour-power to inform and execute their entire IT strategy and the skills, speed and efficiency to deliver it.
Progressive businesses always have one eye firmly on the future and this should inform conversations with potential vendors.
The right provider is attuned to the ambitions and targets of the business and is able to deliver the specialist skills to address issues while also possessing the drive and versatility to facilitate growth – rolling out new technologies and keeping the business compliant as opportunities arise and regulations require.
A seamless switch
For those ready to make the switch to a new IT provider, research and communication are key. Understanding the values and specialisms of your new provider will make the switch as seamless as possible.
Firstly, establish the terms of the relationship – including the primary points of contact, working hours and limitations and key tasks. Will your new provider work outside of your business’ operating hours to minimize disruption to employees? Who will you contact in an emergency and how soon will they be able to begin work?
Businesses switching providers should initiate contact between their existing and new providers before making the switch. They will be best placed to pass on details of the current IT environment, any outstanding project work and the status of ongoing tasks.
Those with an in-house team should establish clear boundaries between their work and that outsourced to the provider. Working on separate projects minimizes disruption when it comes to onboarding the new provider and encourages efficiency, with each team able to own their projects without facing delays over sign-off.
As with any business transition, there will be minor roadblocks in adjusting to life with a new vendor. However, these can be eased by implementing regular assessments and feedback sessions.
Schedule weekly calls with your main contact to discuss completed work, upcoming tasks and address any issues or potential challenges. This will help you fix any issues before they become full-blown problems.
About the Author
Vikki Durden is Head of Operations at UK IT Service. Vikki joined the business in 2013 with an IT consultancy background and works directly with London businesses to deliver seamless, secure and reliable IT support, in a way that suits them.