Not only is technology advancing at a phenomenal rate, so is the way businesses choose to deploy IT solutions and the decision making process behind those deployments.

Research suggests that 69% of organisations have formally adopted at least one cloud-based service – even if the first step is simply email – and 39% of IT organisations now report to the Chief Financial Officer.

These changes are mirrored by transformations in the IT sector with many new players entering the marketplace, and whilst that’s certainly no bad thing, as it means everyone needs to be on top of their game, it does need to be accompanied by a degree of caution.

The temptation to jump on the bandwagon can prove irresistible – to providers and customers alike – but for customers it presents a significant challenge in understanding how to select a trusted partner and how to evaluate what’s on offer.

The age old business wisdom ‘good design is expensive, bad design costs far more’ certainly applies, especially when you consider that the systems and solutions being purchased are very often truly business critical.

Major outages and security breaches continue to hit the headlines and can literally bring businesses to a complete standstill.

Trust is arguably the key word.

Not all IT support is equal.  Not all datacentres are equal.

As with anything, the chances are that if something looks too good to be true, especially on price, then it’s highly probable that it is.

Even in the most straightforward situations, there is rarely only one potential solution and taking existing IT systems and legacy into account can be crucial in determining the most appropriate technologies.

Does your chosen provider have the background in infrastructure required to fully assess the risks and ensure continuity?

Will the customer run into compatibility issues?  Do they have suitable connectivity in place?  How robust are their existing security policies?

So-called hybrid solutions are becoming the norm, with many finding their ideal world in a combination of cloud-based workloads and more traditional solutions.

Legacy systems, large amounts of historical data and cluttered network drives all need to be factored into a considered planning process.  Compatibility is critical because nothing in the modern technology environment should exist in isolation.

Equally, mobility and the proliferation of devices accessing sensitive data must be addressed with a robust and holistic approach to IT security.

All of this requires IT support providers to ensure that their investment in the training and industry accreditation matches the investment customers are making in technology.

And with the CFO taking a lead role in decision-making, it certainly should be viewed as investment rather than spend.

So in addition to the fundamentals of keeping everything running smoothly, responding to or better still predicting and resolving issues, is your technology partner in a position to support you as much on your business process as they do on the ‘techie stuff’?

Could you introduce automation, reduce the amount of re-keyed information or eliminate clunky, paper-based processes?

It’s all about finding a partner you can trust to ensure that the investment is maximised, managed and protected.

What To Ask To Find the Right Partner?

What are the questions that decision-makers should be asking?  Here’s a checklist for companies looking to invest in IT covering both the product and the provider:

General

  • If it’s too good to be true, especially on price, it probably is – so make sure you ask all the questions listed below

Partner

  • Check out their financial position; are they stable and will they be around for years to come
  • Does your provider hold suitable accreditations
  • Do members of their team hold appropriate and up to date qualifications
  • Do they have the experience and capacity to deliver to expectation
  • Ask for references
  • Check their accreditations
  • Pursue your own references independently
  • Has your partner outlined alternatives or benchmarked their proposed solution against
    alternatives
  • Or are they selling what they’re selling because that’s all they sell – i.e. they only sell cloud regardless of whether or not it’s the most appropriate solution

Hardware

  • Has your equipment been sourced through a legitimate partner and a tier 1 distributor
    • Ask for evidence that it isn’t from the grey market
    • Check that it’s not reconditioned or bought through an online site
    • Check that it’s UK stock
    • Check that none of the components have been replaced
  • If not, it’s likely that warranties and care packs will be invalid

Licencing

  • Are all of the required licences in place
    • In many instances, your provider needs to declare this information to the vendor
    • Ask for a complete list of licence information including any user names and
      passwords that have been set up for online management of licences

Cloud-based Solutions and Datacentres

  • Ask for assurances about capacity and scalability
  • Where will your data be stored and what failover arrangements are in place
  • Do they comply with your business requirements, i.e. ISO 27001, PCI compliance or
    Sarbanes Oxley for any businesses that trade with the US
  • What security levels are in place; a simple firewall, single factor authentication or two factor authentication
  • What SLAs (service level agreements) are in place; understand the difference between 2 nines, 3 nines, 4 nines and 5 nines; e.g. 2 nines equates to 3.65 days of downtime per year whereas 5 nines equates to only 5 minutes per year
  • What if you need to get your data out; will you run into problems with timescales or will it impact on business operation or continuity
  • Will you be subject to contractual lock-in
  • Check that the datacentres comply with recognised professional standards and whether they hold an externally verified tier rating – and a suitable tier for your requirements
  • Do you have sufficient connectivity in place and what will it cost to upgrade
  • Are you aware that with some applications advanced capability and potential for customisation may be compromised
  • Does your partner have the financial stability to offer a subscription or opex pricing model

Author: Steve Cox, COO at IT support solutions company, Technology Services Group (TSG)