Managing your IT service provider
EACH YEAR businesses are becoming more reliant on IT systems. Technology is now central to the way we engage with our clients and deliver advice.
As technology systems have grown to solve more complex problems, the underlying technology has also become more complex. The threats and risks associated with these systems are evolving at a rapid rate – and they can now have a far impact on your organisation if they are realised.
Businesses have responded by outsourcing more to external organisations through a cloud service, a managed service or a combination of the two. The expectation is that the external organisation is better placed to manage IT systems and the associated risks than you are. While that is generally the case, the active management of your supplier can improve the overall quality of the service. And this management can be simpler than you might expect.
Understand how to transition to a new supplier
Before engaging with a supplier, make sure you understand how you are going to transition to another supplier, if circumstances should arise that require you to do this.
The four key areas that I recommend you focus on are:
1. Contract term: Be clear on the contract term and what happens when it expires. In services you procure for home, an expired contract typically converts to a monthly contract. This is not always the case for cloud or managed services.
2. Service quality issues: Be clear on what will happen if the supplier does not provide the service level you expect, and the process for terminating the contract early in such circumstances.
3. Data transfer: If your supplier is responsible for storing for your data, be clear on how they will assist you to transfer that data to another organisation. Surprisingly, there are law firms that are stuck with their cloudbased practice management system for this precise reason.
4. Knowledge transfer: Suppliers often retain information about your organisation in order to provide their services (e.g. system configuration notes, user names, passwords, helpdesk tickets). Be clear on who owns this data. Consider getting regular (biannual) copies of the data – this will help ensure the data is accurate and not residing with a particular person.
Test hidden features to ensure quality
Not all IT services you procure will be used by your organisation on a daily basis. These services will typically provide some form of redundancy or disaster recovery, for example:
- Server backups
- Hot spare routers, switches, servers
- Second internet connection
- Disaster recovery site
If you are relying on such features, test them regularly. Agree with your supplier on how each can be tested and allocate someone within your organisation to do it regularly.
Request the recovery of some data from a backup. Turn off a hot spare router, switch or server. Perform a test failover to a disaster recovery site. By being active in this area you will help ensure that these features are ready and operational when you really need them.
Explaining issues to a supplier - define and replicate
Have you ever thought, ‘There must be someone who knows how to resolve this problem’? If you find yourself in this situation, spend some time to accurately define and replicate the problem. If you can provide your supplier with a clear and concise description of the problem, it will be easier for them to find the right person to assist you.
When defining an issue, answer these questions:
1. What are you trying to do? What are the steps that you have followed to achieve this? How has the system responded? How were you expecting the system to respond?
2. When did the problem start occurring? Has the system ever worked?
3. Can you replicate the problem? If you can’t, take some time and try to identify how. Once you have replicated the problem, take a video and share it with your supplier. A picture definitely tells a thousand words in IT.
4. Are you the only user affected? Is it allusers?