08 Jun 2012

What to think about before switching IT providers

Switching IT providers can be a tough decision.

Even when a business is disappointed with its current service, moving camps tends to be a decision that’s often pondered but rarely made.

What can you do if you’re unhappy with your IT provider?

1. Go to leave, then… stay

At the end of a less than satisfactory contract, it’s time to revisit the market.

Most businesses do this well. They approach a number of different providers. They get a better price and a number of better offerings, with improved services levels, delivery mechanisms and architectures.

The process further highlights the incumbent’s shortcomings. The business then picks the best available offering, makes the switch and goes forward better and stronger – right?

Well… no. Often, what happens in practice is that the incumbent matches the best price of the alternative providers and promises to improve their performance.

Faced with the effort of actually making a switch, the business takes the incumbent’s promise at face value, hoping that this will be the warning they need to improve.

The problem now is that not only has the incumbent matched the best possible price, they’ve also matched the best possible solution. They’ll be delivering a solution that they haven’t designed, at a price that they probably shouldn’t.

What the customer sees as a result is another two or three years of the same lacklustre performance. They’ve missed out on the creativity and out-of-the-box thinking offered by the alternative providers, and, when it comes to IT, they’ve unwittingly become market followers.

2. Go to leave, then… leave

The second alternative is to go to the market, find the best solution and then actually go through with the change.

One of the most common demands of businesses taking this course of action is a “clean break”, where the new provider starts on the day the old contract is terminated, so that there’s no double up in fees.

In most cases however, this isn’t realistic. Indeed, a “clean break” will usually cost more in the long run, because where corners are cut, outcomes will be compromised.

To make sure that your transition is smooth, treat the switch as a project, and fund it accordingly. You need to make sure that the previous incumbent, especially, is motivated to complete the transition.

An important question to ask your new provider is what will they be doing at the outset to familiarise themselves with your systems and environment.

Good providers will have a service delivery take-on team ready to come into your business “storm trooper style”, with a mission to understand your support needs and current problems, while setting up monitoring services and taking an inventory of your systems.

Without such a move, the first six months of your new relationship is likely to involve a lot of clowning around – chasing passwords, discovering new systems, and taking action only when things break. If that’s the case, what looked like greener pastures might be just more of the same.

Summing up

The IT world is fast changing, and new solutions at better prices are constantly emerging.

If you’re disappointed with your current provider and find a better alternative elsewhere, follow through with the change. For the best experience however, be sure to dedicate adequate resources to the switch.

Dave Stevens is MD, Brennan IT.

(This blog post was first published on the SmartCompany website on June 7 2012)

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