How to overcome inertia and choose a better IT consulting firm
Too often, I hear of companies that are stuck with ‘mediocre’ IT firms because they face massive inertia – and fear – and cannot make the change away from their IT company. This article gives you some advice on how to overcome this potentially expensive obstruction.
These days, with IT budgets squeezed to the very bone, and IT consulting firms finding that their consultants efficiency has dropped precipitously, there is a strong motivation amongst IT firms to hire cheaper – and often much less qualified – consultants. Or, if they don’t let their staff go, they begin to bill more hours by performing sub-par performance. This can take the form of trying to have less staff cover the same client base, to the more odious forms of over-billing and double-billing clients (the practice of being at one client while you are remotely connected to another client and are billing them for maintenance).
Or perhaps you do business with an ethical, and honest company, but they simply aren’t getting the job done. Too many unfinished tasks, too much effort being expended by you and your staff keeping them on their toes – the list is long. But how can you safely switch firms, when your systems and technology is completely controlled and maintained by your IT company?
Here are some things you should never take for granted, and should ALWAYS have available:
- Do you know all your system passwords? Have they ever been checked by someone on your staff for accuracy? Very important – you don’t want to have to have your new IT vendor faced with an emergency and have to spend time cracking into your systems.
- Does your DNS settings and web address belong to you? I’ve seen firms actually lose their domains – this should not be overlooked.
- Do you have control over your own DNS records? Do you know where your domain is registered to, and have all the account numbers?
- Do you know who your ISP is?
- Do you have reasonably up-to-date documentation? Asking for complete system documentation should be part of your normal review process with your vendor.
- Do your data backups reside with you, or with your IT firm? Make sure you’ve got all your data.
- If they have done programming for you, do you own the code? If not, is it well documented? Crucial. This is one of the leading reasons firms stick with bad vendors.
- Do they manage any databases or mailing lists for you? Do you have the raw data?
If you have all these bases covered, then you are in good shape insofar as you can safely find another vendor. If not, get these things handled before making any switch.
Once you have determined you *are* ok, then it’s time to pick a new vendor. Make sure they:
- don’t try and lock you into a long term contract, at least without an out-clause (no longer than 60 days, and 30 is preferred – anyone else trying to get more than this is not sure of their service).
- make sure that you have an account manager to raise issues regarding billing or tech performance.
- ask to see a sample of their network documentation.
- if they cannot handle all your systems in-house, ask them who they will bring in to assist with other issues, and that they will be accountable – you don’t want a finger pointing game between vendors when something doesnt work right.
- check their references, but remember that no one ever gives a name of someone who will give a bad reference – don’t let your decision hang on this.
- make sure you feel comfortable with them. A good idea is to start out with a small job, or a network audit or assessment. These are often under $2000 or so, and are a valuable tool for having both parties come in with their eyes open.
Remember – you don’t have to live with mediocre IT.