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Created on 07.05.2019

How to find the right IT service provider

IT is what drives your company. If it suddenly stops working one day, that could bring your entire organization to a grinding halt. This, in turn, could do serious financial damage, which is why it is important for it to run smoothly. With this in mind, you should think about your choice of IT service provider very carefully. We will show you what matters most.

If you are looking for an external provider for your IT infrastructure, there are various opportunities and risks you should keep in mind. You can find the most important points listed here. But remember: thinking in terms of going down an external route or an internal route is very simplistic. It is more about your own personal weighting, in other words whether you want to purchase IT services from another company, or if you would like to cover more work with your own IT staff.

The advantages of working with external IT partners

  • The customer is king: external partners often provide comprehensive IT support, and ensure your systems are maintained using what are known as service level agreements (SLAs). It is important to do a good job negotiating these SLAs. For instance, if you want to ensure patches are installed on time, there ought to be consequences for failing to do so. This could either be in the form of a fine or additional services provided to you free of charge.
  • IT companies usually have experience with these sorts of projects, and will be able to provide professional advice.
  • As a general rule, IT partners are very flexible, though that is of course down to negotiation.
  • Specialized IT partners have a high degree of technical expertise.
  • Responsibility for problems lies with the IT service provider, and you can hold them liable for these problems in a SLA. That said, depending on the service you are providing, you can still be prosecuted. Financial institutions may, for example, also be answerable to the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) if they outsource certain services.

The disadvantages of working with external IT partners

  • An external IT service provider can prove costly if you require them frequently rather than sporadically.
  • If you don’t have your own IT department, your company risks not having some crucial expertise.
  • It can also take an external partner longer to respond (depending on the problem) than your own in-house IT team.
  • Moreover, an external provider is not part of your company, which may lead to conflict, for instance over orders or responsibilities.
  • In terms of data security, external IT service providers may have access to sensitive systems and data, which could be very risky.

What you need to consider

  • Choose a service partner that understands you, your needs, your business and your processes. That is absolutely key.
  • You will have to work with your IT partner on a regular basis, so be sure to focus on the human aspect: does the partnership work? To find out, you could conduct trial runs involving employees who are in regular contact with the service provider. If issues do emerge, you ought to look around for a different company.
  • Even if you want to outsource as many IT services as possible, make sure you have someone in your company who knows enough about the subject area so they can assess the work your partner is doing. 
  • You should lay out the service essentials in service level agreements (SLAs), e.g. what happens if your server is down for more than an hour? You might want to stipulate fines in case this happens.
  • Remember that standard products will never be able to meet all your requirements. However, the good thing about standard products is that maintenance is often cheap and simple, or they might not have complicated interfaces.
  • Many IT projects are now seeing agile strategies being pursued. This means that, to begin with, you “only” get half the finished product, which you can improve and adapt based on practical experience on an ongoing basis. This, in turn, will prevent you from doing anything too hastily.
  • Currently lots of companies outsource their data from their own servers either to a “dedicated server” or to the cloud. These two things are not the same: with a dedicated server, you can look for a reliable Swiss partner where you will know exactly where your servers are. The good thing about doing this is that you will not have to look after the hardware or security if you are not running your own data center. Things get a bit more problematic with cloud services in instances where you do not know exactly where your data is stored. Another issue is that, depending on the provider, you may not be able to guarantee top-quality support in the event of a problem. Find out what to do about data security in your IT department in the article “IT security and data protection: small companies should avoid these mistakes”. 

If you do decide to work with an external partner, you now know what you need to bear in mind. As a general rule, the following applies: do research, try before you buy (so to speak), seek advice and consider several different opinions/offers before you make a big investment.

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