As your business grows, eventually you will need to outsourcing your technology management. There aren't enough hours in the day to do all the things you need to do and also maintain and support computers.
Ideally what you really want is a tech partner. Someone who will watch your back, technologically speaking. You'll need someone that can help you navigate the minefield of new technology. Let's face it, you don't want to spend a fortune on some tech tool that ends up being a total failure. In short, you need someone you can trust.
But how do you gauge the knowledge and experience of an IT provider? More importantly, is that experience relevant to your business? Fortunately there are a few easy ways to find out.
1. Good Questions The single most important thing to look for in your initial meeting with a potential IT partner is who asks the most questions. They should spend plenty of time asking you questions. They should ask about your operations, challenges, problems, goals, strategic direction. A good IT partner needs to know all this information. Obviously you should ask them questions too but they need to be more curious about you.
2. Beware Sales Pitches If anybody comes in and immediately starts pushing a specific product, kick him out. You're not looking for some company's outside sales rep, you're looking for a tech management partner. Don't waste your time with someone that starts selling before understanding your problems.
3. Documentation Good IT techs document everything. Ask them to give you sample technical documents. The reason you want everything documented is so you aren't held hostage by your tech. You need to be given user names, passwords, login addresses and every other piece of information you need to run your computer systems. Now, if you're ever unhappy with the service you receive, you can replace the tech with someone else and they have an informative document to get them started.
4. Personable and Professional You don't want to get stuck with an IT troll. You want a professional that can communicate effectively. You don't need to get stuck with Quasimodo ringing your IT bells. You need someone with enough personality to be well regarded by your employees, vendors and partners. You also don't want someone that will be slovenly, crude or socially repulsive. You need someone to help you achieve your goals.
5. Connected Aside from having working cell phones, fax machines, email addresses and all that stuff, you need someone that has the professional network that can help you succeed. Your tech management partner should be a valuable resource for you in multiple ways. From industry partners to personal contacts, you need someone that can help you succeed.
6. Experience How long have they been consulting? What's their background? Unlike lawyers and accountants, there is no government authority that regulates technology consultants. That's why experience really matters. Are you doing business with a reputable, established firm or with some fly-by-night outfit?
7. Non-Technical Solutions This one is certain to get me kicked out of the Computer Geek Club, but...not every problem needs a technical solution. I can't tell you how many times we've encountered a challenge that was easily resolved with a simple change in process. Sometimes it's as simple as asking the line worker facing the problem to find a solution. You'd be amazed at some of the creative solutions we've implemented using nothing more than common sense and communication. Not every problem requires buckets of money to fix.
Ultimately, it all comes down to trust. Is this someone you can trust to manage your technology for you? Is this someone with a reputation for success? Do they have the experience to get results?