A first date with an IT provider (or IT consultant) can be overwhelming, especially if you have had bad experiences in the past with other providers. Many IT professionals speak a whole other language, full of technical terms that many business professionals don’t fully understand. A good business IT consultant, however, knows this and translates their terms into explanations their clients understand – such as how their software systems will work for their specific business, how it will benefit their enterprise and improve their processes, etc.
Don’t let the picture above fool you however, there aren’t usually chocolates and wine on this first date, but it should still be taken seriously. Getting the right information from the beginning will save you costs, headaches and stress. Therefore, here is a list of questions every business professional should ask before dating an IT provider.
1. Do you offer “on-premises” AND “cloud” solutions?
Many IT providers have begun to offer two options to businesses: on-premises and in the “cloud”. These options are also priced differently, where “cloud” services have less upfront fees, no equipment costs, no need for in-house IT staff, etc. Depending on what you are looking for, find out what the IT provider offers so you can make a more informed decision based on your business needs and what you can afford.
2. How available is your support team?
A helpful and available support team is essential, especially if you are a small business without any in-house IT staff. A good IT provider will offer the necessary support for their clients where they can be reached via phone or email anytime during business hours.
3. How will your software solution interact with my current system(s)?
If your business currently uses a system for one department (for example, Accounting software) and you are looking into another IT provider for a full ERP solution, you must ensure the new system can be integrated with your current system. Flexibility and integration are two must haves for any business solution; therefore inquire about this right away.
4. Do you provide updates regularly?
As technological advancements happen continuously in the IT world, asking the IT provider how they plan on updating their solution, or if they even do, is a great question. Other questions include; “are these updates automatic? Is there a separate cost for updates? How long do they take and when are they done (during or after business hours)?”
5. How is implementation conducted?
The implementation phase is one of the reasons many business executives are fearful of upgrading their current systems. This phase has a bad reputation because this is where problems and unexpected additional costs can occur. This phase is the most difficult, however once everything is running properly then it is smooth sailing afterwards.
To ensure you do NOT have a terrible and stressful implementation process, ask the necessary questions in the beginning to get a better idea:
- What is the expected time frame of implementation (how long will it take)?
- What are the necessary steps that need to be taken from both parties?
Nowadays, implementation is quick and painless if you’re with the right provider. Don’t let past experiences prevent you from improving your current processes.
6. What is the Total Cost of Ownership?
Cost is an extremely important topic of discussion between a business executive and an IT provider. Many businesses get caught up in all sorts of added on costs that they were unaware of from the beginning. Different providers offer different deals. Some may have huge upfront costs, some may offer subscription packages (SaaS), some include a bank of hours of support in their costs, etc. Consider all of these costs and make the calculations for this year and for the next 5 years.
7. How secure is my data (Cloud option)?
More and more businesses are choosing Software as a Service (SaaS), where their data is stored in the cloud. Questions that should be asked are;
- What does “in the cloud” mean?
- Where is the provider’s data center located? Where is the data sitting? In Canada or in the United States? This is to evaluate what laws apply to your data
- What are the security measures to keep the data safe? Are there any back-up procedures in place?
- Is it a private or public cloud?
8. Is your solution scalable?
Scalable solutions are also a key asset to have. Having a software system that can address any scenario your business comes across, such as if your requirements grow or shrink, if you need to add more users, etc. You want to look for a solution that can be ready for growth.
So when you are on the market for new business software solutions, don’t be shy to ask the important questions. It’ll save you money, headaches, and allow you to find the right IT provider with the best solutions for your business.
So ask away!
P.S. Happy Valentine’s Day to all our readers!