Guest Column | May 8, 2017

Read This Before Declaring War On Your Service Provider

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By Nic Grange, CTO, Retriever Communications

Have you ever been frustrated with your service provider or wondered why they aren't making your life any easier? As a service provider, there are things I would like every IT team to know so we can work better together. Whether it be existing relationships or completely new ones, IT teams can follow these four steps to make their lives easier and avoid issues down the line.

Develop A Collaborative Attitude

There is often a fear service providers are focused on replacing the IT team, but for the most part that isn’t the case. In fact, they end up relying on them heavily and need them to bridge the gaps between the general purpose, mass market product they are providing, and the exact needs of the business. Most businesses will always have a need for internal IT as it is about responsiveness and the benefits that come from having a deep understanding of business problems and their needs.

The first step to building a lasting relationship with your service provider is to develop a collaborative attitude. Service providers can allow an IT team to grow their capabilities without having to hire new staff or expand existing staff’s responsibilities. This allows the IT team to focus on their core competencies and for the business to be more competitive.

IT teams need to see service providers as an extension of their capabilities that allow them to do more for the business and eventually its customers. They need to see them as a remote team that is part of their extended organization. Together they can offer a lot more to the business.

Be Realistic About Internal Capabilities

The second important step for IT teams is to be realistic about their own capabilities and understand how these can impact the business. If you find yourself often saying no to the business, then there is a problem. Alternatively, if you are saying yes most of the time but often fail to deliver because things turned out to be much harder or took much longer than expected, then there is also a problem.

It is almost impossible to have a department big enough to do everything in-house, especially with IT budgets being cut all the time. IT teams are being asked to do more with less, which means they have no choice but to adapt. Leveraging service providers which offer pay-per-use models can not only help deal with reduced budgets, but can also lower the initial commitment and risk associated with the decision.

There is often a perception work can be cheaper internally, but in many cases the comparisons don’t take into consideration all the factors. It may be cheaper in the short term, but if it is going to be six months before you can start the business might be better off paying more to get the benefits earlier. Just because you can technically do something, doesn’t mean that you should do it. At the end of the day, the team needs to ask themselves what is in the best interest of the company.

Build The Relationship Through Shared Understanding And Good Communication 

Service providers usually focus on providing services that solve common problems so they can offer their service to as many customers as possible. As these services mature, providers will often make them highly configurable so they can fit more use cases. IT teams need to only service their own business groups and their use cases. In order for the service provider to offer the best fitting service to the business, they need help from the IT team to understand the business problems. IT can provide context so that they can better configure their service.

Too often I see IT teams bring solutions to service providers without communicating the actual problem they are trying to solve. This usually leads to a less than optimum solution and wasted work. This occurs all too frequently in IT — internally and externally — where the focus turns into implementing a particular solution instead of solving the problem. The original problem seems to get lost in the process of coming up with the solution.

IT teams also need to keep service providers in the loop, especially when there are changes that may affect their software or systems. Adding them to a simple mailing list or allowing them access to communications they can review if a problem occurs can greatly help.

Setup For External Access And Leverage The Cloud Where Possible 

Internal systems can be difficult for service providers to access. If they are supporting an on premise application and can’t access the relevant systems due to technical, legal or commercial reasons, it can make it very hard and time consuming to diagnose problems. It can also end up consuming a large amount of IT’s time to liaise and provide pseudo-access to these systems when problems occur. Everyone involved ends up frustrated and the problems often drag on. Often times this can be avoided if things are setup properly from the beginning.

The large movement to the cloud has broken down some of the long-standing barriers within IT teams to running everything within their internal firewalls. Many companies are now running hybrid clouds which make it easier for service providers to fit in. Tasks like provisioning new servers can be made so much easier and networks are now much more accessible to service providers. IT teams will still have security concerns, but these can and need to be mitigated with practices that are being used to adapt to hybrid-cloud models.

With these four steps, IT teams can start building stronger and longer lasting relationships with their service providers to create a win-win situation.