5 Keys to Building a Successful Relationship with Your Service Provider

When businesses turn to managed IT services providers, they are handing over the reigns of a host of ongoing efforts—efforts that often had been managed through an internal IT group in the past. However, once an agreement is signed with a new managed IT services provider, the work is still only just beginning. Following are five keys to setting the stage for a successful relationship with your new service provider.

1. Start with a short term “trial”

When we interview a job candidate, we can ask a million questions, but it’s very difficult to really know how that person will perform until it’s time to roll up the sleeves and start working. So it is with service providers and that’s why due diligence in selecting a IT outsource company is so critical. Even if the IT services provider has been fully vetted, however, it’s still advisable to start with a smaller engagement, and a relatively brief up-front commitment, anywhere from 30-90 days, so you can get started and see first hand whether the managed IT services provider is a good fit for your business. This is not to diminish the investment it takes to get started—rolling out a new service to a managed IT services provider takes planning, effort and time. In spite of this, it’s important to have an out if for any reason IT services aren’t meeting expectations. Being stuck in a long term contract will only exacerbate the costs of a mistaken selection.

2. Formalize communications, roles, service definitions and processes

The saying “good fences make good neighbors” has relevance in establishing effective managed IT services relationships. Clear demarcation of services, roles and responsibilities is a vital foundation. The more that’s left to subjective opinion, conjecture and guesswork, the more likely that misunderstandings, mistakes and missed opportunities will result. What services are being provided and what aren’t? If an issue is reported, who’s on point and who’s the next point of contact if that person isn’t available? Detailed process documentation, well established roles and clear accountability are all vital to a successful partnership with a managed IT service provider.

3. Start with concrete IT service requirements and definitions

Similarly, there shouldn’t be gray areas when it comes to IT service levels. Performance that’s acceptable for one business or service, may not fly for another. Uptime requirements for one IT service will vary from those of another. That’s why it’s important to have a solid foundation for both organizations to be working from, a common understanding of expectations and requirements. What constitutes acceptable uptime? If an outage is reported, how long will it take to get a response and status update? In addition, particularly for performance-critical applications, businesses should establish performance benchmarks from their prior, internally hosted service, so they can effectively assess the performance of the externally hosted service.

4. Get strong service level agreements

Service level agreements are where the promises, expectations and requirements are formalized and formalized in such a way that the managed IT services provider puts skin in the game. In my experience, however, SLAs often don’t meet their potential to establish success in an outsource IT relationship. While the formulation of effective SLAs can fill books, here are a few high level concepts to keep in mind:

• Carry weight. Fundamentally, SLAs should include provisions for service credits if SLAs are missed.

• Be realistic. While people like to talk about 99.999% reliability, is it required? More importantly, is it a realistic requirement? For a variety of reasons, some beyond the service providers control, it may not be. For example, with so many services going online, Internet connectivity and bandwidth are always required, but the managed IT service provider may have no control over the performance of an Internet service provider’s performance.

• Tie them to real accountability. SLAs should help tie real accountability to the IT service provider. While this can be challenging, given the interconnectedness of so many infrastructure components, look to put people on the hook for metrics that they have real control over.

• Align measures with business. Ultimately, if 100% uptime of a given infrastructure element is being reported, but performance issues are still hurting business performance, the wrong measures are being taken. Try to map SLAs to metrics that really affect the business.

5. Get on-demand service status updates

Regardless of the SLAs or any other agreements in place, businesses should be able to get performance status of their managed IT services, whenever they need them. Even if an IT outsourcing company is responsible for remediation, the sooner the business is aware of an issue, the better they’ll be able to mitigate the impact of the issue on their end. Many well-established managed IT services providers offer clients online access to portals that display real-time status of the monitored infrastructure. In addition, they offer automated reporting and alerts. These types of capabilities add a vital layer of transparency in the relationship, giving executives confidence that infrastructure is performing optimally, or that they’ll find out quickly if not.

Conclusion:

Setting a Foundation for Success Like just about anything else of significance in life, building an effective relationship with a managed IT services provider isn’t easy. Particularly in today’s IT environments, where fundamental technological shifts are happening with increasing speed, relying on an outsource IT company can provide a business with a wealth of advantages—but these advantages are not assured. By applying some of the principles above, your business can give this outsource IT relationship the best chance of paying immediate and long-term business benefits. For more information, visit the service provider page at ca.com.