Friday, 27 March 2009 17:18
From hardware and software to servers and PCs, economic indicators point to an increase in technology spending among small companies. Your company may be one of them. In a recent survey conducted by American Express, one-third of small businesses with capital-spending plans will invest in technology this year. PCs will be the largest tech investment, with software, printers, servers, and peripherals not far behind.
Some of the growth in PC purchasing may be related to the replacement of old computers. Many of the computers purchased from 1997 to 2000 are now outdated. Some technology analysts claim that companies delayed the purchase of new PCs due to the economic downturn after the dot.com bubble burst in 2000. Now that the economy is looking brighter, analysts suggest companies are making up for the delay by allocating funds to upgrade their computers and systems.
Whatever the reason for increased technology spending, whether on PCs, or other tech-related equipment, one thing is likely: an IT project will be the most common way you will integrate new purchases with your current equipment.
An IT project is an endeavor with a definitive timeline (start date and end date) during which specific goals and objectives are met. Projects occur in addition to the regular maintenance of your network and technology equipment, and often emerge as a result of issues discovered during regular maintenance.
Since you may not have a full-time technology staff, there is a high probability that you will outsource an IT project to an IT consultant. So, what is the strategy for success when outsourcing an IT project?
Here are four things you need to know before you begin:
1. Have a vision and goal for the project in mind, but seek out the professionals to implement the specifics.
While it may make you feel more organized to have a project specifically detailed before requesting proposals from IT consultants, you could be losing out on the expertise of those who may be able to provide some alternate solutions and options to accomplish your goals.
According to Bill Donovan and Tad Richard of Intellicisions, a consulting firm that aligns technologies with smart business strategies, one of the biggest myths among small to mid-size companies looking to outsource IT projects is that they need to have a specific project outlined in detail before they consider outsourcing. "It's more effective," says Bill Donovan "to think about outsourcing up front, when strategy is being formed. That way the strategy dictates the process you and your outsourcing partner will use to form and implement a solution." Starting with an outline of goals and what you would like to accomplish may be the better road to take.
2. Manage the expectations of those who will be affected by the project.
Change is never easy and a new project will bring on quite a lot of it. Even the most well organized, seamless project will require some of your employees to change how they currently perform the jobs associated with it. You need to over-communicate with them: hold meetings, send email bulletins, schedule training sessions, etc. This may seem like overkill when you are already immersed in planning a project, but it will provide a level of comfort that will allow employees to embrace the changes more quickly as well as some of the transitions it will require.
Though more often than not, follow up after a project will be required, so it will be essential to manage their expectations that some issues will need to be followed up on. If your employees know they can ask questions and have follow up training, they will be more apt to cooperate and bear with some of the transitional effects.
3. Select a certified and experienced IT support provider team.
Price is always a consideration when outsourcing an IT project, particularly if you're a small company. However, don't let this be the only consideration. It is important to know the qualifications and experience of the company you've hired to implement the project. Within the information technology field there are specific certifications that are important to the industry such as Microsoft Certified Service Engineer (MCSE) and Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP). These certifications make sure that the IT support provider you choose has been through the proper training to implement an industry standard solution.
Philipp Harper, in his article titled Why an IT Partner Might Be Your Company's Best Friend recommends "looking to a trade organization whose members subscribe to a statement of business principles that defines ethical behavior regarding clients, their proprietary information, and competitors." Additionally, it is wise to inquire about the company's prior history working on similar projects and check their references. Nothing replaces the due diligence of contacting a provider's clients to find out if their expectations were met when they worked with the IT support provider.
Since projects that involve server upgrades and installation can take many, many hours make sure the IT support provider has enough staff to take care of your project quickly with plenty of follow up afterwards.
4. Create a specific contract with your IT support provider as well as have realistic expectations about the costs of your project.
After meeting with your prospective IT support provider, work with them to determine detailed objectives that indicate a project's scope and completion. It is easy for one thing to lead to another when you get into IT strategy and implementation. Liken this to starting a construction project in your home.
What starts out as a simple replacement of the bathroom sink can quickly mushroom into replacing pipes, altering the concrete foundation slab, and remodeling the kitchen while you're at it. While there is nothing wrong with discovering other things that may need to be done, it is important to know that they will probably occur and to be prepared for them.
What about those essential items that are discovered in the midst of an IT project which may need to be dealt with simultaneously? Even if your IT support provider has done thorough research into your current IT configuration prior to beginning the project, the nature of technology is that some things are not encountered until a project begins. It is important to have an understanding of those items that fall outside the scope of a project, and be aware that you may have to invest more to address them.
In addition, you should have a plan in writing that will be used to deal with these items. This will minimize the frustration you may feel about being caught off guard with additional costs and the frustration your IT partner will feel about having to explain to you why certain items are not included in
the original project estimate.
Structuring and governing the outsourced project successfully is the most important factor in achieving a positive outcome and a working relationship for the future. Though this requires some shopping and goal-setting on your part, the due diligence you spend up front will more than pay for the successful new or upgraded system you depend upon daily.