‘Outsourcing your IT requirements is not just about the transfer of people, or significant capital expenditure or about becoming beholden to a third party supplier. It’s about creating operational efficiencies for your business and strategic freedom for your key management team.’ So says Ian Morris, the managing director of EquIP, a specialist distributor of technology products.
Morris, whose company specialises in the IT security field, actually outsources his firm’s own security needs (‘it’s a bit like the cobbler’s shoes – despite being experts, our own security needs are always the last to get our own attention’) and believes that for growing businesses of a certain size, bringing in the experts frees up management to focus on their real business agenda.
His sentiments are echoed by Justin Slawson, managing director of The Cheese Cellar, a leading wholesale distributor of specialist cheeses.
Says Slawson, ‘Like any growing business, our IT needs were getting ever more complex. The technology was becoming increasingly sophisticated and taking up a lot of management time.
‘At any one point, we are dealing with hotels, restaurants, retailers and a host of wholesalers – which constitutes a tremendous amount of sales information, order processing and delivery notes.
‘When we had unavoidable downtime, our customers’ needs were not being satisfied, our business was hurting and the executive team was swamped.’
Slawson’s solution was to outsource the reporting systems for stock control and sales information and 24-hour order processing.
‘I’m not an IT expert, but when our systems went down I was always aware and always involved. Now, downtime is not a problem, and even when problems do crop up I’m not aware and not involved. I’m focused on our products, our distribution needs and growth. And our IT bill has been reduced to boot.’
Can your business do IT alone?
According to Gary Woodward, CEO of IT outsourcing specialist Pasporte, while outsourcing your IT needs is not applicable to all companies, many companies of differing sizes are beginning to readily embrace the benefits of bringing on board IT partners rather than building up internal teams.
Interestingly, while some companies believe that IT outsourcing is all about reducing costs, others still believe that bringing in outside help actually involves tremendous significant business spend or will diminish their ability to fully control their entire organisation.
‘For me, IT outsourcing is about procuring the skills you need to run your business more efficiently and about always being in a position where IT is helping you innovate and compete,’ says Woodward.
‘Think about it: there is a vast set of skills a small or medium-sized, growing company now needs to stay competitive. Enterprise Resource Planning, Customer Relationship Management, VoIP, web, mobile communications, the latest network and online security, hosting, back-up, help desks… the list goes on. All of this needs to be maintained – and invested in on an ongoing basis to ensure that it remains up-to-date and functioning. An experienced IT service provider can deliver a pool of skilled professionals at the cutting edge of industry knowledge to keep your back office, front office and desktops at the forefront of developments. Trying to build an in-house team with the same range and depth of skills very often doesn’t make sense after a certain point.’
Be careful who you partner with
If you do decide to go down the outsourcing route as a means of solving your IT problems, you need to choose carefully.
Going with the cheapest supplier might satisfy the finance director’s demands, but the problem is that often ‘a company that bids at one-tenth the cost of others may only have one-tenth of the knowledge or resources,’ warns Sanj Prabhakar, the Director for SMEs, Global Outsourcing Association.
Further sound advice is proffered by Michael Schleuss, IBM’s Outsourcing Executive North East Europe. ‘Choosing a partner is all about trust, the transparency of the costs and the needs of your business. They are the parameters within which decisions should be made.’
‘The needs of your business will demand that potential suppliers fully understand what you do, the way in which you work and your goals,’ adds Prabhakar.
Is your IT partner accredited?
‘One last core attribute to look for in any potential partner is an endorsement from the leading software authors and principal national and international technology players,’ believes Pasporte’s Woodward.
Finding this out is usually quite simple, as most firms prominently display their ‘preferred partner’ labels loudly on their websites or other branded marketing material. What it represents, though, is proof as to a firm’s competence and skills and reassurance that you are working with the experts.
Says Woodward, ‘Finding a skilled IT partner is really about in-sourcing key skills that will allow you as the entrepreneur or business leader to focus on your core competency. And remember, if your systems are robust it not only gives you an operational competitive edge over your peers, it also enables you to sell into – and partner with – the largest and most prestigious companies in the market.’
See also: IT outsourcing guide – what is it, pros and cons and providers