Besides humans, your company’s telecommunication network is your most important asset.

If you take a second to think about it, every aspect of your business is connected to a network. It allows your organization to seamlessly access the Internet, share use of application and storage servers, printers, and fax machines, and use of email and instant messaging applications. As such, it’s important you ensure everything runs seamlessly so your staff has zero unnecessary downtime.

Graham Tate, a technical consultant at one of Toronto’s largest outsourced IT companies, has over 12 years experience as a help desk analyst, support specialist and server infrastructure automation. Graham took some time from his busy week to fill us in on the best practices, biggest mistakes and how to overcome obstacles to get the most out of your outsourced IT company.

Q: So start things off, what’s the biggest reason why companies outsource IT?

A: Freeing up employee time is the biggest factor. With automation comes the removal of everyday repetitive tasks, allowing company employees to either create new avenues of business for the company, or more time for project work, which should increase revenue for the company.

Q: What is the biggest mistake you see companies make when outsourcing IT projects? 

A: While not the most common mistake, the most impactful mistake I see is not understanding what the end state of a project will provide. I’ve been a part of a few projects that were very successful, extremely smooth and without few hiccups, however once we reached the end, the client was not clear on how to use what was built to it’s fullest potential. Truly understanding what you are asking of a contract IT company is very important. The easiest way to mitigate this risk is to have a solid, as simple as possible explanation of what is required at the onset of the project. Share this with the consultant company at all the meetings that occur at the beginning, not only with the sales guys, but with the techs as well.

Q: What can bigger and smaller companies do to ensure they’re running the best systems/projects and working with the right IT partner?

A: While having the right partner consultant company work with you is of course important, I’d have to say knowing which system you want is the most crucial part. There have to be thousands of consultant companies all wanting to take your money, and each company has knowledge of a multitude of systems or products. Usually we specialize in a few selected products, and those are the cornerstones of the company. Once you understand what product fits properly in your company and which will meet your end goal requirements, start researching for consultant companies that specialize in that product. Do the standard research on those companies, get references and check up on those references, the usual grind when it comes to selecting a consultancy company.

Q: What type of obstacles do you see most?

A: The most common obstacles revolve around preparedness. When starting a project, we usually send a list of requirements ahead of the kick-off or scheduled start date. We try to give as much heads up as possible about what we need the moment we get to your company and are ready to get to work. I can’t count the number of projects where we are told everything is ready, and then spend a few days to two weeks sitting around waiting for the list to get completed. Not only does this mean the project loses chunks of time from the schedule, but it’s never a good way to start a project and leaves a sense of negativity that will last throughout the project.

Q: How do you overcome major obstacles?

A: I believe that most obstacles boil down to one of two types; technological and emotional. Technological obstacles can usually be overcome with customizations to the products or systems. While customizations are possible for almost every situation I’ve come up against, they usually result in the addition of complexity to the end result, and also of course the amount of time required for the project. This is where ensuring everyone understands the end goal of a project is key, if we know these types of issues will arise, we will usually be testing a few solutions in our development labs ahead of time.

Emotional obstacles are those that have no basis in the functionality of a product or system, however is a personal/gut feeling held by anyone on a project. These are much more difficult to overcome in my mind, as it is completely dependent on the person being willing to either prove their point at a technical level, or accept someone else’s decision and let go of their emotional tie to their desire. While it’s understandable to hold on to something that you believe to be true, if you are proven incorrect, it is important to release that previous belief and accept the reality of that which is proven. There have been a few instances where this was not possible, some led to major delays and redesigns of projects, where there have been one or two that caused the cancellation of the project.

Q: Lastly, what do you wish all companies knew?

A: You get what you pay for. It seems simple enough, however too many times we have gone into a company to remove and read an incorrectly configured product to their environment. I don’t state this to make me or my company feel superior, as I’m sure other consultant companies have probably had to go in and fix a system we put in place, the numbers just make this an eventuality. This goes back to understanding what product you want, and then finding the correct company to contract the job to. No single company will be the best at everything. Find the right company to get what you need from them, unfortunately a lot of the time, the right company will also not be the cheapest.

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