A friend of mine from out east is a leader in a large-ish company and he reached out to pick my brain on a decision they were trying to make. Paraphrased,
“So you only know a little about us, but I’m wondering if you could give some basic guidance. We’re doing an RFP for a new IT Service Provider and we’re struggling figuring out who would be best. Do you think a company of our size and complexity would be better off with a larger, national company, or a mid-sized company or a smaller, boutique owner-operated service provider?”
Size was their primary decision criteria.
I was about to run into a meeting and his question deserved more attention than the quick bit of advice I gave. I thought, maybe this would make a good blog that I could share with him, while also offering others my perspective on this. The size of an IT Service Provider is a characteristic that is easily observable, so it is a common question. I’ve personally been asked hundreds of times how many Dolphins we have in situations where a prospect is assessing whether we’ll improve their life.
What can size tell us when exploring an IT Support Company?
To some degree, a Service Provider with more than one person has found enough success to support a “real” payroll. The logic follows that the larger a provider is, the more successful they are, the longer they’ve been around and the better they are. This generalization might be accurate enough to offer a little general guideline, but not enough to be the primary decision criteria for such an important decision. The size of a specific IT company tells us very little about the results they will offer. I have a couple colleagues in the States that run EXCELLENT Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and they are less than half our size. Smart Dolphins has also taken over disastrous networks that were made that way by large national IT Solutions companies.
It gets more interesting when you look at how that scale is USED by the Service Provider to get ORGANIZED in a meaningful way. Having more than a handful of people offers an IT support company the opportunity to get beyond a simple approach of throwing techs at problems for dollars. An MSP that combines specialized roles into a coordinated system of work can offer a lot more than the sum of its parts. Size doesn’t really tell you this as it can happen with 10 employees or 100. It is quite easy to find a large Service Provider that has built very little in terms of defined and organized roles and process. As such, I would be nervous about their ability to provide a predictable, valuable result, regardless of their size.
Smart Dolphins has the scale that has allowed us to define five different service-based roles in the company (with some additional sub-specialization in some of those primary roles). This systematic and structured approach, driven by process, allows us to make massive progress in reducing problems, minimizing risk and making progressive and strategic IT plans for our Allies. Without this kind of scale and structure, it is just IT people trying their best to get everything done as it comes at them. This isn’t always a disaster, but it is usually chaotic and unpredictable. Even when it’s “fine”, it isn’t optimized. If IT is important to your business, don’t settle for mediocrity.
Size might hint that there are opportunities to use scale to be hyper-organized and optimized, but it doesn’t tell you if the opportunity was seized. So, in the end, my friend was asking the wrong question. The question that needs to be asked: How do you organize your work?