I frequently get the opportunity to meet with potential clients that are looking to refresh their technology in some way. Often this refresh is in the form of a new server, some major software change, an office move or maybe some security enhancements. I would agree that major changes like these are a good time to consider the broader needs, but it isn’t for the reasons most people think. Here’s why…
The logic I hear in this situation is often something like, “This server is going to cost a lot so we thought we’d shop around” or, “We know this server is important for us so we want to see what kind of ideas other IT people might have.” You don’t want to over-invest (or under-invest) in your IT and you want to make smart choices for your future IT infrastructure.
I suggest even more important than these objectives is to have a healthy and appropriate ongoing IT function for your organization. The decision around what kind of IT Partner you will choose to lead and manage your IT will impact so much more than the more basic decision around which technology you end up with or how much you pay. In extreme cases, this broader “functional” decision makes the difference between ultimate success or failure for a business.
I believe the particulars of the technology in a business should be nearly-invisible to the folks managing the business, 99% of the time. So, if you’re regularly talking tech, you might be off track. The tech details are important, of course, but with a healthy, strategic IT function in the business, the IT person/company owns these details and is held accountable to the results of the specific technology they recommend. They should care very much about what technology is chosen and how it is configured. The business person delegating IT should be mostly concerned about the anticipated results of those decisions. There will be collaboration between the business leaders and IT team in all this, but it should be a business-first discussion, not one that is heavy in the technology minutia.
Further to this, an IT company will want to set up a server or other technology according to their own unique standard…at least they SHOULD want to do this. Standardization and best practices drastically reduces the complexity of an IT environment which dramatically improves the users experience.
Cost Comparison isn’t an Ideal Starting Point
Back to the cost comparison at the heart of pursuing competitive quotes. In my experience, the cost variation for a truly “apples to apples” comparison is a little like price-shopping for gasoline. There are established standards for pricing of hardware, software and service that result in most proposals being in the same ballpark.
Obviously, you might not end up with apples to apples and that can just confuse the decision further. You are then left trying to determine if you’re looking at a different in cost or value. Are you over or under investing? Are you qualified to know? But this kind of technical analysis just distracts us from the main question: who do you want to partner with for the next 5-50 years and why? Does someone’s server quote have anything to do with how they will reduce problems, minimize risk, and help you take advantage of strategic technology opportunities in a year or three?
The Problem with “Outside Looking in” Reviews
Lastly, I’ll suggest it is risky to make IT decisions from “the outside”. Smart Dolphins works through our standard onboarding process and through this process we learn what a new client REALLY needs – it usually differs from what we would have recommended prior to this process. Occasionally, a prospect has called us with their house on fire and we need to quickly assess an initial project, but we only do so with a heavy warning that we might not get this right given the lack of understanding and history. So, unless there is a very thorough assessment (which, if it is going to be thorough, is some form of paid IT assessment), understand an outsider’s recommendation might be way off. And, of course, that fact opposes the reasons why some people go through the process to collect competing quotes in the first place.
In summary, a major technology change on the horizon is an excellent time to stop and consider the overall approach to a company’s IT. This decision isn’t first and foremost about the technology, but about the type of IT relationship required to get the business results needed in the coming years. Decide who best meets those needs and then have them lead you through a thorough needs analysis and recommendation that fits their specific Standards and Best Practices so they can support it well for many years to come. You can then “get out of the IT business” and do what you do best.