tech suppliers

Choose your tech suppliers wisely

I’ve recently been working with a chain of chiropractic clinics who are growing fast – a real business success story and an exciting company to be involved with.   As with almost any modern business, they rely on technology heavily to deliver a consistently good service – communications, data security, performance and the availability of support are all key if this business is to achieve its growth targets find out this here.  Unfortunately when I met the business owner, there were 3 or 4 tech suppliers involved, a pretty huge list of issues – from niggles to operational problems, and as is often the case, all the suppliers were blaming each other.   This becomes an issue when the business owner is trying to resolve these issues and suppliers routinely pass the buck, or worse still try to baffle with science in order to deflect the blame.

 Unfortunately this isn’t an unusual issue for many small and medium businesses.

So you can see why I was brought in. – to metaphorically bash some heads together, use my technical background to make sure nobody was telling porkies and to ultimately make sure that technology wasn’t standing in the way of business improvement and business growth.    It didn’t take long to unravel the mess, and ultimately we discovered that there was a gap in the services being provided to the business – nobody was pulling everything together and making it wok as a complete system.  The connectivity providers were locking everything down tightly, the phone system people needed firewalls configured but didn’t know who to ask, the software provider was busy beavering away trying to resolve issues that were related to laptop configuration issues and in the middle of all this the business was trying to deliver its ambitious growth plans.   In the end we worked with the company to appoint an IT Support Provider who now liaise between all the suppliers, pull everything together and in short, make it all work.   The transformation has been brilliant – system stability has improved and things actually work the way they’re supposed to, the staff feel supported and no longer afraid of when the next system issue might happen and the business owner is free to concentrate on growth knowing that the operational IT is in safe hands.

So how do businesses get themselves in this situation?   It’s not the fault of MD at all – every tech provider in the land starts their sales pitch with claims of brilliant customer service and service standards.   The key is to treat new providers as you would any new member of staff – interview them, check references, ask for a trial period.   Employers now have the ability to move new staff on within the first 12 months if they don’t perform, and businesses should be able to do this with suppliers also.   Having assisted many businesses in selecting tech suppliers and service providers, here are a few of my top tips to avoid issues:

  • Interview prospective suppliers – ask to speak to the business owner or whoever is in charge – don’t make a decision based on the salesperson alone.   If a supplier values you as a potential customer they will put effort into winning your business.
  • Insist on flexible terms – the days of long fixed term contracts are ending and if a supplier is confident in their ability to deliver consistent technical and customer service then there should be no need for long contract terms.  There are a few exceptions to this – the telephony industry is still dragging its heels and still bringing 4 year contracts to the table, but with careful selection and a bit of negotiation many of my customers are now on rolling monthly deals for mobile and fixed line services too.
  • Ask for references –and follow them up!  If you’re given a page of testimonials, call some of the companies on there.   Ask if the supplier works with others in your industry, and call them too.   Remember, testimonials are usually requested after the supplier or provider has done something wonderful, and a good testimonial will be dragged out the drawer for years to come.   Due diligence on any supplier, whether it’s a £30 broadband connection or £50,000 support and maintenance contract, is absolutely key.
  • Don’t go it alone – If you’re not technical yourself, ask for help!   I’m frequently asked to assist with tech supplier selection because I can switch from business question to tech question in an instant.   Again, don’t just speak to the salesman – he’ll have a polished story of what they want you to hear.   Ask to speak to the business owner or manager – ask them how they’d cope in certain situations and test their technical knowledge.   Ask them to talk about similar case studies.   Quiz them on their industry – they should know what’s going to happen in the next 3 years and should be preparing their business for the changes.

Appointing technical suppliers needn’t be difficult, and should bring a real positive impact to your business.   Mitigate your risks, be clear of your contracted commitments and agree mutual goals with regular reviews arranged from the outset.

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