Getting the right IT supplier is a key business decision

Picture by Colin Bridges
Picture by Colin Bridges

CHOOSING an IT supplier is one of the most important decisions for a business so it’s important to get it right.

A new system can be a hugely significant investment and the government-funded Business Link organisation has a useful checklist and background information for those who need a little help in cutting through the jargon.

Support and maintenance are crucial items to consider as much as installation and configuring to ensure it is fully operational from the moment the on buttons are pressed in the first morning.

When and if glitches occur, the business will need to be able to rely on having someone available to help, so asking what frontline support is available should be a part of the procurement process.

Business Link says to get “significant benefits from IT, you need to be able to trust your IT systems. This means having confidence in the company supplying, managing and maintaining them. Choosing the right IT supplier is therefore an essential part of selecting an effective IT solution.

“If you rely on IT for your day-to-day activities you need to have a successful working relationship with your IT supplier. A good relationship with your supplier can help ensure your existing systems run smoothly and also help you identify and develop new applications.”

Though Business Link says most IT suppliers can provide a comprehensive range of hardware, software and services, there are some differences between them. For example re-sellers act as agents for hardware manufacturers, but can also offer software and a wide range of IT services and support.

System integrators select the appropriate hardware and software for your needs and deliver an integrated, working system. Specialist suppliers have expertise in one specific area, such as customer-relationship management systems.

Consultants may just provide consultancy, with no hardware, software or maintenance services. Retail, mail order and online suppliers may be appropriate if you’re confident you don’t need advice and simply need the IT system supplying direct.

Size may be important, too. IT suppliers range from small local outfits to global organisations but businesses will need complete confidence in them. A local office can be a reassuring presence.

Business Link’s checklist includes:

> find out whether the supplier can provide all the hardware, software, licences, services, support and maintenance

> check whether they will install and configure your system

> ask whether they will train staff

> get details of what exactly is included in their supply contract

> find out what sort of warranty they provide

> confirm whether they will continue to provide support if you take responsibility for replacing faulty hardware yourself

> check what is and isn’t included in the price - ask whether upgrades and fixes to software are included

> ask them to provide references from other, similar companies they’ve helped.

> ask whether they will provide written documentation, such as training manuals, that will help you understand your system

> decide whether you feel they understand your business needs

> ask about any experience they may have in your industry

> ask whether they are happy for you to test the proposed systemt

> find out whether they are financially viable and able to meet your requirements in the foreseeable future

> Visit www.businesslink.gov.uk/southeast