Making a smooth transition to a new IT services provider

IT services are core to many firms and changing to a new provider is often a significant task. Careful planning, however, can help avoid some common pitfalls

There are numerous reasons why an organisation might want or need to change IT service provider, but once the decision to move has been made, it’s down to tech teams to make the magic happen. Except it’s not magic – it’s hard work. It takes time and careful planning, and there are many potential pitfalls along the way, but having a strong tech team will ensure a smooth transition. 

Plan to review, review to plan

Switching to a new IT services provider starts well before the switch itself is made. It’s important to build regular reviews into IT services provision, and key that any contracts can accommodate those review periods; it’s not helpful to be locked into a long contract with a provider when you know you could be getting a better deal elsewhere.

Kenji Matthews, IT manager at architectural practice Stephen George + Partners took the firm through a transition to a new IT provider and tells IT Pro: “We build in review periods in our contract, on a three-year basis. We fix the price and agree on the service level, and it is at the end of that three-year period that we look into whether the IT provider has delivered on the set agreements.” 

Ash Patel, IT director at private equity firm ECI Partners uses a tighter time-frame. He says the company works really closely with its provider, explaining: “We truly work together to build a strategic roadmap on a short and long term basis, which is revisited every few months to make sure we’re on track.”

Patel offers some advice about contracts too, telling IT Pro: “Before signing any new agreement, businesses should make sure that the exit strategy and associated costs have been outlined to avoid unforeseen spending.”

Get buy-in from the top, and plan, plan, plan

When it’s time to change, it’s time to plan and support is needed from across the business. Patel tells IT Pro that a number of board level roles are crucial, saying: “The CEO and CTO/CIO/IT Director will play a pivotal role in ensuring that the business is bought into the changes, but also that it’s equipped for them.”

While board level buy-in is crucial, and the board is ultimately where the decisions will be taken, the role of IT managers and the whole tech team is no less important. Indeed both the board and tech team are vital for ensuring wider support across a firm, and that can’t be given enough importance. Matthews tells IT Pro: “Making sure employees and users feel included in the process and not like the change had been pushed on them can make a huge difference.”

Planning is crucial, and it takes a long time to get all the elements in place to satisfaction. Patel emphasises how important it is to take your time and how to structure that time. “Planning as early as possible is key to the success of any transformation project. Naturally, there should be some contingency time included in case of any unforeseen issues. The timeline should include pre-change, during and post-change activities with key milestones marked throughout each stage,” he says.

Matthews tells IT Pro there was a two to three year procurement process around his firm’s move, including time for evaluating different providers. “It was important for us to work on developing that relationship, as it can take a while to truly understand and define how we want to work, and determine how the partnership will pan out,” he explains.

Managing the learning curve

Once the switch has been made there will be learning points across the whole organisation. These won’t only be about working through new ways of doing things, requiring training and support for perhaps a considerable period. There might be bigger issues such as outages, or a realisation that additional technical tweaks are required that weren’t foreseen. It’s almost inevitable that there will be times when people can’t get their work done as a result.

It’s important to accept that there will be issues after the switch has been made and that it won’t be possible to anticipate them all. Instead, ensure the new contract allows for plenty of support. Matthews says there’s always an IT element that will go wrong and advises you need a service level agreement (SLA) that provides “the response you want from your provider in the timeframe you need”. In his case that meant a SLA that guarantees a response to any raised issue within 30 minutes. 

Overall, switching to a new IT services provider takes time, planning and a degree of flexibility. The organisation that has a grip on its contracts, understands process and is able to handle the unexpected during and after transition is likely to have an easier time of making the change than the organisation that lacks these abilities.

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