Many companies have their IT systems based in the building somewhere with a dedicated team of in-house people to look after them. In many cases these systems have been gradually added to or amended over the years in line with new requirements or to address problems.
These systems may be the source of frustration for various users in the business for one or more of the following reasons:
- They are not documented hence the business relies on a few key people who know how to use them
- Data is not entered consistently and records have varying content, gaps and inaccuracies
- Different systems seem to do the same thing
- They don’t fully support the business as perhaps some key bits of information cannot be captured and reported
- They keep breaking down.
At some point it is likely that in response to the growing level of irritation or an event in the business (e.g. new management, key staff loss or acquisition) a decision will be taken to bring in a company to recommend a suite of updated or new systems and this may also include moving the responsibility for managing your IT services to a partner, also referred to as ‘outsourcing’.
For most companies this will be a daunting step to take and this article provides a very briefoverview of how we suggest you approach this to get the best outcome possible. However, this is only an overview and we strongly suggest you contact us to help you through these steps by using the Contact Us form on the website (www.korolit.com) or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 0333 444 8944.
Know your start point
The very first thing to do is to build an understanding of what you currently have in place, how it works and who does what. This will provide the common reference point for your invited potential partners to work with in creating their proposed solutions. It also provides a reference point for you to check that all your requirements have been met. Essentially you need to understand:
- Existing systems, applications, platforms and the work flows through them
- Key issues, risks and new requirements going forward
- Costs of running (people and technology including licensing).
You can build this definition in-house to save costs but we strongly recommend that you bring in an independent consultant like Korolit to help to ensure the end result is both thorough and appropriate to support the development of an Invitation To Tender (ITT) document. This ITT document will be used to invite potential solution and services partners to provide proposals and estimates of cost for changing and running your IT systems.
Where possible try to break your IT systems definition into into:
- End points – the devices that connect to your IT services (e.g. PC’s, tablets, printers etc.)
- Network – The networks that connect you to the systems within an office and between the office and where you process the data
- Data processing – The servers, storage etc. systems that you use to process and store data.
List out all of the key issues and risks and clarify the impact of each on the business. This will include day to day processing and the ability of the business to operate if you lose key people, systems or facilities. An independent consultant will also look at:
- Non-IT staff costs for using and supporting the system
- Gaps in current service (e.g. mandatory requirements)
- Key risks (e.g. poor security or lack of viable back-ups).
This will provide a more complete and realistic picture of the service costs against the tendered solutions.
Preparing for tender
On the home page of our website we quote Abraham Lincoln when he said ‘Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe’. The more time and effort you put into the Invitation To Tender (ITT) the better and more accurate will be the responses you get back. Tender documents vary in content, size and approach but essentially you need to clearly and comprehensively define the following:
- Overview of the business and future plans
- Current systems and responsibilities
- Key issues and risks
- Why this is being put out to tender
- Scope for this tender
- Required response and timescale
- Next steps and decision process.
You also need to have thought through a structured way to summarise and compare the responses received to identify the best partner to work with. One way to do this is to establish a set of key criteria for the assessment such as:
- Fit to requirements
- Solution and plans
- Service performance and service levels
- Approach and time to deliver solution
- Change impact on business
- TUPE considerations
- Solution and operational costs
- Supplier capability to deliver
- Supplier experience in delivering this type of solution before
- Supplier staffing levels
- Supplier business risk.
If you are considering outsourcing services to a Cloud type service we would also suggest the following questions:
- Where will date be stored (if the providers data centre is based in another country different laws may apply in respect of access to that information and perhaps your own access to it under certain situations!)
- Change of ownership (your provider may go out of business or be acquired by another business, you need to be clear on what would happen and what your options are)
- Connectivity (many providers quote astonishingly good up time stats for servers but few state the network up time which will be more critical. You need to ensure you have redundant connections and no contention).
And many more…
Against each of these key criteria you need to set a range of scores that can be applied based on your assessment of the proposed solution and the responder. You can weight the scoring to reflect the how relatively important a particular key criteria is and you can also red line some where a low score effectively rules that responder out (e.g. high business risk or no previous experience).
Bear in mind that if you provide limited information in your ITT, don’t enforce a structured response, fail to allow enough time to respond and provide no opportunities to ask questions the quality of the responses will be affected. Larger and more complex systems will also require more time than smaller simpler systems. By way of a guideline:
- Issue ITT and allow 4 weeks for any initial questions
- Allow another 4 weeks for the solutions to be returned
- Shortlist preferred responders
- Allow another 4 weeks to present, assess and select the solution.
Where you receive questions you need to ensure that your answers are issued out to all responders as further information. Do not accept requests after the cut-off date. Have each shortlisted responder present their proposed solution to you in person and answer any questions. This will help you to decide if they understand the solution and service and if you believe you can work effectively with them.
Nobody likes drawing up contracts or reading the things! However, they force you to think through the type of solution and service you want. They also ensure you define all the things that could go wrong and agree how you would manage them working with your selected partner.
Many organisations spend considerable time and effort and legal costs in defining and agreeing these and large outsourcing contracts are defined in truly epic piles of contractual paperwork. One of the hardest challenges is to create a comprehensive contract that remains easily readable and legally provides sufficient support. Don’t let your legal team transform the contract into an incomprehensible pile of paper but do take their advice!
The following list provides an example of the areas that you need to include:
- The services to be delivered
- How the services will be taken on including any work required
- Key responsibilities
- Where data will be located and processed along with any key considerations (e.g. country law)
- Services and service levels
- How will the services be measured and reported
- What happens if the service falls below the agreed service level
- How would the services be handed over to a new provider or back to you either at the end of the contract or following a dispute
- What would happen if the provider is acquired or goes out of business.
One thing to bear in mind here is that you need to ‘test’ the contract so put aside time to work through the contact and test that it addresses all situations you might encounter and that the outcome is as you would want. Also check for any terms that effectively override other sections to create an outcome that you don’t want!
If the service has been well thought through and with both parties clear on the service and expectations it’s likely that the contract will sit in a filing cabinet to only see the light of day when you want to add or change services etc. If you are constantly referring back to it you need to conduct a contract review and check that both parties are clear on the service and expectations.
In a perfect world you would sign a contract after an intensive period of evaluation and selection and then stick with your chosen partner. However, unlike supermarkets, IT service providers do not compare their services with other providers and provide assurance that you are still getting a great deal. You need to ensure that your provider does not take you for granted. Rather than allow a contract to automatically roll into a renewal serve an intention to end services notice. Then ask your existing provider to present their solution and services to you, and invite in other potential providers to provide alternative and competitive options.
An incumbent partner will always have an advantage in tendering for existing services because they more fully understand your business and service costs. Asking them to re-tender will ensure that they continue to remain focused on your requirements, are keen to improve and also remain cost effective. When you evaluate the responses back you do need to take into account the costs and impact of a change but not to discount a better solution and service.
The more effort you put in up-front the better the end result. Spend time reviewing what you currently have in place and document along with all the issues and risks. Don’t assume that you have the necessary skills and experience in-house to do this and consider asking a independent consultant to help.
Create an ITT that is comprehensive and provides your responders with sufficient information, support and time to build a comprehensive response. Be clear on what key areas you want to compare to select and measure consistently. Once you have selected ensure the contract is comprehensive and clear to all. Don’t just accept, regularly review and periodically expect your partner to prove that they are best for your business.
Lastly, this is a very brief overview of a highly complex process and you may also need to build and present a business case as part of this work. Contact us to help you through these steps by using the Contact Us form on the website (www.korolit.com) or directly at enquiries.korolit.com or phone at 0333 444 8944.