Saving Money on an IT Solution

Small and medium sized businesses will, at some point in their development, require an IT solution. The need may be driven by an increase in client volume, requiring some tasks to be automated. It may be financially driven, to make tracking finances easier. Whatever the reason, the owner or manager of the business goes out looking for a solution.

Depending on the personality of the owner or manager, they will do one of a few things:

  1. Go to their local software/hardware store and take the advice of the clerk and buy something off the shelf.
  2. Call their cousin’s friend who once took a computer course and have them build a custom solution.
  3. Ask a business associate for a recommendation, and use them.
  4. Put out an ad describing part of the IT need, and sort through the responses.

Each of these methods has a problem, and in some cases, more than one. I will run through each, and then make a recommendation for how to acquire an IT solution.

In the first solution, the clerk in the store does not necessarily have the expertise to properly advise you. He or she likely does not understand your business, and so does not know what kind of solution you really need. As well, if he is on commission, then their recommendation will be biased.

In the second case, there are a few problems. The first is that you are mixing family and business. Each person has their own policies in this matter, but it should be acknowledged. The second problem is also the matter of credentials and expertise. What kind of experience does this person have? What do their previous clients say about them? Most importantly, though, is the question as to whether you even need a custom solution.

The third case has the fewest problems, but is not immune. You have a personal recommendation from another business, so the expertise has been vouched for. However, each business is unique, and unless you research the recommendation, you can potentially run into the issues from the second case.

The fourth case illustrates a problem with all the scenarios. While it will provide you with the largest selection of people to choose from, unless your business is in IT, you likely do not have the skills necessary to evaluate which of your applicants is best.

The following advice can be applied to any of the above scenarios.

  1. Require references from any provider, much as you would ask for references from a job applicant. This will help you determine what their past clients think of them. If they cannot provide references, look for someone else.
  2. Find out how much time they will spend evaluating your business before getting to work. The more time they will spend doing research, the more appropriate the solution will be.
  3. Find out what their maintenance contracts are like, and how much it will cost you. This is often the location of the “hidden fees” in IT.
  4. Request a time frame for delivery of the solution. Make sure that they provide a guarantee that it will be ready when they say it will be.
  5. Find out (if you can) whether they are commissioned to sell certain products. Ask them to show you the various options, and the pros and cons of each.
  6. When talking to them, ask for explanation of any technical term you don’t understand. A competent consultant will simplify their language to help you understand.
  7. Get a contract, and make sure that all the fees are outlined clearly, as well as deliverables, dates and time for each stage, guarantees, and who owns each part of the solution. Depending on the nature of the solution, the consultant may own portions of it in terms of intellectual property, but it needs to be specified in the contract.

Following the above guidelines will help you evaluate potential consultants. Most of this information can be acquired before the work starts, and should not cost you anything. The time frame is the most difficult to provide, and you may not be able to get this in advance, but you should require it as part of the work.

It is worth spending the extra time and money to get an appropriate IT solution. A poorly done solution will have to be redone, and potentially at a much higher expense. As well, if the solution is right the first time, you will start reaping the benefits immediately, while if you start with a bad solution, you will waste time and money trying to make it work, after which you will learn that you need a completely new solution.

If you had time to do it twice, you had time to do it right the first time.