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Selecting a Third-Party IT Service Provider

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After selecting an ERP solution and vendor, the next step for the selection team, in the case of small business manufacturers and distributors, is to select a third-party IT service provider (this assumes that the small business does not choose a Software as a Service or Managed Infrastructure model, and the small business does not wish to employ a full-time IT employee). It is a good idea to discuss the ERP software’s hardware and network requirements with the chosen software vendor and then communicate these requirements to potential service providers. It is also a good idea to purchase new hardware (if new hardware is required) directly from the selected IT service provider. In choosing a third-party IT service provider, quality and scope of services and cost should be the main focus of the selection process.

From a services perspective, the organization should look for an IT provider who offers 24-hour technical support in the event of server or network issues should they arise. The organization should also look for a service provider who is capable of delivering a guaranteed, on-site response time should on-site fixes be required. Typically, a guaranteed response time of 4 hours or less is a fairly good service offering. In addition, the organization should look for an IT service provider with local representation and local technical and support staff. Choosing an IT service provider who is in relatively close proximity to the manufacturer’s or distributor’s facilities can improve response time and make on-site visits much more plausible. To gauge quality of service, the provider should have some references of other comparably-sized businesses in the area that use the provider for similar services. The selection team should talk to these existing customers to ensure the IT provider is capable of delivering the services and expertise it promises during the selection process.

In terms of cost, the selection team should be careful not to buy into providers’ claims that system failure and network disasters are always lurking around the corner. Some IT service providers have fairly sophisticated software offerings that can monitor hardware performance and check for potential issues that may arise. While these service providers can deliver value to larger organizations, they are not really a cost-effective solution for small businesses. The reality is that while hardware issues do occur, complete system failure (short of a natural disaster, fire, etc.) is highly unlikely with today’s technology, and as long as data is routinely backed up and stored, hardware issues should be minimal and in no way catastrophic.

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