When it comes to reviewing IT services many desire to be in a position to be able to compare 'Apples with Apples'. The reasoning is always quite simple. Given the inherent complexity surrounding IT coupled with a lack of expert knowledge in the area it makes sense to simplify the selection process. By viewing all vendors through a pre-defined lens, the pro's and cons of each vendor can be mapped out side by side.
But does this method really make the process any simpler?
Everyone is familiar with the term 'no brainer'. By definition, it is a decision or choice that is very easy to make and requires very little thought. Decisions are easy when there is a clear and obvious advantage to one of the available options. In order for there to be a clear and obvious advantage, you need to be aware of differences rather than the similarities.
To take the metaphor literally for a moment; suppose you were tasked with selecting the best fruit to make an apple pie. In one scenario, you are presented with 3 varieties of apples. In the other, you are presented with apples, pears and plums. The first scenario requires expert knowledge of apple varieties, the second, could be answered by a child.
Choosing Between Apples
Commonly we see businesses struggle with final selection of an IT provider as they have narrowed their selection criteria to a handful of common attributes. To the untrained eye, each companies capabilities appear to be almost identical. Undoubtedly this perception couldn't be further from the truth.
The truth is that each company likely produces vastly different results and service experiences. Results and experiences that could potentially make or break the company making the selection. There are various ways to uncover these differences (see this article) however for the average individual, the only difference they are likely to understand is the price.
The Importance of Price
When dealing with service companies, price is crucially important. The old adage of 'you get what you pay for' has a lot of merit. Ultimately, an MSP offering services cheap is likely compromised by either the quality of their staff, levels of resourcing, training & development, or a combination of all three.
Inversely, spending more does not guarantee great results. Whilst it is a good indicator of a business that values their time and knows what it will take to deliver great results, price alone cannot guarantee a great choice.
So despite the importance of price as a consideration, it cannot be the primary point of difference as it commonly is when comparing 'Apples with Apples'.
Taking a Different Perspective
When is comes to selecting a new MSP, the devil is not in the detail. Focussing too much on the detail narrows perspective and hides the major differences that are likely critical to the outcomes you are trying to achieve.
As an extreme example, suppose you were looking for a new car with an automatic gearbox, lane assist, cruise control, automatic wipers and heated seats. Then suppose you decided to only evaluate vehicles based on this pre-defined list of requirements.
Undoubtedly you would end up with a list of seemingly identical vehicles selling for vastly different prices. This list could easily include hatchback's, SUV's, Ute's and luxury sedans. With nothing else to differentiate your options other than price, it would be blind luck to choose the right vehicle for your needs.
Whilst this example might seem silly as no one is buying a car solely off the spec sheets, it is an apt description of the importance of standing back and looking at the bigger picture. IT companies should be evaluated and qualified based on their cultural fit with your organisation, the alignment of their services to your needs, and their ability to deliver on their promises.
If the goal is to make a confident decision in selecting a provider, your focus should be on differentiation.
Choosing Between Apples, Pears and Plums
Focus on capabilities and quality of service rather than merely the existence of common services. By doing so you are far more likely to be able to clearly differentiate between providers. This is done by broadening your scope and asking questions without yes/no answers. Some examples include:
- Explain how it is that you ensure the security of your clients' networks
- What challenges have you seen clients have when adopting Office 365?
- How would you recommend we go about creating an IT roadmap?
These questions are so much better than 'Do you offer cybersecurity?', 'Are you familiar with Office 365?' & 'Do you offer strategy and advice?' as they give far deeper insight into their services & capabilities.
Providers that give clear, competent answers are far more likely to deliver superior results. Additionally you will be able to see who is a better fit for your organisation based on their approach.
It shouldn't take technical expertise to evaluate these important traits in a provider. Likewise, you should not feel the need to 'simplify' the process by reducing your scope to simple yes/no questions. Instinct commonly plays a huge role in evaluating potential hires in an interview. Similarly, your instincts should be able to differentiate the apples, pears and plums.