Switching To A New IT Provider? 5 Things To Consider, 6 Steps
You signed up with an IT provider thinking your troubles were over. Someone else was going to look out for your IT infrastructure and make sure things were running smoothly.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, this provider hasn’t quite turned out as you expected. Here are some of the reasons you may be looking to explore other options:
- You may be at the end of your current contract and want to see what other options are available.
- Your business might need new technology to meet growth projections.
- Significant issues with your current MSP may cause you to think about ending the relationship before your contract is up. Some of these issues may include: long response times, a cyber breach, a lack of understanding of your business needs, hidden costs, a lack of IT skill set, reactive rather than proactive service, and poor communication.
The good news is you have options and switching doesn’t have to be difficult!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I understand. Any big change, especially one that involves the ability of your business to be productive, can be daunting.
Whatever the reason for considering a change, don’t lose sight of the reasons you chose to work with an IT provider in the first place (cost, security, and logistical benefits spring immediately to mind).
If you’re thinking about switching providers, you may be wondering what steps to take and in what order. I’ve been there and I can help!
I’ve worked in the IT world for more than 25 years and I’ve been on both sides of the customer/vendor relationship. Before working at Kelser Corporation, an IT managed services provider (MSP), I hired IT providers to help in previous jobs. Over the years, I’ve seen partnerships that are as harmonious as a symphony and others that are the stuff of nightmares.
At Kelser, I’ve helped customers work through the process of switching IT providers. I know the information that’s important to gather in advance, the things to plan for, and how the new provider can help with the process.
Here’s what you need to know.
5 Things To Consider Before Switching Your IT Provider
As with any big change, it can feel overwhelming. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be difficult. Organize the information you need early on and the whole process will go much more smoothly. I’ve broken out the steps to take in different phases of the process:
1. Evaluate Your Current IT Provider
Honestly evaluate the issues with your current provider whether you are working with a break/fix or managed services provider (MSP).
How significant are the issues? Have you made your concerns known to the provider and given them a chance to respond? Do the same issues continue despite your best efforts to resolve them? What are the things that are going well? What are the things that aren’t going well?
These questions will help you decide whether a change is really warranted. The last thing you want is to switch providers only to find that the same issues followed you to the new provider because you didn’t identify them before making the change.
2. Understand Your Current IT Contract Requirements
Most, if not all, contracts will have a Termination Notice requirement.
This means you must provide notice to your current provider before you can end the contract. The specific terms of this requirement can be whatever the current provider wants them to be, but most often it is 60 days notice.
Make sure you understand any legal implications as well.
Know what you are getting into before you get too far along in the process. Nobody wants to be surprised.
3. Know Your IT Environment
It's important to be aware of potential technical pitfalls. If using a break/fix provider, the switch may be more straightforward, but understanding your environment is still important to ensure that your new provider has the skills you need to work with your infrastructure.
When working with an MSP, you may be leasing things from the MSP. Usually services like email don’t usually change from one MSP to another. But, there may be things that you lease from your current MSP. Things like perimeter security and anti-virus protection are often specific to an MSP and, when turned off (to prepare for the transition), might affect email flow and security.
Know what software is running on your network. Your MSP may be running software that is proprietary or unique to their organization. What special things do you have in place with your current MSP that a new provider will need to accommodate?
Does your business run special software or use an aging server that is difficult to support? Do you have unique cybersecurity or contractual requirements that the new provider will need to be able to handle? How do you transition these things smoothly without impacting users, the infrastructure, or other things?
These are important things to discuss early in the switching process.
As a general rule of thumb, the process of switching MSPs is as complicated as your environment.
4. Think About Your Goals
Understand where you are and where you are going, not just in terms of IT, but your business strategy, too.
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Make sure you communicate your expectations clearly to prospective providers.
- What worked well with your current provider?
- Where did things fall apart?
- What are your organization’s business goals?
- In a perfect world, what would you like to be able to accomplish?
- How do you expect technology to support those goals?
5. Commit To Switch
Once you’ve done your due diligence and you have a clear understanding of what worked (and, more importantly, what didn't!) with your current provider, commit to the process of switching. You know what you need and that it's just a matter of finding the right match. No more making excuses for your current provider and no looking back!
Begin evaluating potential providers as soon as possible.
6 Steps To Take When Switching IT Providers
Now that you’ve done your homework and made the decision to switch IT providers, where do you start?
1. Explore Other Providers
A good place to start is the Internet. That will give you a list of other providers, but it won’t provide the nuances about which one might be right for your business.
Figure out the key characteristics and services you are looking for and then ask your contacts. Know the questions you want to ask.
Nothing beats a personal recommendation, especially from someone whose business IT needs are similar to yours.
Be aware that this process could take up to a couple of weeks, or longer depending on the complexity of your IT environment.
2. Make Sure You Are Up To Date On Your Payments
To avoid complications, make sure your bills to your current provider are paid to date. Nothing complicates a switch like trying to negotiate when you have past due bills.
3. Notify Your Current Provider
Nobody likes a breakup, but the more honest you are with your current IT provider and the more advanced notice you provide, the better. Involving them early in the process will enable them to help in the switch.
But you also need to know the questions to ask them. For example, if your company handles credit card payments, you’ll need to ask specific questions about how PCI compliance is maintained.
In my experience, most providers will be professional and help smooth the transition, but they may not volunteer information.
They may know certain requirements, limitations, or quirks about your IT environment that you’ll need to discuss with potential new providers. Their help and guidance can be invaluable in making the switch.
4. Evaluate And Choose A New Provider
(And Avoid Making The Same Mistakes)
By digging deep early in the process, and figuring out what worked and what fell apart with your current IT provider, you should be able to choose an IT Provider by screening for those red flags. Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
Think about the specifics of your business and any compliance or regulatory requirements that you need to meet. Do you have any technical standards or cybersecurity requirements that you have to maintain compliance with? If so, does your prospective provider have familiarity, knowledge, or experience with them? If not, do they work with a vendor or outside contractor who provides that support?
For example, as mentioned above, companies that store credit card information need to stay within Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance.
A new provider may want to implement things in a certain way to enhance system performance, but those implementations might actually put you out of compliance. If the provider doesn’t have enough understanding of your industry, the compliance responsibility ultimately lands with you as the business owner.
At a minimum, you want to partner with an IT provider that is familiar with the regulatory and compliance standards in your industry. The more experience they have with your industry, the more likely they will have solutions designed to meet your specific needs.
Another important consideration is security. Do they have experience with cybersecurity? Will they work with you to develop internal cybersecurity policies and procedures? Can they offer you constructive input and guidance? Having an outside set of eyes to look at your policies and procedures can provide invaluable insight.
You want a provider who builds security into the network design to support your security initiatives. Security needs to be a priority, rather than bolted or patched onto the environment at the end.
What do they recommend for a firewall? What degree of network monitoring do they perform? Do they offer endpoint detection and response (EDR)/antivirus protection to detect viruses, malware, and other unusual activity?
Are they proactive? Will they let you know when your network or Wi-Fi goes down and start working on it immediately or do you have to call them? How are they prepared to minimize your downtime and enhance your productivity?
Another consideration is the location of the provider. Think about the pros and cons of local vs. non-local IT providers and give some serious thought to which offers more benefits to your business.
5. Plan Your Timeline
Be prepared. Fully onboarding a new IT provider can take 30-60 days. Once selected, your new provider can help plan the timeline. Ask how things will be handled in the interim. Make sure your new and old providers agree on when the service will be assumed by the new IT partner.
If you can, choose a time when your business demands are less intense, so that fewer things will be impacted if there is unexpected downtime. Maybe the end of your fiscal year is a better time to switch; for Santa’s Workshop, December might be a time to avoid switching.
6. Prepare Your Employees
Ideally, the transition to a new provider will be seamless, BUT … it’s always a good idea to prepare your employees that you are making the switch, so they know and can prepare by backing up critical information before the switch.
Even the best IT providers may need to shut things down for at least an hour during the transition and there may be some necessary cleanup before or during the transition that could cause some downtime. Many providers try to accomplish these things after hours, but for businesses that operate 24/7, there will be an impact.
Ready To Switch Your IT MSP?
Now you know some of the things to think about before making the switch. It’s important to evaluate your current IT provider, understand your current contract requirements, know your IT environment and think about your goals.
Once you decide to switch, explore your options, make sure your current contract is paid to date, evaluate and choose a new provider, plan your timeline, and prepare your employees.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed, Kelser can help. We provide managed IT services for small and medium-sized businesses at a reasonable cost. We know managed IT isn't the right solution for everyone, but if you are wondering whether it might be right for your organization, take the short quiz below.