Finding a systems integrator to help with your IT infrastructure is one of the most important technological moves your organization will take, and it should not be taken lightly.
For IT managers overseeing this partnership, this means that the technology provider should be expected to meet certain benchmarks, fit the organization’s needs, demonstrate a bulletproof security strategy and be able to adapt to fit your needs.
What are you trying to achieve?
According to Mark Geary, an IT veteran and managing director of Rally Point Consulting, this process starts with clearly defining your organization’s strategy, goals and objectives.
Geary suggests asking yourself these questions:
- What do we want to achieve with this new technology?
- What are you looking to accomplish for our environment?
- What are we trying to achieve for our end users?
Those questions should be used to form the basis for a business requirement document that outline what your organization needs from the technology solutions provider.
After those questions are answered, develop a technical requirements document that defines the expected functionality, features and proposed use of technology you want to receive.
Now, you can go to the market armed with the makings of a request for proposals.
“Then you take those two documents, put them together, and now you have a starting place,” Geary says.
Those documents should form the basis of your contract with the systems integrator and facilitates an equal partnership in the creation of that contract.
“You become less of an organization just looking for a vendor and more engaged,” Geary says. “In the contract, you can spell out deliverables and you spell out what you’re going to sign off on.”
Going to the market
Depending on the size of your organization and your history of working with systems integrators, you might already have some in mind. Maybe you’ve worked closely with one firm for years. If that’s the case, let them know about your RFP.
But if you’re looking for your first integration partner or a change of scenery, consider sending those two documents to a handful of integrators. Starting with the fundamentals of what you want to achieve will help integrators propose a plan that includes the technology the plan on installing, a cost estimate and timeline, Geary says.
Once an integrator expresses interest in the project, IT managers need to ask for references and get more information about the firm.
Geary suggests asking these questions:
- Where have you done this before?
- How big are your projects?
- How small are your projects?
- Are you generally on time and under budget?
- How much participation is required of me as the IT manager?
- Is this something I can just outsource to you and you take care of it all?
- What are you good at?
- What aren’t you good at?
If you feel confident that your IT team can participate in the deployment, ask the systems integrator about a hybrid deployment that utilizes the skills and knowledge within your own team.
“If you were to involve your own people as well, you can reduce a lot of that cost,” Geary says.
Before you talk money, talk security
Each year, cybercriminals become more advanced and cybersecurity experts are challenged with keeping pace and staying up-to-date with cyber trends.
According to Forbes, around 60% of cyber attacks target small businesses, and many of those small businesses are service providers like managed service providers and other technology installers. Those companies are obvious targets because they have the keys to all of their customers’ networks and data
So, before you engage with a potential AV integrator on your project, ask them about their security policies and practices. That conversation should be among the first you have with a firm, Geary says.
Questions to ask about security include:
- What are your security policies and practices?
- What are IT and security certifications do you have? (i.e. PCI, HIPAA, SOC 2 Type 2, Department of Defense, to name a few)
- What’s your insurance policy against compromise?
- How often do you update critical security systems?
- What protections do you have in place?
- How often do you conduct staff training on cybersecurity trends?
According to Geary, you should walk away from a systems integrator if they don’t have prompt responses to those questions.
“If they have zero security policy … walk right away,” Geary says. “Walk away if security is not important for them right away.”
Another reason to walk away is if the technology provider doesn’t practice multi-factor authentication within the company.
“If they don’t mention the word ‘two-factor,’ I’m done,” Geary says.
Out-of-the-box deployments can be a convenient way to quickly scale technology solutions across your organization and the security of those kind of offerings is improving.
However, security still important to keep security in mind when introducing those kind of easy-to-use systems.
“Your environment is going to be different than everybody else,” Geary says.
Payments & service-based models
If an integrator asks for an up-front payment, Geary advises IT managers to counter with an incremental payment proposal based on deliverables. “I would never pay up front,” Geary says.
If the integrator doesn’t do service-based contractual payments, then offer to pay when the project is complete.
“It keeps them engaged and keeps their best people in line,” Geary says.
The global economy is moving toward a service-based, subscription model, and now that is increasingly true of technology. For software providers and now even AV integrators, service-based contracts are the norm. This helps keep vendors engaged throughout the life of the contract.
More importantly, it makes the deployment much more affordable at a set dollar amount each month.
“You won’t have a whole bunch of licenses to pay for and you won’t have to pay the maintenance fees,” Geary says.
As-a-service contracts also allow the end user to pay for only what they use each month and provide greater flexibility to the end user.
“Anytime you can get as-a-service, it’s great because you can just turn it off,” Geary says. “More CIOs are looking to X-as-a-service because they can just use it like electricity — flip it on and flip it off.”
Finding an actual ‘partner’
If the AV integrator is truly interested in becoming a partner to your organization, they will eventually learn your environment and understand it as well as – if not better than – your own IT department.
This means the systems integrator should have quick responses to questions you have about your environment and adding deploying new technologies.
Many companies pay lip service to the word “partner,” but a true integration partner should be able to meet your demands and requirements as your organization grows and scales throughout the years.
This goes back to developing a business and technology requirements document, Geary says.
If the business relationship is a true partnership, your organization and the systems integration firm should grow alongside one another.
“When you find someone good, keep them close and let them understand your environment,” Geary says. “They’ll do a lot more things for you than just that what you hired them to do.”