The CEO Refresher Websites for Professionals
Take control of your online presence
with your own professional website!
  Gradient
       
   

Advice to Clients: “Build Trust Outside
of Your Company”

by Charles L. Nault

 
       
   

In my upcoming book “Risk-Free Technology,” one of my primary objectives is to elevate the role of the network integrator to that of a “trusted partner” in the mind of business owners/senior managers. I sincerely believe that this relationship needs to be on par with the three traditionally recognized pillars of professional relationships that every sharp business recognizes as critical to its survival, e.g., its banker, its lawyer, its accountant.

Business owners need to recognize that a solid, professional relationship with a trusted partner in Information Technology can have a more dramatic, positive impact on their daily operations, and therefore their business success, more so in fact than any of the other three more traditional pillars. The following excerpt from my book provides some insights into just what that kind of relationship looks like:

No one can know everything. The level of knowledge and experience required to integrate technology effectively is extensive regardless of the size of your company. It is the limit of your resources specifically, that requires you to work with a company or companies you can trust to provide the information and advice you need, and to provide competent people to augment your existing staff.

I am advocating a long term partnership with a company that provides a number of the solutions you need, and is competent and trustworthy enough to be the focal point for all of your projects, even if they have to partner with other firms to provide the entire solution.

One of the major inhibitors to relationships between your business and a value added partner is a lack of trust. You believe that giving up control or management of any part of your Information Technology solution is risky and that you can do it more economically in-house.  There are approximately 239,000 solution providers in the US alone. There are a lot of partners out there that you can trust. You have to take a more active role in investigating who you partner with to find just the right fit.

IT systems integrators have a lot of knowledge that you don’t have. IT is a knowledge-based business and the technology changes so quickly that unless you are in the technology business specifically, you cannot possibly stay abreast of what is best for your company. However, an integrator is only going to know what new technologies are right for your business if they know your business, and your network, inside and out. This comes with time and trust.

The time it takes can be shortened if, once you chose a trusted partner, you hire them to do a complete assessment of what you have, the documentation you have, and the processes in place for implementations, change management, security, and support.

The trust issue can also be alleviated in several ways. I have found over the years, two opposite types of customers who have employed my company and other network integrators. The first are those who trust no-one but themselves, insist on hiring the lowest bidder, treat their integrator as an adversary who is trying to take advantage of them, and then try to take advantage of the integrator as often as possible. The second are those who consider the integrator a trusted partner, establish a long term relationship, and treat them as a true partner. In twenty years I have never once seen the first type of client thrive. These types of companies have constant problems, and incredible turnover.  The buck has to stop squarely on the desk of the leaders – who must be willing to take risk and to know exactly what is going on. Trust yourself and you will be able to trust others more.

A good trusted partner in information technology is likely to be a solid, reputable integration firm with technical sales people. A technical salesperson has the ability to discuss the most technical solutions in laymen’s terms from a strategic perspective. If he is with the right company he also has a solid team behind him who can go deeper into the technical details of the solutions that will drive your business forward.  It is important to know the difference between the arms length relationship, and that of a trusted partner. Besides all of the business benefits, the relationship will be fun and pleasant. It is, to use a highly overworked phrase: a Win-Win relationship. I believe that every business requires just such a relationship.

There are many ways to find good integrators. Several vendors offer a partner locator tool on their web site. This just lists the partners, and maybe gives you their certification level. It’s certainly a step up from using the phone book or the web to find solution providers on your own.   I belong to a nationwide group of like-minded systems integrators in the US, who share advice and best-practices called 1NService.  Their web site is www.1NService.org .

No matter how you find your potential trusted partner, there are some very important considerations for determining if they are right for you. Here is a list of some of the key attributes to look for:

  1. Integrator Size.  The size of your company and the extent to which you use technology will determine the size of the integrator that you’ll want to do business with. If you are a very small company and you engage a firm that is too large, you’ll be insignificant to their business. If you have hundreds of users, a really small integrator is not going to be able to keep up. Meet the owner(s) and staff face to face. Also realize that you may catch a company in the transition phase from small to medium size. If that is the case and you know and trust the owners, you can go into the relationship with your eyes wide open, and make it work.

  2. Solid References. The age old game is to provide only the top clients as references. Take the time to dig a little and be suspicious if everything was always fine. If they really are a trusted partner to the references they provide with a solid history, you should be able to have a very frank conversation with the client regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the integrator. The real test of their metal is how they act when things don’t go well. Be sure to get both client and manufacturer references, and give them ample weight.

  3. Certifications. Knowledge is demonstrated primarily by manufacturer certifications in the IT industry. The most famous of these are Cisco and Microsoft certifications. Most manufacturers certify the individual technicians, and some, like Cisco and Microsoft, also certify the integration company. Check the certifications, and check the number of implementations they have done involving the solution(s) you need.

  4. Partnerships. If you are fortunate enough to find a trusted partner who is completely open and honest about what they cannot do, the very next question you want answered is how do they fill the holes? The best way is to have a strong on-going partnership with a company or companies that fill those holes seamlessly. It takes a wise businessman to know what his company doesn’t know, and to be confidence enough in his own company’s abilities to forge strong relationships with other such companies, who can do what they cannot.

  5. Approach. By this I mean the approach of the salesperson who will handle your account. It is typical for the sales person to be very product focused, or solution focused. I would strongly suggest you interview several sales people until you find one or two who spend most of their time asking about your business. You may be tempted, because you are in a high position, to bypass the salesperson and go right to the top of the integration firm. Resist the temptation. Start with the salesperson who will be your regular contact person.

  6. Project Management. Because of the complexities of technology, it is critical to manage the many resources that will have to come together to make the implementation go well. Your trusted partner must have capable project managers. You need to ask some very direct questions about how they will handle your project. Do they manage the entire project, including any other outside vendors that may be involved? What tools do they use to manage the project? For critical projects insist that the project manager be certified.

  7. Knowledge Transfer. A good trusted partner in the technology world is going to make the transfer of knowledge to your staff a vital part of the implementation and on-going support of your network. As soon as you have made the decision to invest in new technology that your staff has not implemented, it will be imperative that they gain the knowledge required to incorporate the on-going support of that technology into their daily routine. This is referred to as the Lifecycle of the technology. The bottom line is that your trusted partner should always be bringing you new technologies to advance your business, and enabling your staff to learn and assume support of those technologies as soon as is practical.

  8. On-going Support. You have to know your network is performing to peak at all times. You also need to know that there are more technical eyes than yours watching the network and gathering all the detailed performance information that you don’t need to know or understand. A trusted partner is going to have a fully staffed network operations center that monitors your network whenever you need it. You need to know how they handle problems.

I hope you can see how important it is that your trusted partner clearly understands your business. Every aspect of what they provide to your company must be clearly and effectively tied to your business objectives. Examine their ability to tailor the ongoing support they provide to your specific needs. This is a key differentiator between a trusted partner and “just another provider.”  With the right attitude, the right staff, and the right trusted partner, Information Technology will truly become a strategic advantage for your company.


       
   
 
       
   

The Author

Charles Nault

Risk-Free Technology

Charles L. Nault is author of the new book “Risk-Free Technology: A Simple Non-Technical Business Owner’s Guide to Stemming Huge Productivity Losses from Poor Performing Computer Systems” (Global Professional Publishing) and Chairman of the Board at Atrion Networking Corporation. A recognized expert in “network utility thinking,” his firm provides training and consulting to companies in addition to working closely with Cisco Systems on network design, implementations and support.

He can be reached at 401-736-6400 ext. 111 or cnault@atrion.net or by visiting http://riskfreetechnology.com/

 
       
   
 
       
   
Many more articles in The CIO Refresher in The CEO Refresher Archives
 
       
   
 
       
   
The CEO Refresher
 
       
   

Copyright 2009 by Charles L. Nault . All rights reserved.

Current Issue - Archives - CEO Links - News - Conferences - Recommended Reading

Refresher Publications