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Six steps to a successful managed IT services partnership

Partnerships are like houses. They need to be built on solid foundations and regularly maintained if they are to stay in one piece over the long term. Just like building a house, building a successful partnership often consists of a series of steps. With that in mind, here are the six steps to a successful managed IT services partnership.

Successful partnerships start with self-knowledge

One of the keys to a successful partnership is that the two halves need to complement each other and ideally each should support the other’s strengths and counterbalance their weaknesses.

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For example, if you’re either starting from scratch (e.g. a brand new business) or are, for the most part, reasonably happy with your current IT landscape, but want to shift the burden of management off your company and on to the shoulders of a specialist, then it might be feasible for you just to keep your IT systems largely “as is” and just leave your managed IT services partner to run them for you.

If, by contrast, your current IT landscape has failings, then just handing them over to a managed IT services partner is not going to fix outstanding issues. Your partner may, however, be able to work with you to develop solutions to the problems you are facing.

Successful partnerships are based on reasonable expectations

“Reasonable expectations” is a very loose phrase and it’s loose for a reason, the reason being that its context-dependent. This is why good clients think about what is right for their situation and communicate it to their managed-services partner. On this topic, when it comes to expectations, one of the single, biggest sticking points can be change-management and, in particular, the issue of whether changes have to be applied as they come up or if they can be batched.

Successful partnerships have clearly-defined roles and responsibilities

Clearly defined roles and responsibilities are what make it possible for everyone to be on the same page about who is going to do what. They are essential for avoiding situations when jobs end up not being done because everyone assumes that they are someone else’s responsibility. They are also essential for avoiding situations when jobs wind up getting done twice because the second person doesn’t realize that the first person has already done them.

This means that the client and the managed IT services partner need to go a whole lot further than just defining service-level agreements. SLAs are basically just timescales and in most instances there will be a clause in them which says that the clock is stopped if the managed IT services partner is waiting for the client to do something. The client, of course, is only going to do that something if they know that it is expected of them, otherwise, they’re going to wait for the managed IT services partner to do it – and wonder why it isn’t happening…

Successful partnerships have clear communications channels

This may seem blindingly obvious, but it’s also amazingly easy to overlook. For example, your managed IT services partner may have a helpdesk number which is staffed 24/7 but what does “staffed” actually mean? In other words, is it just first-line support or can you actually get help from senior-level staff at any time of day or just within business hours or is there an escalation process to bring them online at any time and if so what is it and how long does it take and is it covered by the agreement suggested so far or is there an extra cost?

On the topic of communication, while emergencies, by definition, are urgent, long-term account-management is also important. Ideally, even smaller accounts should have a dedicated account-management contact. The account-manager may be shared between other businesses, but they should be allowed time and resource to look after each one properly and this should be in their objectives.

Successful partnerships are appropriately resourced

This really picks up from the previous point. Each half of the partnership needs to be clear about what responsibilities are going to fall where so that they can ensure that there is resource in place to deal with them. The most obvious example of this is probably human resource, but there are other possibilities, such as buying necessary licenses for software tools.

Successful partnerships are based on people working together

Never underestimate the human element in partnerships, including business partnerships. Partnerships work best when everyone is genuinely on board and that means everyone at your side (especially your IT team) as well as everyone working for your managed IT services partner.

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