At one time, a single resource was all your business needed from a technology perspective. You’ve come to rely and trust that single resource, but both of you know that you’re growing apart. You’ve discussed transitioning your technology to a larger provider that can support your users and network better. But just because your single-source IT company has been helpful and recognizes that you’ll be moving on doesn’t mean that they won’t make the process difficult once you actually begin pulling the plug. Here are a few tips for moving away from single-source IT companies and how to avoid some really big headaches.
- Be clear from the start.
You both know that your company has grown past the capacity of a one-man operation. It’s simple math. You have more users than one person can handle from a support, growth and risk mitigation perspective. But you need to be clear about your intentions from the start. If you’re sourcing other options and doing your diligence, a true partner that has your business’ best interest in mind will help you make a transition – but it is paramount that you communicate your intent so that they can prepare personally and professionally for the loss.
- Consider their access.
Your IT company has access to everything. Your e-mail hosting, your network, your applications, your storage and your individual user credentials. If you were very small when you started working together, you may not have a formal contract in place to protect yourself. The truth is that your administrator can look into any of your e-mails and discover exactly what is being said and done. Make sure that you understand this and truly trust your provider so that when the time for transition comes you don’t have to worry about access, missing data or conversation eavesdropping via e-mail servers.
- Be wary of dwindling cooperation.
Part of the reason that we like for business owners to have complete access to their network and any administrative privileges that have been created is that oftentimes your provider will be cooperative until they realize that you’re actually moving away from them to their competition. Make sure that you have as much access as possible and a lot of clarity into how things are set up so that if it starts to become an issue it doesn’t handicap the transition.
- Know your rights.
If and when cooperation starts to become an issue, it’s important that you know your rights. Most (if not all) of the information that could potentially be withheld from you is your company’s information. You have a legal right to access it and to have your current provider do everything they can do to transition you smoothly without interrupting business operations. This should all be completed within a reasonable timeframe. If the situation starts to become particularly cumbersome or your provider is drawing out the process, don’t be afraid to get an attorney involved. You’ll want to make sure to carefully review any contract documents that assign ownership to avoid legal issues when it comes time to switch companies. According to Attorney David Ciccarello of the Wilbur Smith Law Firm, “Generally, the company’s information belongs to the company. What you have to be cognizant of is how your rights may change via written contract. You should be careful not to grant any ownership rights when contracting with your IT Company, and make sure you or your attorney reviews any existing contracts prior to making the switch.” It’s always advisable to run contracts past your legal department or engage a third party attorney if you feel the situation warrants it.
Unfortunately, we’ve dealt with this situation more than once. When you rely on a single-resource for your IT services, things are personal for them. They are invested in the technology of your business and all the work that they’ve done to help your company get to where it is from a technology perspective. That said, make sure that your personal relationship with a technology resource isn’t interfering with your company technology. Know when it’s time to move on and have a plan in place for doing so. The more you try to protect their feelings and withhold information, the more potential exists for issues down the road. Be clear in your intentions and foster collaboration from the start, become intimate with your technology, understand when communication is breaking down and if it comes down to it, know your rights.