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Decision Support Questions To Ask Before Hiring a Network Support Vendor
Jeff Pasternack

Many organizations have developed technology plans and base purchases on the plan. Others purchase technology in a piecemeal fashion and cobble together networks and systems based on short-term needs, irrespective of any future needs. Although buying high performance, low cost hardware suitable for 95% of typical office tasks is easy, these purchases generally shouldn’t be made in a vacuum. While matching purchases to a technology plan is important, finding a reliable hardware and network support firm is even more so because of the breadth of technologies used to support many business processes.

Many organizations have internal IT staff that, in addition to making technology purchases and implementing the master technology plan, also provide desktop and application support. But what if an association needs to install a technology, such as a virtual private network (VPN), which may not be the IT team’s strong suit? Or, what if an association does not need a full time person, but needs someone available on call to help when problems arise or system upgrades are needed?

The answer, of course, is to call in a hardware and network support firm. Regardless whether technology decisions are made by the IT staff or by a tech-savvy executive, defining the scope of work to be performed and evaluating potential vendors are critical tasks.

“Our clients that have an internal IT staff tend to have us perform tightly specified tasks, such as setting up an employee to work from home or building a wireless area network at an annual conference,” said Elie Ashery, CEO of Griffin Networks, a network support firm based out of Rockville, Maryland. “Clients that don’t have their own staff rely on us much more and tend to be more vague about what they want us to do because they don’t know what they don’t know. In particular, creating long term technology plans, disaster recovery plans and business continuity plans are often the first part of our engagement,” Ashery concluded.

Executives generally have need information in two areas: What do we need a vendor to do and how do we select a vendor? Griffin Networks and other technology consultants such as Howard Adelson help prospective customers by walking them through a Q & A session designed to help executives make the best decision.

Questions Executives Should Ask Themselves

What deliverables or services do we expect and how do they fit in with our technology plan? Sample answers might be integrating anti-virus software with the mail server; application and server patch and upgrade support and 24x7x365 service calls.

What is just “nice to have” as opposed to mission critical? Break the list of deliverables and services in two and then prioritize the items within each list.

How precisely identified is the scope of deliverable or service and what are the measures of success or fulfillment? Establishing S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable and time-bound) goals is very important.

What response time can we live with, e.g. two hours from the time the call is placed? Do we need coverage from a vendor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or would coverage during normal business hours suffice?

What is most important to us? Is it price or quality service, and what are we willing to sacrifice service-wise if we choose price?

Questions Executives Should Ask Vendors

How much experience does the vendor have with platforms/applications similar to the one in use?

Is there an extra charge for after-hours support?

If an association is augmenting its own staff by having the vendor install a new piece of technology, what will the internal IT team have to do to support it?

What is the "life cycle cost of ownership?" Be sure to define and identify maintenance costs.

What customers have you performed similar services for within the past twelve months?

While these questions don’t comprise the total list of all that should be asked, they do represent a great starting point.

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Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at