Define the Need
The package of services an organization will need can differ. Does the organization have any in-house IT staff? Does an employee consider IT part of her duties? Is the need for strategic planning, for continuing assistance or both? The questions can go on. Once you have identified them, you can move to attracting applicants.
Write an RFP
We decided to write a Request for Proposals (RFP). This may seem to be a lot of effort, compared to just calling a few local vendors, but it has advantages. Writing the RFP will force you to clearly express what you want. It will also provide a filter on who applies. A lot of companies may not have the resources to write a proposal. These companies may lack other resources as well.
Proposals tell you a lot, in writing. You can evaluate them more thoroughly than responses at an interview. They tell you what kind of effort a company puts into a project. How they behave during the sales effort is an indication of how they will behave during service.
Our RFP asked for information in the following categories: Your Organization, Service Attributes, Proposed Engagement Team, Implementation, Budget and References.
Distribute the RFP
Solicit recommendations from people you know at organizations like yours. Post announcements of the RFP on appropriate lists at professional organizations you have joined. Google IT support or IT services for your local area.
Develop a Scorecard
We put together a scorecard to use in evaluating the proposals and interviews. We established several categories: Experience, Depth of Knowledge, Range of Services, Quality of Services, Responsiveness, Cultural Fit, Pricing and References. Your categories may differ. The important thing is to define them and then give each one a percentage value, with 100 percent being the sum of all the categories’ values.
We also put sub-categories under each category, which could receive a plus, if the applicant seemed strong in that area. For example, under “Responsiveness” we put Helpdesk, After-hours service, Infrastructure issues, Security Breach and Management. The sub-categories are also good reminders of things to ask about in the interviews.
For each company, each category was rated from one to 10.
Evaluate the Proposals
Have each person involved in the selection evaluate the proposals, then get together, one way or another, and decide on the top three. Invite those to interview.
Hold the Interviews
Ask good questions and try to keep them specific. For example, you could ask, “How would you install a wireless network?” Look for specific replies, such as what kinds of access points, which protocols, and what configuration. Prompt for these if they’re not in the first answer.
Since the applicants already have provided lots of information in their proposals, they probably won’t bring PowerPoints. This is good. You might even mention that you’re not interested in seeing presentations when you invite people. You find out much more about people by asking them questions and having them ask questions of you.
Check the References
You may not want to check the references of all the finalists, after you have heard them, but be sure to check the references of the top two. Even though you may be virtually certain after the interviews who you want to hire, a point of comparison can be helpful.
Contact the references by phone instead of email if possible. So many useful nuances turn up in a conversation that an email message will usually not contain.
As you go through this process, you probably have been deciding as you do. It’s good, however, to compare your reactions with your colleagues involved in the process. Everybody has blind spots, even you. What I look for in a support company is how well they relate to your needs, whether they know their stuff, and whether I feel this is likely to result in a good, long-term working relationship. You, however, may have other priorities, for example, price. So, we should discuss it.