Most studies about information technology (IT) performance in the small- and mid-sized enterprise (SME) address issues like broadband availability, e-commerce, e-invoicing and the like—no doubt very important issues. Solid, high-performing IT is a critical success factor for SMEs.

Unfortunately too many SME leaders ignore or avoid it.

For too many, the reality is that SME executives must first learn to crawl before they can run in the discipline of IT. Perhaps more important, IT service providers may have good intentions of providing high-quality services to SMEs, but most must dramatically improve.

The result is that not only do too many SMEs struggle to keep their IT systems performing at a high level, they still need to get basic infrastructure and PC systems stable—it's unbelievable that this is happening in the 21st century!

However, while large companies can afford to have many people working just to keep the server running, the SME company cannot afford that. So they need a high-performing service partner to run run high-performing IT systems.

How IT Service Companies
Fail SMEs

In a nutshell, here is my experience with many IT service companies:

  • Communication to client: IT service providers have almost zero communication with SME leaders about true problems in the SME's IT system. At worst, this leaves the impression that they do not have a clue. At best, it doesn’t raise confidence about their knowledge or willingness to help.
  • Lack of process knowledge: IT service companies possess little process knowledge, such as how to run a professional root-cause analysis and communicate it to the client, or how to establish recurring IT tasks and make them part of a process.
  • Attitude: Several IT service companies I have come to know implement solutions or install software without asking the SME client—quite often with cost consequences.
  • Lack of knowledge and skills: When I ask an IT service provider to tell me what is the real problem, in most cases they avoid the answer completely by explaining a lot of irrelevant stuff. Why don’t they just say “I don’t know!”
       In too many cases, the IT service provider consults the same Internet pages that I consult when looking for answers! Why pay them!
       Worse, several clients have told me that they've had the questionable honor of watching as the IT service provider searches for solutions, sometimes for hours! Trial and error is not what you want to pay for.

Unfortunately, IT service companies tend to do what they want, and do not engage the client in in-depth discussions about their true needs and improvement possibilities. Some of them convey to the client a pretty arrogant attitude.

As well, many SME owners do not want to get truly involved in IT matters. The owner usually delegates the task to a person in the company who must do the IT job part time and has few qualifications to support an IT system.

Due to SME’s lack of interest in or avoidance of IT issues, IT service providers are not challenged enough to deliver first-class services.

So what do you do?  

Here what SMEs leaders should do to get high performing IT services:

  1. Show keen and continued interest in IT issues.
  2. Delegate the IT responsibility to a person in the company who can lead and work with external service providers.
  3. Set up, right in the beginning, clear written processes for both sides.
  4. Require written up-time guarantees and establish together IT service provider goals and measurement systems.
  5. Agree on consistent and complete communication process.
  6. Together with IT service provider, take stock of the company's current system and architecture.
  7. Look for low-hanging fruit: Discuss with your IT provider immediate improvements to make, along with their costs and expected results. Get the improvement plan in writing.
  8. Establish a clear, long-term budget to ensure that, once everything is stabilized, you will be ready to tackle next steps.
  9. Practice root-cause analysis and make it part of the communication process with the service provider.
  10. Establish a continuous-improvement process, just as you would in any other part of the business. Beware, however, of continuous changes; they can lead to unexpected down time.

IT service companies can do much better when serving SMEs. And SME leaders must demand much better performance from their service partners.

As an SME leader, keep in mind that the IT service provider is your outsourcing partner. You must be in a position to lead them as you would lead any other outsourcing partner.