How do we select an IT partner for a SMB

Does anyone have any advice on how to select an IT partner for general network/security support for a business with approximately 100 employees? Past experience has shown that it's kind of like finding an auto mechanic. Everybody sounds good upfront but aren't as sharp as you thought.

This might be the wrong forum for this type of question, but I needed to start somewhere.

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NetExpert Network Solutions Pte LtdTechnical SpecialistCommented:
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
CHECK REFERENCES.  Ask other businesses who they've used.  Look for local IT groups.  100 seats is somewhat on the larger size for most small consultants, but if you have in-house IT staff, then the role you might want them to play may be sufficient.  You also need to find consultants who know your technology.  If you use Juniper network equipment hiring a cisco person may not be the best choice.  Also, must the consultant be local?  If they can do the work remotely (or you don't  mind covering occasional long distance travel expenses), you might be able to hire someone online.  In which case, you have several talent pools you can look at.  Top contributors at this site and looking at Microsoft MVPs or other industry recognized individuals can be good candidates.  BUT, understand, these folks may be expensive compared to less recognized, experienced people in your local area.
James NewportCommented:
As an MSP, I usually say to people we won't tie them into a contract. This is reassuring in someways as its not always just about the technical side of things, you need to be able to work with the client and without some lengthy contract it gives both sides the opportunity to get out if its not the 'right fit'
David Johnson, CD, MVPOwnerCommented:
You hit the nail on the head.. Everyone can say they are experts and be good at selling themselves but actually be rather mediocre when push comes to shove.  

So as mentioned above, ask for and check the satisfied customers.  The top experts here on EE already have vetted themselves.  We tend to be the hired guns when the local help fails. When the local pc shops in the area can't solve a problem they call me as a sub contractor. Or they have their own business.. Word of mouth, is usually a good indication..

One thing that is almost universal is that satisfied customers rarely say much.. a dissatisfied customer tells all of their friends and this travels to the friends of friends.  The bad travels far and wide.

As with everything one tends to specialize and cannot be a master of everything. Whomever you engage must be honest with you and tell you what they don't know and be willing to sub out that area to someone else. It actually works out cheaper that way.  I was once a lantastic specialist and I could do more in 1/2 hour than a muddler could do in a day. Enough of tooting my own horn.

But all of the suggestions given above as they are all good. It is up to you to find the proper fit for your needs.

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Danny ChildIT ManagerCommented:
Also ask to meet the engineers that will be your primary contacts.  Get them to spend a day at your site, walk round with you, and give feedback on how they'd approach problems.  Check how long they've been with the company (which may be an indicator on how long they'll stay in the future).  Check that they've got experience in your most niche technologies.  We recently recruited a support company for the Bank where I work, and one of the contenders had no experience with Bloomberg - complete deal-breaker.  

Check on the primary engineer's support commitments to other sites - if they're booked out to other clients on fixed days, you may have problems.  You may want to repeat this process with other engineers for when the primary is not available.  

We eventually agreed on a defined number of days cover per year, to cover holidays and training, and also to assist with project work where they would come along as an extra pair of hands.  

Check on the lead times that you'd need to provide them with to give planned cover (holidays), as well as unplanned cover (sickness) - ie how fast they could get an engineer to site after someone calls in sick.

You may also need to ensure that all your onsite tech documentation is up-to-date if they'll need to refer to this frequently.  Hope this helps...
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