Top Five Questions to Ask Your IT Outsourcer

by Tim Porzio, Vice President, Operations & Infrastructure, Information Systems & Technology, Sodexo North America
Sep 29, 2016 9:30 AM ET

Companies today are utilizing an ever increasing array of outsourced IT services. When considering outsourced IT services it’s imperative to enter into the vendor selection process well prepared.  It is critical to fully define your requirements before you sit down to evaluate an outsourcing company. Hint: Start with your desired end result in mind.  Ask yourself, “What does an exceptional experience and partnership look like to me?” These five questions will get you started on your away to evaluating the right arrangement for your business.

Question 1 – How do you ensure that our data is properly secured?

If you only ask one question, this is probably the one. Almost everyone puts security at the top of their list—your executives and clients are going to want to know that you take Information Security seriously.  Be sure to listen for responses that include documented policies and procedures, certifications to meet industry regulations, use of third party audits and lastly, regular assessments of their systems to look for vulnerabilities.

Question 2 – How do you monitor your system and what are your procedures for incident management, change management and disaster recovery?

This question will help you understand the outsourcer’s level of IT operational excellence. You want assurance that they can quickly detect and fix issues before they affect your business. The response to this question will give insight to the outsourcer’s culture and mindset around how to deliver robust, dependable services.  Look for how rigorous they will be about managing updates or changes to your system and do they have your back with a recovery plan if a disaster occurs.

Question 3 – What is the depth and skill set within the organization?

A strong team is critical. You need to know that they have enough people who are skilled in the areas you need. Don’t be afraid to ask for an organizational chart so you can see who is responsible for what and how they work together. Listen for responses that reveal a team with a mindset for IT operational excellence and continuous improvement.

Question 4 – What is your application and technology roadmap?

No matter what hosting services you are seeking you will want to learn more about their current application and/or technology capabilities and their plans to evolve the product offering.  Is the provider investing in new application functionality, infrastructure technologies, policy and procedure enhancements or certifications to relevant industry standards? 

Question 5 – What are the terms of the contract?

Before final vendor selection, ask the short list of vendor candidates for a sample contract. You can often gain insight into the maturity of a vendor offering by the contract itself.  Make a list of all of the important contract terms for your organization and make sure they are all in writing and spelled out in very specific terms.  Among many other things to consider, make sure to have language for breach notification, price protections, application performance, uptime and disaster recovery.  Make sure to define financial penalties for the provider should they fail to meet service levels too. 

One Last Piece of Advice: Do Your Homework!

You must do your due diligence before you sign a contract with an outsourcer.  Put together a thorough document of probing questions representing each topic that requires further insights.  Leverage the expertise of other IT professionals in your organization to make sure the critical points are represented. Once you have a contract in place, monitor and document the service level attainment with tight governance and make sure to schedule regular dialogue with your partner regarding their performance.