Buying widgets is simple. A widget is a widget is a widget: if you like the widget, you buy the widget. Done deal.
Buying IT services is another matter. There are three types of IT services:
• Standardized IT services. This is the IT equivalent of a widget. Everybody gets exactly the same thing. Many basic SaaS applications are like this: you license the application, and you use it as it is delivered. No fuss, no muss, no bother.
• Custom IT services. This is like hiring an artist to paint your portrait. You want something that is totally your own, from start to finish. Custom all the way. For instance, if you want an application designed specifically for your business, you hire a programmer to do it. You may have to pay through the nose for it, but you will get exactly, precisely what you want.
• Customized IT services. This final category is rather like buying a high-end car. The engine and body are the same for everyone, but you can pick colors, materials, amenities, and even frills to make your vehicle very personal and individual. This is where a lot of enterprise IT services fall. The basics stay the same, but every customer wants their own “spin” on things.
The first two types of services are fairly self-explanatory and easy to buy. You either get the same thing everyone else gets, or you ask for something totally and completely unique to you. But what about the third option: purchasing customized IT services for your business? What goes into a wise buying decision? What should you be looking for?
You Want Your Provider to Automate the Commonalities
The first thing to look for when considering a customized IT service provider is what is not customized. That’s right. Put your custom considerations on the shelf for a moment, and focus on the commonalities across customers that the provider has worked into their service offerings. Commonalities might include:
• The applications customers are running
• The hardware customers are using
• The operating system customers are working on
• The backup method customers are relying on
• The type of reports customers will be needing
Commonalities tell you where the provider’s expertise is. For example, if they consistently work with a certain type of hardware and you also use that type of hardware, the provider might be a good fit for you. They know all the ins and outs of the hardware, they know how to get it to function at optimal capacity, and they know all the troubleshooting tips. You receive the benefit of this experience in a well-honed, flawless product that has been proven over time.
You Want Your Provider to Customize Where It Counts
Once you have established that a provider has the expertise you want in the commonalities, it is time to move on to the customization question. Here, you are looking for customization where it counts for you. Let’s go back to the car analogy for a moment. If you really want the amenity of dual temperature controls, but the salesperson says, “No, I can’t give you that, but I can give you leather seats,” then it’s no deal. Yes, they can customize; but, no, they can’t customize where it counts. With that in mind, you want to have a good idea before you enter into discussion with an IT service provider of what your end goal is, which includes likely areas of customization. For example, you might want custom:
• Deployment options
• Engineering plans
• Dashboard layouts
You can then focus the conversation on your business needs, and determine with the IT service provider whether their customization options – in both what they are offering and in how they are offering it – will meet those needs.
It’s All About Your Satisfaction
Steer clear of IT service providers who try to be “all things to all people.” Commonalities ensure that you have a firm foundation. Customization ensures that the final building has the overall design you want. The two together will deliver a huge boost to your satisfaction levels.
This article was first published on Forbes.com.