Make the most of your databases by hiring an IT specialist – but make sure you hire the right one by asking the right questions . . .
Databases and their effective management can add huge value to your business, streamlining processes, making complex information available at the click of a mouse button and offering a reliable source of up-to-date information.
But do you have a database in need of optimisation? Or do you feel you want to throw out your DIY efforts and start afresh? Either way, an IT services supplier can help you hone or recreate yours – but how do you spot a reputable supplier?
Here are five questions to help you find your perfect partner . . .
1) ‘What are your credentials?’
It's a simple question – has the supplier reliably undertaken database work before? If so, they should be in a position to provide you with testimonials, case studies and references – the latter being the most essential.
Call the references and ask them directly if they were happy with the service they received and if they feel they got value for money – plus how the supplier's customer service was and most importantly, still is.
Also check how long the IT supplier has been in business for – obviously the longer, the better . . .
2) ‘Can I see some examples of databases you have worked on?’
Ask if you can see what work has been carried out previously by the supplier. It's the best way of getting a real feel for what your final database could be like. Ask yourself pragmatic questions about navigating through the system. Is it easy to use? Does it offer the features you need? Can you set up reports quickly and export or print them without fuss?
And, while this might sound superficial, is the database attractive? Increasingly, people are becoming more and more used to beautifully presented apps and software – and employees who are going to be charged with using the system will engage with it more if the front end is visually-appealing.
Make sure you have plenty of exposure to your supplier’s previous work so you can see for yourself what the future holds for your company's own databases . . .
3) ‘Do you speak English?’
That's not a direct question – but something to judge when you are in the interview process with the supplier. Do they try and bamboozle you with technical jargon? Or are they straight-talking and able to communicate complex technical issues in layman's English?
This may seem like a small point, but consider how long this relationship could go on for – if they can't speak plainly now, how are you going to feel six months down the line when you're still being spoken to in 'geek-speak'?
At the core of any client/supplier relationship is a human relationship and you need to know you can work with them in the long term.
‘If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.’
W. Edwards Deming, acclaimed American intellect (1900-1993)
4) ‘What happens if something goes wrong?’
Even the most prepared, gifted supplier can come across unexpected issues during the development of a database; it may be down to an internal oversight – we're all human – or perhaps they weren't briefed properly to begin with.
You need to ascertain what the costs will be if something does go wrong, how it would be dealt with, how much technical support costs and its availability [LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RViowXuIRQ8] , what limits will be in place contractually to curtail rising costs and who picks up the bill for, say, a missed deadline – and perhaps most importantly, what the daily/hourly rate is for work that falls outside of the commissioned project.
The bottom line is to have all costs covered for both set-up and maintenance – plus contingency monies – so your cash flow is assured . . .
5) ‘What about, you know, the “small stuff”?’
You've hammered out the details, the structure, the delivery date and more – but it's the small things that can make all the difference to the long-term success of your database project.
- What training will you receive on completion and will manuals be available to aid employees?
- If you are being offered a special discount, does that mean you'll slip down the supplier’s priority list once the project is underway?
Anything you can think of, ask . . . It's the supplier's job to answer all your questions to your satisfaction. If they can't, walk away.
- Check the IT supplier's credentials fully.
- See some examples of previous work.
- Make sure they don't swamp you with tech talk.
- Ensure you know what the costs will be (and who will be responsible for them) if something should go wrong.
- Think about the details; the IT supplier should be able to answer all your questions.
[SOURCES: Ubertas, http://www.findlaw.co.uk/law/small_business/business_operations/it_operations/technology_benefits/18684.html, http://www.ncvo-vol.org.uk/advice-support/ict/managing-ict/database-suppliers]