Your network is your business, powering your connection to your clients, suppliers, and partners. How effective you are at sharing information with all these parties depends upon your network’s reliability, security, and agility.
That’s why we’ve found that some of the smartest business leaders are constantly striving to learn more about the options for optimizing their network environments, infrastructure, and applications. And of course, the time to gather crucial information is well before any deployment is underway.
There are plenty of questions you should be asking potential IT partners. But we’re often struck by how many executives don’t think much about the questions that their vendors ought to be asking them – and seem surprised by how many questions we have for them before we begin an engagement.
But here’s the thing: Any IT vendor that doesn’t truly “get” you is unlikely to craft the perfect solution.
Your aim may be to adopt software-defined networking technologies, re-envision security capabilities, or drive toward a unified communications platform. But whatever the desired goal, make sure the providers under consideration address the following five questions early in the process:
1. What they should ask: “Here’s how we see your business. What have we missed?”
Why the question matters: Your vendors aren't just there to install a solution. They first need to understand your organizational objectives, the problem you’re trying to solve, the challenges you’ve had in the past, and the competitive landscape you’re operating in. Those issues can make a big difference when it comes to choosing the right solution so that a networking technology deployment functions as expected.For instance, suppose you’re in search of increased data security. If you’re a small- or mid-sized company, a unified threat management solution may be fine. But some organizations will be better served with a true next-generation network firewall to better enforce policies across numerous applications and users as well as detect new threats.
2. What they should ask: “What is your tolerance for risk during the deployment, so that we can best minimize business disruption?”
Why the question matters: Everyone understands that new network deployments or modifications come with some degree of risk. After all, no two organizations are alike, so all parties should expect to face some unique challenges when making changes and network upgrades. But part of your vendor’s job is to increase the likelihood of long-term success. So make sure they can tell you about their project management experience, and offer detailed guidance on timelines, costs, and processes.
3. What they should ask: “Are you looking for a vendor or a partner?”
Why the question matters: If that sounds like a leading question, it is. Many IT services providers can do a wonderful job delivering a network solution to their customers, on time and on budget. But not as many are focused on the knowledge-transfer piece of the equation that elevates a job to a partnership. And clearly it’s not a good thing for the buyer to discover that essential knowledge hasn’t been capably transferred to IT employees after a deployment has been completed and the vendor has left the building.
After all, any networking deployment should be focused on sustainable success. It’s simply not possible for a business to achieve that unless the consultants and integrators to which a company has entrusted the evolution of its most valuable asset are able to clearly communicate the steps they’ve taken in transitioning the network from vision to value. Tutorials and learning sessions focused on tools and procedures, as well as access to the provider team’s implementation expertise, should be as much a feature of an engagement as solution designs, implementation plans, and testing.
4. What they should ask: “Our team members bring strong expertise to our network engineering projects. Do you have any particular skills requirements that you’d like to see represented among those who will be working on this effort?”
Why the question matters: This is your cue to ask about the certifications the team members working on your project will bring to the table. When you want a project done right, you need the right people doing it. Hey, you wouldn’t want to find out in the operating room that the person performing your procedure isn’t an experienced surgeon, would you?
The same holds true when it comes to the talent that will be deploying your unified communications, routing and switching, security, wireless LAN or other network engineering solution. In Cisco-dominant environments, providers should tout their Gold Certified Partner status and a project’s leadership should come to the table with Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) credentials that verify their expertise in network engineering skills and detailed understanding of Cisco products and solutions.
5. What they should ask: “Have you considered other network upgrades/enhancements beyond this project?”
Why the question matters: There are network upgrades, and then there are network upgrades. Certainly you may have in mind some additional point steps you’d like to take to enhance some network features and functions, but you know that it’s the big picture that matters when it comes to your network’s evolution. From software-defined networking to advanced cyber-security solutions, the space is on fire – and your competitors are catching on to that fact, too.
That means you want a partner who is thinking ahead about the future in a big way, as well – and about how what it’s doing for you today will be forward-engineered to seamlessly support new innovations. It’s important that your partner be able to explain the transformational value inherent in the solution it’s building for your organization.
The right partner won’t just install a solution to today’s problem. It will help keep your business on the road to achieving the highest performance network – defined by automation, simplification, and business-driven design.
This article originally appeared on the Netcraftsmen blog.