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We’ve all been there. The relationship that starts out like something in the movies, she’s gorgeous; he’s gorgeous; they complete each other’s thoughts, it’s wonderful.

Then one day he farts at the dinner table. She starts leaving her dirty socks in the living room. He bounces checks, and she spends too much time watching television. What started in hollywood can descend into hell.

This doesn’t just happen in romantic relationships. It happens in business relationships as well. We have had those win filled days where we signed new contracts, engaged a new business partner, finished the first phase of a big project; it can be exhilarating. Over time, however, the honeymoon ends and things can change.

In an era of greater and greater outsourced services many companies have turned to managed IT service providers to handle their information technology operations. This market appears quite saturated with many providers offering a similar product and service set. Most providers offer on-premises services like:

Desktop and laptop support
Network and printer support
Telephone system installation and maintenance
Server installation and configuration

Off-premise services are also common like:

End user help desk
Remote server and network administration
Off-site server hosting and co-location
Web and web hosting
Technology procurement

Less common services can include:

Application development
Business application support
Business application integration
Technology Assessment and Recommendation (outside of what the provider offers)
Technology Acquisition (outside of what the provider offers)
Business Continuity Planning

Services not likely offered by managed IT service providers include:

Strategic Planning
IT Policy and Standards
Operational Leadership
Enterprise Architecture
Business Process Optimization
Technology Budgeting and Expense Management
Program Management

The simple case is that managed IT service providers have a lot to do. Managing the infrastructure of multiple clients with different requirements, different service level agreements, different hardware and software packages is very difficult to master. High performing organizations in this business are valuable partners indeed.

Many of these companies are founded by former systems engineers who developed their experience at larger companies. Interestingly, I share a similar background as these individuals. What this usually means is that they are great engineers, and they think like engineers. While this type of thinking is not a bad thing, it carries with it some implications.

First, most engineers love technology. Any opportunity to use technology, especially a new technology, is playtime for most engineers. This child-like delight is what keeps them in the business because it truly does not feel like work to build a server, write some code, troubleshoot a router, etc.

Second, the idea that less technology is better than more technology is a foreign concept. Engineers love complexity. They have no fear of it in fact, being able to conquer a complicated system is a thrill in itself. So is building one.

Third, from a business perspective, there is no deterrent to building complicated systems. If the customer asks for something absurd that could work, would be fun and is billable there is absolutely no reason to say no.

Integrated into this concern are just the reality of operating a business. All the incentive rests on selling as much as possible of what you sell. If you are an affiliate of a particular technology supplier then, it would be absurd for you to not sell their products especially when your business gets paid for selling it.

Because managed IT service providers have the margin eroding risk of complexity in their business, they will generally offer a limited set of products. For example, there are many, many Microsoft® Certified Solution Providers selling to small and medium sized businesses. Microsoft has a well-rounded portfolio of products that would satisfy any small business. That is until integration time comes around.

Business application integration might be the top challenge faced by mid-market businesses. What happens when a business application goes out of support and needs an upgrade to a version that does not integrate with Microsoft® products? Alternatively, what if a new package that would improve business performance comes available but is not available on Microsoft® technology? This is a challenge indeed.

A successful way to begin to master this challenge is to have a well-defined Enterprise Architecture that models the people, process, data and technology used to run the business. Enterprise Architecture is not a service usually offered by managed IT service providers. Curiously this may be because it holds an embedded conflict.

Herein lies the conundrum for a managed IT service provider. If a provider is going to honestly offer Enterprise Architecture consulting along with other strategic IT services, they run the risk of having to recommend products and services that they do not sell. These recommendations would be in direct contradiction to their profitability goals in the short and the long term.

Certainly, if you are not happy with your managed IT service provider then you would probably not be comfortable even asking them to add Enterprise Architecture to the services they provide you nor should you be.

So what to do?

Here is what I would recommend.

1) Communicate your dissatisfaction to your managed IT service provider.
2) Demand a detailed remediation plan that includes all the issues, documented and prioritized with resolution dates.
3) Amend the contract with your provider to include financial penalties for non-performance.
4) Time box the remediation goal to 60 days. If these issues cannot be solved in 60 days, you will terminate the relationship.

Ok, so he farted at the table one too many times. Once more and he’s out. He’s been warned.

If you decide to give him the boot, now what? How do you know the next provider is going to be better?

Now is the time to remember the lesson of the past and get some help.

There are independent consultants out there who are not interested in being your long-term services provider. They are planners, advisors and most importantly they are business match-makers. Their goal is for your business to have what it needs and what it wants. They do not resell anyone’s products and services. They simply get to know your business top and bottom and then advise you how to proceed, steward the transition and then go along their way knowing that they did their best for you.

Some of these independent consultants offer additional services like

Strategic Planning
IT Policy and Standards
Operational Leadership
Enterprise Architecture
Business Process Optimization
Technology Budgeting and Expense Management
Program Management

None of these offerings have much to do with technology and everything to do with running a high-performance business. Sometimes these services come as part of an outsourced or virtual CIO offering. The trick is to find one NOT offered by an IT service provider or else you could be at risk of only being offered what the provider sells.

So, if you’re not happy with your managed IT services provider give them the ultimatum “one more fart, and you’re out”.