When External IT Suppliers Drive You Nuts

When External IT Suppliers Drive You Nuts

In larger organisations, it’s often a given that external service providers will be used for many technology functions. But that doesn’t mean that people working at the IT coalface are happy about it.

Picture by Steffen Zahn

The arguments for using an external service provider are pretty familiar: it leaves the business free to concentrate on what makes it unique, rather than wasting energy and money on basic functions; service providers can afford to pay better rates to specialist technical staff; it forces accountability, since the provider has to match service level agreements (SLAs).

However, that doesn’t mean that the workers who have to deal with those providers have a great time with it. Often deals are negotiated at an entirely separate level of the organisation but (in a familiar pattern) it’s the tech workers who have to deal with the problems that arise.

In a study of 52 local organisations by IT managed services firm Applaud, only 24% said they were actually happy with their current IT provider. 80% said they planned to review their service provider, though that in itself doesn’t necessarily represent dissatisfaction — if you’re using an external service, it makes sense to check regularly if it is delivering what you want.

The reasons for that dissatisfaction are a pretty familiar litany: external suppliers can take longer to restore services after an outage; costs prove to be higher than expected; SLAs aren’t actually respected. The general picture is of more being promised than is ever actual delivered.

A sample size of 52 isn’t enough to draw massive conclusions, but it does suggest some interesting trends. I’m curious about where Lifehacker readers fit in the picture, and how often they have to grapple with this kind of problem:

If you’ve got additional thoughts to offer on the topic, open up in the comments.

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.


  • One issue I’ve found is that negotiation and contracts with external IT providers are often handled without any input from internal IT and without any penalty clauses.

    If an external provider decides that hey, your organisation can go swing in the breeze when it comes to getting good service on time, because there are no penalties for blowing off the SLA, it’s the internal IT staff (and the business in general) who pay the price, while the provider and the original business negotiator get off scot-free.

    When an external provider of any kind is commissioned, there should always be consultation with the relevant internal staff who will be left holding the bag when and if the provider doesn’t live up to the hype, and there should ALWAYS be penalty clauses. The precise circumstances under which the penalties kick in, and what the penalties actually are, should give a good indication about how confident the provider is in supplying their service or product.

    In addition, the only time an uninvolved negotiator or team should handle the contracting is when they have been asked to by the staff who will be responsible for the area in question.

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