Have you ever taken a risk that tests your usual rules to play it safe? Incredibly, we learn from every project that service providers and their prospective clients view risk in very different ways. The latest gem came about during a procurement exercise where the client chose to select the largest service provider over a smaller supplier, although well-established, even though costs were double!

‘Nobody ever got fired from buying IBM right?’

Amazingly this decision was taken because our client sponsor recognised that their organisation’s senior executives and Board might perceive a higher risk with the smaller service provider. Nothing wrong with a low-risk strategy, many organisations have chosen to buy only IBM or Microsoft products over the years for the same reason.

Interestingly the successful supplier pitched that they alone could provide a robust network, a high level of service and extensive support staff. With 20/20 hindsight we knew this was flawed, but it affected the decision-making process. The question that presented itself from this outcome was ‘what are the risks and how do you evaluate its importance with regards to comparing suppliers?’

The problem we all face is scraping back the jargon and fluff to find the real points of difference and any potential areas of risk with each supplier. The following are some of the questions you can try and uncover to match the best fit your organisation;

  • Is the service provider proposing a solution based on old or new infrastructure and are there any legacy issues? Older networks may not have the flexibility to work with your systems and applications and may be grandfathered in the not too distant future.
  • Does the service provider own the networks proposed or are they contracted from a third party? Without a direct relationship, you may not have the ability to get efficient and rapid service if there is a problem.
  • Are there any International data requirements and if so does the service provider have decent pipe size access to the Southern Cross link?
  • Are the SLA’s suggested appropriate for you and if not met are they punitive to the service provider? Disruption to your network could cost your organisation substantially more than a one-off credit for a service failure.
  • Where is the service provider vulnerable, e.g. Points of Presence (POP), the number of soft switches, redundancy, data network design, third-party reliance, service support, mobile phone coverage?
  • Is the Proposed network private, or does it tunnel across Internet-facing circuits? Are you using the service providers firewalls or your own? If it is the latter test the provider and get their assurances that their design will work with your equipment.
  • Are Cloud services needed? Will they be Public or Private? What are the responsibilities of the service provider?
  • UFB comes in many forms, what has is offered? Business grade or consumer grade?
  • Circuit monitoring, Is the Vendor reactive or proactive?
  • Has the service provider suggested SDWan, MPLS or a hybrid? SDWan offers many monitoring tools that are useful in you assisting the service provider in diagnosing network breakdowns occur, because, let’s face it you know your network better.
  • What experience does the service provider have with the solution proposed? Reference sites are indicative of their performance, and due diligence is critical in mitigating risk!

Experience has taught us that all service provider networks are vulnerable and there are more than enough examples of failure. If after doing all you can to mitigate for any shortcomings you can only hope for the best and prepare for the worst case scenario.

Interestingly the client discussed above experienced a significant outage with the successful service provider shortly after the transition. Whatever decision is made make sure you understand the technical ‘point of difference’ and ask for clarification as to how that will benefit your organisation.

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