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How to Help an End Customer Buy IT Hardware

Installing security contractors are well positioned to assist end users draft IT hardware RFPs, helping select vendor partners and implementing IT hardware.

(This story premiered on our sister publication, TechDecisions.)

Traditionally, IT hardware technology meant servers, desktops, laptops, switches, routers — all of the usual devices. Today, we’ve seen new technology enter the fold. Phones, tablets and connected devices like smart security cameras, intrusion alarms and sensors that are part of the Internet of Things (IoT) are now also commonplace in IT hardware portfolios.

The amount of network-connected devices is growing exponentially. It stops being a question of leading with the hardware, and instead leads with the problem that needs to be solved. What pieces of equipment will we use to be part of the solution? Is this equipment going to work within the framework? The discussion gets a lot more difficult.

Installing security contractors are uniquely positioned to play the role of a trusted advisor for end customers that are contending with IT hardware deployments and system maintenance. What follows is an in-depth assessment of assorted topics that end customers will face when choosing IT hardware partners, writing an IT hardware request for proposal (RFP) and more.

Servers

In the past, especially for SMBs, servers were kept on premises. As the Cloud became more prevalent, it became a best practice to move some workloads to the Cloud.

There may be reasons to still keep servers in-house. Regulatory compliance. Comfort of management. Seeing your data where it physically sits. Also things like bandwidth constraints — if your internet isn’t great you may choose to keep certain workloads local.

Take an architectural firm doing 3D models for example. It’s not easy to push those models back and forth through the Cloud without a complete Cloud virtualization solution. Instead, you may choose to do file and print storage locally, but things like backup email in the Cloud. Typically, we see these types of hybrid deployments.

Whether a server is on premises or in the Cloud, it requires the same type of management. You have local services you need to provide. Take security for example. Do you have security cameras? Are they logging data? Do they need an IP address? How are you going to provide that? Take identity. Do you log into the network one time and you can access everything, local or Cloud?

By moving to the Cloud you’re more scalable but you don’t take away the work that needs to be done.

Bring Your Own Device

Then there is the question of BYOD. It can become a power struggle, even in smaller companies without an IT department that hires MSPs to do the work, to decide the hardware being used. The company may want to set the direction, while employees are used to using different types of hardware. They question why they need to use a corporate-supplied smartphone when they want to use the smartphones they have in their pockets that they are used to.

IT departments aren’t dictating what happens the way they used to. It’s often business groups that decide. If they want to go onsite and bring their tablet, they don’t want to use a company laptop. They likely won’t use the company laptop. From an IT point of view this brings up issues of security and management. You can’t let everything into the network.

Writing a Request for Proposal

In order to write a RFP around IT hardware, the IT provider needs to know what problem you’re trying to solve. Many times IT providers will look at an RFP and determine that the organization is trying to solve a problem but going about it the wrong way. So what is the problem?

You’ll then need to include your background. The IT provider will need to understand what you have in place currently in order to determine the proper hardware to solve your problem. Do you have equipment in place already?

What does your network infrastructure look like now? Do you have security in place? What is it? Do you have local users? How many? Will you have remote workers? How many? Let the IT provider know what your user base looks like — whether it is scalable, whether it fluctuates up and down or is fixed.

Then let them know the geography. Where do the users work from? Where in the building do they work? Do they move around or are they in fixed positions? What does the physical space of your facility look like? What are the measurements?

Once they understand what your computer environment and user base looks like, the IT provider can determine what you’re a good candidate for in terms of hardware: laptops, desktops or thin clients; what servers you need and where to put them.

If it is imperative to have servers on premises, let the IT provider know. Let them know which information needs to be physically available and what can be scaled into the Cloud. Keep in mind it is much easier to scale in the Cloud than on premises. Cloud is a service where servers are a product. If you buy too much or too little Cloud bandwidth you can just reduce it or scale it up. If you buy too many servers you don’t just return them. So be clear and be flexible in terms of what you need on premises — it will ultimately affect your bottom line one way or another.

Then define what you want the supplier of the server to do. Do you want a basic operating system load? Do you have your own image you want on it? Will it be part of an existing network? Be sure to clearly lay out your needs. It can take anywhere from an hour for basic installs to several hours for an entire SQL server or Exchange server.

Define what they have to do. Do you want them to ship you a box? Do they need to bring it in and install? Can they work outside of your normal working hours? What support do you need? A 4-hour response or next day response? One-year, 3-year or 5-year support? Make sure you’re not missing anything.

As for devices, in an environment that is not BYOD and will provide tablets and smartphones to an employee, it increasingly matters less which brand you go with. You can access most compute services whether on Android, Apple or Windows device. It comes down to what your environment looks like and what your IT department can support. Then you can look at vendors.

When choosing vendors you’ll want to decide whether you need Tier 1 or Tier 2 support. Do you need to be able to get support for your devices if your reseller is out of the country? Do you need the reseller to be authorized to service the product or can they pick up Tier 2 support for it? Are you looking for cheaper or various products, or do you want to standardize on specs and models that are reliable and easier to support but more costly? Are you alright with bringing prosumer devices into an office or do you want corporate solutions that have proper tech support? What are the minimum specifications that you need?

If you have a specific manufacturer in mind, say so. Let them know how many users you have and they’ll order the right amount of hardware. If not, answer these questions and let the IT provider sit down, speak with you, and make recommendations based on what you’re looking for.

Of course, this all changes if you go BYOD. Such environments have issues around management and security. What kind of HR policy do you have around bringing devices in? Can you put mobile device management software on these devices to erase the corporate portions or the entire phone in case of loss or corruption? Where does your data sit? Can people take data out of the company with these devices? Most devices created within the past two years can run the apps you need to run, so that’s not the problem. You need to include security and management needs in the RFP.

As far as ongoing support, keep it separate from your equipment needs. Let the IT provider know if the equipment will be deployed or if it’s a drop ship. If it is being deployed, ongoing support is needed. If it’s a drop ship, they’ll just deliver the equipment, install it, and leave. Will the supplier be your first line of support or will it be the manufacturer?

Detail your needs for equipment and then delve into your requirements for support. Generally IT providers will make an agreement with the customer to support your users or environment for X amount of dollars per month. Include what is needed in terms of training — use of the equipment or use of your application? Make sure to be clear about your expectations for ongoing support.


John Krikke is Vice President of Onward Computer Systems, based in Burlington, Ontario, Canada.

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