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IT ethics - how to change IT service companies

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IT ethics - how to change IT service companies

bandwidth hog
I recently quit my full time gig and started my own IT consulting company. I have been approached by a few different people that are not happy with their current solution provider.

I would like some feedback to discuss a few different things.

First, in both of these situations, the people they are currently using are the ones that implemented the network as it is now. What can I do in order to ease the transition from the old service company to me? Is it best to take the "hostile takeover approach" where I basically go in and change all the passwords and reset all the equipment before notifying the old company...

Or, is it better to try to work with the old company? Obviously if the old company would cooperate, this would be the easier solution.

What should I expect from the old service company? What are their legal and ethical responsibilities?

Second, is it ethical for me to intrude on someone else's territory like that? My opinion is that if someone is unhappy with their current service, and they seek you out, then it should be OK. Whereas if I was to just go in and try to underbid a company that the client is happy with.. Thats what I would consider un-ethical.

Does anyone who has been through things like this in the past have any input or feedback? I have done a lot of searching on the internet thinking I would find discussions or articles regarding this topic, but I havent had any luck. If anyone can point me in the right direction, I would appreciate it.
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    0 Votes
    thunderb

    Firstly, if you're any sort of capable technician you should be albe to walk in, and within the first couple of hours / minutes know what your dealing with and not need any sort of contact with the old provider.

    Ethics don't really come into play in the above scenario, as long as you don't go in saying well your old provider had a bad reputation, they were doing all of these things wrong etc... cause generally if you do that, you won't be taking over their IT services anyway. If you go in possitively, saving well they did this quite well, but we could improve it by doing it this different way or by changing something minor, a fresh set of eyes will always find something that could be done better or differently.

    If they are a good service provider they'll try to get their old client back, but if they've left them, then there's obviously a good reason - find out what that reason is, and its also good to know what they expect of you as their new service provider.

    If possible sit down with the decision maker at the company, and draft a service level agreement for both parties, this way both parties know exactly where they stand, and helps avoid confusion down the track.

    I doubt that the old provider has any legal obligations, unless contractually bound with the company. Generally though most service providers won't be too happy about someone else getting their revenue.

    Underbidding is a fact of business, if you can get a business through cheaper priving, then just remember that when someone cheaper comes along, the exact same thing is going to happen to you. Most companies don't rely on price alone.

    Cold calling is a wonderfully painfull way of new business development, but the thing is that it works, and it works well. Ethics really only come into play with your clients, not your competitors, where ever you can gain competitive advantage over your competitors its not unethical, its good business.

    good luck with it all

    Kurt

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    0 Votes
    reece

    Hi there bandwith hog, First of all I must say that it has long been since I met someone that has a set of ethics and thinks about the consequences has actions have. I have been in the same position multiple times. I refuse to take someone elses business regardless. In the past my late wife and I worked for a small company with 7 sales staff, we build a 20 Million dollar turnover to 10 million for the other 5 people, the salesmanager who was afraid for his job started allegations to get me out of the company. After a couple of months they had worked us both out. It would have been easy to take over the customerbase as they asked to deal with us directly. We didn't because we worked on a payroll and were paid for our labour. Looking back I feel stupid for not having done so, still after 25 years I am proud I have not done so. It would have been easy money. This to illustrate what kind of person I am. The same ecthics I hold when companies ask me to become the service company. In every case all my customers come to me by word of mouth, I do not advertise, they are not happy and I offer them my service as a consultant on their premisses. This means there is no swap or take over done from a other company. I overhaul the IT plan and communicate that to the old service provider and I asked them for their comments and price consequences when implementing my plans. I tell them that I work on behalve of the contractor and that they have a choice to either cooperate and allow me to be the piggy in the middle or someone else is choosen as service provider. The reason that this always works is the fact that I operate from my clients office, I have first and extensive lines of communications, I understand the contractor and he understands me. Now I don?t have to grow big, as I earn my money easily and all the dirty work on the floor is done by the service companies. I keep an eye on their contracts, make sure they keep their maintenance schedule, check replacement parts fur being genuine. Make sure timesheets are correct and signed by the contractor this makes everybody happy and it works for me. There are thousands of other ways to do it but hey.... maybe this suits you to..

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    0 Votes
    ThePoster

    Reece, I agree 100%. In the end, it is all about providing the best service to the customer. No need for chest-beating, "hostile take overs" and the like. Besides, there is HUGE opportunity in this area. Namely, just being the knowledgeable, informed, objective 3rd party that keeps everyone on the same playing field.

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    0 Votes
    jon

    Your responsibility is to your client. Ypu have no way to know how the previous company will react to the bad news so your only safe course is to spend a few days learning about the systems before the old company are aware of your existence then at the point of takeover lock them out of everything. They may be total pros or they may not. You dont really want to find out which is true..

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    0 Votes
    Why Me Worry?

    I am sure there are legally binding documents between the old service provider and the client, preventing anyone from simply storming and and purporting to accomplish what can be seen as a "denial of service" against the service provider. First review any legal contracts between the old provider and the client and be professional about it by notifying the provider that the client has chosen to terminate their relationship with them. Yes, they'll whine and moan about it and will try to do everything in their power to prevent losing a customer, but that is better than pulling the plug on them, only to have them file suit claiming a breach of contract. This is a legal matter and one that will require lawyers to review and sign off on. Also, this won't come cheap.

    +
    0 Votes
    jpamental

    I think that you have to plan for the worst, but feel the
    new client out as to how the other company has been for
    them to deal with. If they have been an honest company it
    may work to get their cooperation.

    But even with that said, it's better to plan everything out
    expecting the worste, and only contact them if there is
    information you really need, being ready to shut them out
    right away should the conversation go poorly.

    I've generally experienced the negative, but recently just
    had one of these situations go completely the opposite -
    lots of help. I think that the key is if it's a smaller client
    and the company simply doesn't get enough revenue to
    'care enough' then you might get lots of help as they
    probably don't really want to keep the client.

    Jason

    +
    0 Votes
    deck.hazen

    Non-invasive protection might be the first order of the day -- determine what files are required and insure you have current backups. You client should have these from their current supplier, if they don't (this is the sign of a dodgy service provider) then you need to figure out a way to get the client to request the backups from the current supplier in a way that doesn't raise too much suspicion -- something like "The auditors are coming in next week and we have to show them our disaster recover processes" or "We want to get ISO certified and need to have a list of mission-critical files on disc" etc.

    Once the backups are secured, your client should approach their current provider and inform them of the proposed change and ask for their full cooperation -- based on the current providers response to this, you can then gauge your approach.

    For future reference, you should build an "extit strategy" into your contract with any new client stipulating what you will and will not do to assist an alternate provider should your current client wish to change providers. As a professional, I'm sure you'd want to provide as much transitional support as you can to your client, up to, but not incuding the relase of any intellectual property you may own. Identifying this "IP" in advance would, of course, be a big assett to the process.

    Hope this was useful,

    -- Deck

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    0 Votes
    TechniquePhreak

    I recently helped a small business transtion from their service provider, ho had been abusing trusts (reading execs email, etc). They refused to turn over adminstrative logins, and the company threatened to sue. We ended up working around the issue, but I was wondering if anyone else had faced this issue? What can you (or the company) do if the old service provider refuses to turn over vital logins and documentation?

    +
    0 Votes
    reece

    When implementing a network ask your service provider to put the whole plan on paper inclusieve schematic. A typical floorplan with the location of all the equipment will do. In it write IP address, login_names and passwords, if your service provider is unhappy with giving you certain access levels then check the content of that schematic and put it in a sealed envelop. Always ask for this and store the details then. Ask for a logbook next to the server. Document everything as it is not the first time a service engineer put his car to a tree with a fatal ending. First and above all, designing and documenting takes 20% of the time. Make sure you put this on your quote and you'll make happy customers and yourself happy as you'll never find yourself with hours that are not paid for afterwards.

    +
    0 Votes
    Wayne M.

    When you submit a proposal for the new work, specify what you want, but give the client the ultimate authority.

    Propose what it would cost you for both a transition period and without a transition period. Let the client decide between the presumably higher risk for a clean break versus the presumably higher cost for a transition period.

    Remember, this will not be a surprise to the old support company, the client's contracting office will notify them that the client is discontinuing service. They will know what's happening long before you get access.

    As for "intruding" on someone else's territory, unless you signed a noncompete agreement with your prior company, everything is legally fair game. Depending upon your desired rate of growth, you may want to stick with anyone actively seeking you out, but eventually you will need to go after anyone you have a contact with.

    It is also common practice to hire existing staff on a transition. It is not uncommon for clients to informally request certain favored staff be retained. Although it is frowned upon actively recruiting current staff, it is appropriate to make a hiring web site or e-mail address public knowledge. Anyone who comes to you is fair game.

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    0 Votes
    BlueKnight

    I haven't seen any mention about a contract. That is, does the company have a contract with the current service provider? If so, they need to determine how to terminate the contract legally to keep them, and you, out of "hot water."

    If there is no contract, then I don't see any reason for you not to take over in place of the current company.

    If the customer were happy with the current provider, I doubt you'd even have a shot at bidding for their business... there is generally some sort of "loyalty" in situations such as that. Besides, an "unknown" would be trying to out a "known," so why should they take that risk if they are happy. In this case, they apparently aren't happy with the service, so it is up to the customer to take the initiative to make the change. This would include discussing everything with you so you know exactly what they need, and what you're getting yourself into. Don't forget SLA's too. Once you know what they have, and what they need, you can make an accurate assessment of what your costs will likely be, and determine what you'll charge for your services. Like Reese said, slowly.

    I also agree with Reece's comments. Do everything ethically and you should have few problems if any. You are to be commended for ethical conduct; it's a rareity today.

    I wish you the best of luck.

  • +
    0 Votes
    thunderb

    Firstly, if you're any sort of capable technician you should be albe to walk in, and within the first couple of hours / minutes know what your dealing with and not need any sort of contact with the old provider.

    Ethics don't really come into play in the above scenario, as long as you don't go in saying well your old provider had a bad reputation, they were doing all of these things wrong etc... cause generally if you do that, you won't be taking over their IT services anyway. If you go in possitively, saving well they did this quite well, but we could improve it by doing it this different way or by changing something minor, a fresh set of eyes will always find something that could be done better or differently.

    If they are a good service provider they'll try to get their old client back, but if they've left them, then there's obviously a good reason - find out what that reason is, and its also good to know what they expect of you as their new service provider.

    If possible sit down with the decision maker at the company, and draft a service level agreement for both parties, this way both parties know exactly where they stand, and helps avoid confusion down the track.

    I doubt that the old provider has any legal obligations, unless contractually bound with the company. Generally though most service providers won't be too happy about someone else getting their revenue.

    Underbidding is a fact of business, if you can get a business through cheaper priving, then just remember that when someone cheaper comes along, the exact same thing is going to happen to you. Most companies don't rely on price alone.

    Cold calling is a wonderfully painfull way of new business development, but the thing is that it works, and it works well. Ethics really only come into play with your clients, not your competitors, where ever you can gain competitive advantage over your competitors its not unethical, its good business.

    good luck with it all

    Kurt

    +
    0 Votes
    reece

    Hi there bandwith hog, First of all I must say that it has long been since I met someone that has a set of ethics and thinks about the consequences has actions have. I have been in the same position multiple times. I refuse to take someone elses business regardless. In the past my late wife and I worked for a small company with 7 sales staff, we build a 20 Million dollar turnover to 10 million for the other 5 people, the salesmanager who was afraid for his job started allegations to get me out of the company. After a couple of months they had worked us both out. It would have been easy to take over the customerbase as they asked to deal with us directly. We didn't because we worked on a payroll and were paid for our labour. Looking back I feel stupid for not having done so, still after 25 years I am proud I have not done so. It would have been easy money. This to illustrate what kind of person I am. The same ecthics I hold when companies ask me to become the service company. In every case all my customers come to me by word of mouth, I do not advertise, they are not happy and I offer them my service as a consultant on their premisses. This means there is no swap or take over done from a other company. I overhaul the IT plan and communicate that to the old service provider and I asked them for their comments and price consequences when implementing my plans. I tell them that I work on behalve of the contractor and that they have a choice to either cooperate and allow me to be the piggy in the middle or someone else is choosen as service provider. The reason that this always works is the fact that I operate from my clients office, I have first and extensive lines of communications, I understand the contractor and he understands me. Now I don?t have to grow big, as I earn my money easily and all the dirty work on the floor is done by the service companies. I keep an eye on their contracts, make sure they keep their maintenance schedule, check replacement parts fur being genuine. Make sure timesheets are correct and signed by the contractor this makes everybody happy and it works for me. There are thousands of other ways to do it but hey.... maybe this suits you to..

    +
    0 Votes
    ThePoster

    Reece, I agree 100%. In the end, it is all about providing the best service to the customer. No need for chest-beating, "hostile take overs" and the like. Besides, there is HUGE opportunity in this area. Namely, just being the knowledgeable, informed, objective 3rd party that keeps everyone on the same playing field.

    +
    0 Votes
    jon

    Your responsibility is to your client. Ypu have no way to know how the previous company will react to the bad news so your only safe course is to spend a few days learning about the systems before the old company are aware of your existence then at the point of takeover lock them out of everything. They may be total pros or they may not. You dont really want to find out which is true..

    +
    0 Votes
    Why Me Worry?

    I am sure there are legally binding documents between the old service provider and the client, preventing anyone from simply storming and and purporting to accomplish what can be seen as a "denial of service" against the service provider. First review any legal contracts between the old provider and the client and be professional about it by notifying the provider that the client has chosen to terminate their relationship with them. Yes, they'll whine and moan about it and will try to do everything in their power to prevent losing a customer, but that is better than pulling the plug on them, only to have them file suit claiming a breach of contract. This is a legal matter and one that will require lawyers to review and sign off on. Also, this won't come cheap.

    +
    0 Votes
    jpamental

    I think that you have to plan for the worst, but feel the
    new client out as to how the other company has been for
    them to deal with. If they have been an honest company it
    may work to get their cooperation.

    But even with that said, it's better to plan everything out
    expecting the worste, and only contact them if there is
    information you really need, being ready to shut them out
    right away should the conversation go poorly.

    I've generally experienced the negative, but recently just
    had one of these situations go completely the opposite -
    lots of help. I think that the key is if it's a smaller client
    and the company simply doesn't get enough revenue to
    'care enough' then you might get lots of help as they
    probably don't really want to keep the client.

    Jason

    +
    0 Votes
    deck.hazen

    Non-invasive protection might be the first order of the day -- determine what files are required and insure you have current backups. You client should have these from their current supplier, if they don't (this is the sign of a dodgy service provider) then you need to figure out a way to get the client to request the backups from the current supplier in a way that doesn't raise too much suspicion -- something like "The auditors are coming in next week and we have to show them our disaster recover processes" or "We want to get ISO certified and need to have a list of mission-critical files on disc" etc.

    Once the backups are secured, your client should approach their current provider and inform them of the proposed change and ask for their full cooperation -- based on the current providers response to this, you can then gauge your approach.

    For future reference, you should build an "extit strategy" into your contract with any new client stipulating what you will and will not do to assist an alternate provider should your current client wish to change providers. As a professional, I'm sure you'd want to provide as much transitional support as you can to your client, up to, but not incuding the relase of any intellectual property you may own. Identifying this "IP" in advance would, of course, be a big assett to the process.

    Hope this was useful,

    -- Deck

    +
    0 Votes
    TechniquePhreak

    I recently helped a small business transtion from their service provider, ho had been abusing trusts (reading execs email, etc). They refused to turn over adminstrative logins, and the company threatened to sue. We ended up working around the issue, but I was wondering if anyone else had faced this issue? What can you (or the company) do if the old service provider refuses to turn over vital logins and documentation?

    +
    0 Votes
    reece

    When implementing a network ask your service provider to put the whole plan on paper inclusieve schematic. A typical floorplan with the location of all the equipment will do. In it write IP address, login_names and passwords, if your service provider is unhappy with giving you certain access levels then check the content of that schematic and put it in a sealed envelop. Always ask for this and store the details then. Ask for a logbook next to the server. Document everything as it is not the first time a service engineer put his car to a tree with a fatal ending. First and above all, designing and documenting takes 20% of the time. Make sure you put this on your quote and you'll make happy customers and yourself happy as you'll never find yourself with hours that are not paid for afterwards.

    +
    0 Votes
    Wayne M.

    When you submit a proposal for the new work, specify what you want, but give the client the ultimate authority.

    Propose what it would cost you for both a transition period and without a transition period. Let the client decide between the presumably higher risk for a clean break versus the presumably higher cost for a transition period.

    Remember, this will not be a surprise to the old support company, the client's contracting office will notify them that the client is discontinuing service. They will know what's happening long before you get access.

    As for "intruding" on someone else's territory, unless you signed a noncompete agreement with your prior company, everything is legally fair game. Depending upon your desired rate of growth, you may want to stick with anyone actively seeking you out, but eventually you will need to go after anyone you have a contact with.

    It is also common practice to hire existing staff on a transition. It is not uncommon for clients to informally request certain favored staff be retained. Although it is frowned upon actively recruiting current staff, it is appropriate to make a hiring web site or e-mail address public knowledge. Anyone who comes to you is fair game.

    +
    0 Votes
    BlueKnight

    I haven't seen any mention about a contract. That is, does the company have a contract with the current service provider? If so, they need to determine how to terminate the contract legally to keep them, and you, out of "hot water."

    If there is no contract, then I don't see any reason for you not to take over in place of the current company.

    If the customer were happy with the current provider, I doubt you'd even have a shot at bidding for their business... there is generally some sort of "loyalty" in situations such as that. Besides, an "unknown" would be trying to out a "known," so why should they take that risk if they are happy. In this case, they apparently aren't happy with the service, so it is up to the customer to take the initiative to make the change. This would include discussing everything with you so you know exactly what they need, and what you're getting yourself into. Don't forget SLA's too. Once you know what they have, and what they need, you can make an accurate assessment of what your costs will likely be, and determine what you'll charge for your services. Like Reese said, slowly.

    I also agree with Reece's comments. Do everything ethically and you should have few problems if any. You are to be commended for ethical conduct; it's a rareity today.

    I wish you the best of luck.