It's In The Brief

Issue 22

Steve Nelson, Operations Director for Calibre Secured Networks Ltd, provides advice for SMEs on writing an IT brief.

Preparing a brief for the provision of IT work and services should be among the first steps any SME takes when looking to invest in or upgrade existing technology. It’s good practice and will go a long way to avoiding misunderstandings, project and cost overruns, and delivering the type of beneficial long-term partnership that everyone craves.

However, it can also be time-consuming, so it’s vital that you consider some fundamentals before moving ahead, which includes placing yourself in the shoes of those tendering for your business. A good start might also involve sourcing some previously written briefs as best practice and to see how others have approached the task. Perhaps, you might even want to ask your business networks to share experiences and suggestions.

Consider the technical skills and competencies that will be required and clarify your budget. If possible, estimate the cost of delivering the work over the lifetime of the contract and whether or not the short-list of contractors will be resourced to deliver. Assess how the contract will affect your own workloads too, along with staffing and the ability to move forward while the new IT system is installed, commissioned and proof tested.

You may also need to consider how important those tendering for the work are to your business: go for a partner who’s prepared for a long-term investment in you and your business. This will help you to see things from the provider’s side of the fence.

You should always be open to receive questions by phone or email if your brief is unclear or specific sections need clarification. Make sure the IT provider is serious about the job and isn’t overstretched, and consider the benefit of a non-disclosure agreement before you both move ahead. Don’t forget you will also want the IT firm to make a creative contribution and provide ideas.

You may want to breakdown the brief to cover the separate provision of help/service desk, desktop support, network management, network and content security, infrastructure and platform, maintenance and support, audit services and asset management, IT infrastructure transition services and delivery, service integration/service integrator, disaster recovery/business continuity, back up and data services, and asset disposal.

Ensure your requirements are unambiguous and unequivocal, setting clear deadlines and timescales. Write this section at the end of the brief but also add it at the beginning in summary format, focusing on how you expect the provider to meet/solve your needs, requisite qualification documents, how value for money (and not price alone) will be demonstrated, contract management and details about the team that will expedite the contract. Identify potential financial, commercial and legal risks that might also have an impact or cause for concern.

Drill down to ascertain more about relevant experience and job credentials and make it clear in your brief when and how the goods and services will be delivered. If the provider is successful in winning your business, ask them to explain how they will manage the project, providing details of costs, industry and company certifications such as ISO 27001, as well as the individual qualifications of those who will undertake the work. Details covering relevant experience, and their background should also be included.

Ensure that there’s a section about how they propose to help you with the General Data Protection Regulation (are they aware of this? If not, more at Calibre’s website), and any aftercare arrangements within the price.

Make sure the provider’s tender is delivered on time; you may want to dismiss bids or tenders that arrive after the closing date. And don’t be surprised if these documents are delivered in person, by hand remember a lot of effort has been invested in their preparation. And make it clear if you will take calls to check if you have received the documents and be prepared to offer any initial thoughts and feedback.

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