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Need Security Help? Enlist a Partner.

May 21, 2007

Summary

Sometimes it's okay to ask for help – especially if you are a small or mid-sized business that doesn’t have the time, staff, or expertise to properly manage your IT security and availability.

Introduction

Sometimes it's okay to ask for help – especially if you are a small or mid-sized business that doesn't have the time, staff, or expertise to properly manage your IT security and availability. Security help is available – you just need to know how to find the right partner for your business' unique needs. Partners don't just sell hardware and software; they also offer strategic planning, design, implementation, training, and consulting services. In this article, we'll discuss the benefits of enlisting a security partner, and some factors to consider before you make your decision.

Partner benefits

IT security partners are trusted professionals whose job it is to stay on top of the current threat landscape, employ the right data protection and recovery measures for your business, and do so within your budget constraints. This is a win-win situation for many businesses whose in-house IT staff is stretched thin and/or isn't able to stay on top of current security technology and threats, which can change from day to day. One Symantec partner, TIG in San Diego, has also cited the cost savings that can result from using a partner.

"For the most part, organizations have realized that they don't have the manpower to watch every node on their network 24/7," says Steve Groom, TIG's director of security and wireless solutions.

According to Groom, outsourcing security and data recovery not only saves money, it allows businesses to have their networks monitored more intelligently than even the best IT in-house employees can accomplish.

"Because they work with different companies, [partners] see all kinds of different attacks; internal monitors are always seeing attacks they may not recognize," Groom says. "Using a [partner] also is about one-third the cost of having one or two IT engineers plus all the monitoring tools you'd need to buy, so customers are starting to understand that it's cheaper and you get a better level of response."

What do you need?

Before you look for a partner, you need to conduct an internal assessment of your business' needs and objectives. Do you need help with a one-time IT project, or ongoing assistance with certain aspects of your infrastructure? Before doing anything else, it is important to first detail the scope of your requirements and the timeframe involved.

Once you have established a clear understanding of your needs and objectives, it’s time to look for a partner. Finding available partners is easy; virtually all major hardware and software manufacturers link to a partner locator directly from their Web sites. It's choosing the right partner for your business that is the challenge. Here are some important considerations:
  • Location and staff. Some partners will be geographically closer to you than others. You might consider the role that proximity can play in cultivating a stronger relationship with the partner. Many partner companies will subcontract out the work to be done. Find out if the potential partner will be utilizing their own staff, or if the people working on your account will be subcontracted.
  • Certification. Consider the potential partner’s level of accreditation — check that they are certified in areas of expertise that complement your needs. Major technology solutions providers offer certifications, demonstrating that a partner has the qualifications and knowledge to expertly work with their solutions. While hiring a certified partner may cost a bit more, it may save you in the end. You could end up spending a lot more in time and implementation costs to get up and running if you hire the wrong partner. Certifications also indicate that the partner has a good relationship with the manufacturer, which can mean faster access to experts if needed.
  • Specialties. SMBs turn to partners for a wide variety of things: security audits, messaging security, intrusion detection, backup and storage help, and more. Narrow down the list of potential partners by seeking only the ones whose core competencies and areas of specialty mesh with your needs.
  • Operations. Ask the potential partner if they will be able to work within your existing security framework. If they cannot, have them identify what changes need to be made before they can begin. Of course, the more the partner can support your current framework, the more transparent their role will be.
  • Cost. Depending on the project, the cost structure may be a flat fee, an hourly or daily rate, or an ongoing retainer. Potential partners should give you a proposal that includes a budget, timetable, and reasonable specifications. The proposal should be written in a way that is easy to understand. If the proposal is satisfactory, you should then create a written contract that specifies what is going to be done and by whom. Make sure to include dates, deadlines, services to be rendered, equipment, costs, etc.
  • References. Ask the potential partner to provide references, with similar profiles and needs to yours to ensure you won’t end up having to waste time teaching the consultant about your industry.

Conclusion

Many SMBs are enjoying the added support that IT partners can provide. If you are considering enlisting the aid of a partner, choose wisely. Select one that is a "partner" in every sense of the word — they should take a special interest in your business, providing guidance that ultimately helps boost your business' success.

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