T.H.E. Journal, November 1998, p. 22
Many schools are discovering that it’s easier to find an independent contractor to build and maintain their internal computer networks than to perform the work in-house. Here are ten critical steps to follow if you’re going to shop around for a company to install and manage your school’s network:
- Research different companies. Get references on potential companies; find out how long they’ve been in business (you should look for a company that has at least five years’ experience); and don’t hire friends or students’ parents this can make it difficult to terminate a contract if something goes wrong.
- Check for certification. Contact Microsoft or Novell for a list of authorized installers near you. Also make sure any engineers working on your network are certified by Microsoft or Novell for the type of equipment they’re installing.
- Interview prospective firms. Evaluate prospective firms during an interview process to gauge how the company will respond to your needs. Have all the companies write proposals, and evaluate them according to how each candidate appears to be able to work with your school’s unique budget and operational needs.
- Avoid multiple vendors. Select a single company that will provide all the services you require. This will minimize problems of accountability, which can easily arise when more than one vendor builds a single network.
- Nail down details. As part of the interview process, get explicit answers on hourly rates (expect $75-$150 per hour), find out if educational discounts are offered, and obtain written guarantees on emergency response times. Also, ask for information on how many employees are on call during different hours of the day. Avoid one-person operations.
- Have workstations custom-built. By getting the network vendor to provide custom-built workstations, you can deal with a single company and get faster response times than with larger computer companies or retail stores.
- Place a test order with finalists. Get bids on items, and then place an order with your top candidates. Evaluate the delivery, installation, and customer service procedures of each.
- Secure a warranty that allows for replacement of parts at no charge for the first year.
- Communicate security needs. Have the company you select train someone at your school to manage network accounts and passwords. Also ask the vendor to install protection software on the workstations that keeps students from accidentally or maliciously altering or deleting software.
- Acclimate the company to the school environment. Many companies don’t understand or realize that schools have unique schedules and needs. Classes can be easily disrupted by poorly timed deliveries and installations. Brief the company on these special issues ahead of time.