"With cloud-based applications, the strategy for firing vendors has changed," he says. "The risk of losing everything -- the service plus all data -- is increased, as many of these service providers manage both. Companies should investigate what critical services the vendor offers and how much of the data is critical for daily operations and customer satisfaction. Would the loss be visible or invisible to customers? What internal operations would be affected, and how critical would this be?"
Leverage Corporation's Harber says you need to treat virtual breakups even more carefully than real-world ones to avoid losing access to critical functionality or important data.
"Companies often develop a blind spot when it comes to the transition of vendors of online, virtual, or cloud services and assume that the transition occurs merely by flipping a switch," says Harber. "The massive configurability, unique data architectures, and specialized security and access requirements of a virtual data center (for example) actually can make the transition process even more complicated than moving hosting from one physical data center to another."
IT divorce tip No. 4: Avoid custody battles
Another big mistake is becoming too dependent on a single provider. Small firms in particular often fail to obtain full-time custody of the apps, content, or systems their now ex-vendor has created. They end up with apps that can't be upgraded, systems no one else can use, or critical data residing on someone else's servers and no way to access it.
"In many cases, companies can get vendors to help them do critical work in preparation for firing them, through existing support agreements," says FivePath's Leland. "For example, vendors can help validate that backups are functional and complete. It's important to review the terms of service and privacy policies to understand what rights you have to your data -- this will help companies prepare for the switch before firing them."
Besides code and content, organizations must own the knowledge of how their IT systems work, Laushman says. The last thing you want is a situation in which your now ex-consultant has total knowledge of a business-critical system, with no paper trail for anyone else to follow.
"One guy had been our client's sole custom developer for 10 years, with zero documentation," Laushman says. "We met with the company and said we need to figure out how to get some documentation without arousing his suspicions. Otherwise it was going to cost them a lot of money while we figured out how everything worked. Most network and system admins hate doing doc work, but you have to insist they provide it along the way. Every piece of documentation will save you money down the line."
IT divorce tip No. 5: Next time, get a "prenup"
Although dumping a troublesome vendor may be necessary and even satisfying, it's better to anticipate breakups and bake provisions into your service contract that protect you before the situation gets ugly. In business arrangements, as in marriage, nothing beats a solid prenup.
In short, you'll want to establish penalties for nonperformance (or incentives for good performance), the conditions under which either party can simply walk away, and anything you'll need the vendor to do to ensure a smooth transition, should the situation arise. That in turn means you must agree on objective ways to measure the provider's performance -- or lack thereof.
Just don't expect to get your vendor to agree without giving up something in return, says Rick Brenner, principal at Chaco Canyon Consulting.