IT Focus Area: Managed Services
July 17, 2013
Knowing When It's Time to Bring in the IT "Lawn Service"
One of the pillars of the so-called American Dream is home ownership. No matter where you started, you know you’ve achieved a certain level of status when you sign the mountain of paperwork and then stand proudly on your own little patch of land.
Unfortunately, what they don’t tell you is what happens afterward. That beautiful grass that drew you to the house to begin with has to be mowed at least once a week (more in the spring), trees and hedges need to be trimmed or pruned, weeds need to be pulled, gutters must be cleaned, stray garbage from the neighbors picked up—and that’s just on the outside. It doesn’t take long before your idyllic vision of sipping lemonade from your porch swing is replaced with a realistic vision of all the time-consuming, sweat-inducing and tedious chores you have in front of you. Hiring a lawn service to help you with the outside house chores becomes more and more appealing.
It’s the same in IT.
As technology has become ingrained into the business, the amount of time required to keep that technology operating properly has increased dramatically. Exponentially even. There is less time available in the day for IT to develop new technologies that will deliver a strategic or competitive advantage for the business.
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Just as a lawn service can give you your weekend back, moving some of your IT workload to an alternative provider can give your staff the time to do the things the business needs to be successful (and take some of the burden off IT for things that have to be done). The trick is figuring out which ones have to be done by your staff and which can be performed by other means, such as co-managing them, putting them in the cloud or hiring a managed services provider (MSP).
There are no hard-and-fast rules; it all depends on your organization. There are some points to consider, however, that can help you determine which technologies may be best managed internally, and which should go outside.
Understand what’s important
If you were growing roses competitively (yes, that really does exist), you wouldn’t hand off their maintenance to a service. You would want to take care of them yourself, because their care will be critical to your success. And presumably it is something you like to do. It is the same with IT.
Some technologies are mission-critical and simply cannot be entrusted to an outside organization. In many cases, those technologies may require a deep understanding of your company’s intellectual property or specific industry experience. Before you start looking at technologies and/or partners, you should conduct a thorough assessment of your organization to determine your core responsibilities or the undeniables. This will help you determine what absolutely must remain within the four walls.
That being said, however, you should also understand the difference between technologies that are important and those that must remain inside. For example, email is important but at this point it probably doesn’t need to be managed internally. Separating what you must keep versus what you can entrust to others will help you cut through the systems overgrowth so you can use your resources more effectively and efficiently. And may even give you time to stop and smell the roses.
Evaluate your team’s expertise
In some cases, while a particular technology may be mission-critical an honest evaluation of your team may reveal you don’t have the expertise to manage it in-house—and that the effort of acquiring that expertise won’t deliver the value. This is especially the case, if there are frequent updates to the knowledge base that will take up a lot of your staff’s bandwidth. In those cases, you will be better off finding an alternative to internal management. On the other hand, the more proprietary a system is, the more likely it must either remain completely within the organization or be co-managed. The latter option provides a level of support while still keeping control within the organization. If you opt to go that route, be sure that roles and responsibilities on each side are spelled out clearly to ensure expectations are met and the model is successful.
It is also important to know what your IT staff wants out of their jobs. If they want to work on the latest high-value technologies but feel like they’re stuck “cleaning the gutters” —or constantly having their lives interrupted by being on-call 24x7—it may be difficult to retain them over the long term. And given that some experts say the cost of replacing an employee can be more than double the employee’s salary, it makes good financial sense to try to retain—and grow—good people.
Select the right option
If you do decide to seek an alternative resource there are four options. The one that’s most like keeping the work internal is working with an MSP. A good MSP should feel like an extension of your own organization. It may have a similar culture to yours, and likely will be willing to adapt its ways of working and communicating to match (or at least closely mirror) your own. You will still maintain control over policies and service levels, although the MSP will normally advise you on them based on their broad experience working with multiple organizations. It is a very close working relationship.
The next level away from complete control is co-managing. This is a hybrid model where some of the work is performed by your internal staff while other elements are handled by an outside provider. Co-managing provides flexibility in terms of budget—it is easy to scale up and down as needs arise—and keeps the internal IT staff more directly involved in the day-to-day operation. The downside is if your provider doesn’t have the immediate resources to handle their part of the workload your internal staff will have to make up the difference. It’s also likely that your co-managing provider won’t know your systems, policies and procedures as well as the MSP will, so likely will require more management.
The third model is the public or enterprise cloud, which provides the least control. With the cloud you are able to shed responsibility for managing the equipment, and often the software, but depending on the arrangement, it could mean you are sharing the environment with other customers—like you and your neighbors going in together on a lawn service. Generally there is also a loss of flexibility versus working with an MSP. For example, you may prefer one storage vendor for your data but the cloud provider uses another. The other concern is security. With an MSP you know where your data will be held. With a cloud provider it may not be as clear.
There is a fourth model—completely outsourcing the hardware, software and management of all IT. This model was popular in the mid-1990s as a cost-cutting move, but has fallen out of favor as organizations have come to realize the significant role IT plays in driving business value. That value underlines the importance of maintaining more direct control over your IT systems.
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Know when your garden is blooming
In other words, know what success looks like for your organization. It seems intuitive, but you’d be amazed at how often the success measures have not been clearly defined. It is more than a matter of setting service level agreements or other metrics. It is important to really understand how your IT organization looks today, and what it will look like when it is driving more business value. If you are spending too much time managing your MSP or other provider you are unlikely to gain the benefits you seek. The better-defined what your “IT garden” will look like when it’s finished, the better chance you have of getting there.
With all the demands and changes to the IT landscape these days—big data, mobility and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) to name a few—it is becoming more difficult to manage it all. This is especially true given the reality that IT departments are being asked to do more than ever with fewer and fewer resources.
If you are not looking at your infrastructure and determining what parts are core or undeniable versus what can be handed off to the IT “lawn service,” it will be difficult if not impossible to deliver the best value to the business. It may take some time and effort up-front, but it will be worth it when you find you’re using your limited resources more effectively—and increasing the business’ curb appeal.