Lose frustration, not control

If you recognise your organisation in any, or all, of these symptoms, you should see this as a cry for help

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Lose frustration, not control Rich Schofield, networking business development director, Dimension Data.
By  Rich Schofield Published  December 30, 2014

So much of your organisation’s success depends on the technology and the services that your ICT division delivers to the business.

As an ICT decision-maker, you’re compelled to cope with a shrinking budget and fewer resources. Ultimately, you’re responsible for a network that must be available and working at maximum capacity to keep the business operating at its best. Yet, you also need to lead its evolution with an eye on the future.

The problem is, the more time and resources you spend on keeping things up and running, the less you have left to develop your network in line with business goals such as reaching new markets, or offering new products and services. Managed network services have been touted as a possible solution to your conundrum.

But you're worried about that, too: trusting a service provider to operate your network - the platform for your business - feels a lot like giving up control of its strategic development. Is there a way to remove the burden and the frustration of day-to-day network management without adding to the anxiety by fear of losing control?
It's not that easy for an in-house team to keep all the balls in the air. There are seven signs that your network management burden may have become too heavy to handle on your own.

Perhaps you lack management tools, or use them poorly. This is a discipline on its own. The proper selection, configuration, management, and use of network management tools require specialist skills. Poor use of these tools can result in, at best, a lack of diagnostic support information, and at worst, incorrect or misleading information, which defeats the object of having them. Management tools are also expensive to have in-house if you don't have a large number of assets.

Or maybe you're not using all your technology to its full potential. Your IT division is just too small to properly run and manage all your advanced technologies, so the return on those investments remains unrealised. The vendors from which you've bought the technologies can't help either, because their contracts don't include operational management.

It could be that your service levels don't improve, which causes increased downtime. Your division works in crisis mode all the time, so keeping your network up and running leaves no time to make improvements. Of course, dedicating entire resources to improvement is out of the question, because you need all the hands you can get to constantly ‘fight fires'. All of this leads to increased downtime, poor change and event management, and extended repair times when things go wrong.

Your costs could be escalating, not decreasing. It's becoming more and more expensive to manage your network in-house because you lack scale in your ICT division. You hire expensive experts to deliver low-end services, because you just don't have the budget to make a distinction in skills levels. Everyone in your division does everything.

Maybe your business unit heads are engaging with outside providers. Often, they'll source IT-as-a-service options directly from a provider without involving the ICT division. The perception is that the service they get there is more responsive and prompt, and therefore suits their immediate requirements better.

Or perhaps your users complain that they have a better ICT experience at home than at work. Today's employees - particularly younger generations - tend to be more technology savvy and connected at home than before. As a result, they're more demanding and have a low tolerance for inconsistent services or underperforming technology.

Finally, your customers coule be complaining about not getting the same services as available at competing organisations. Without improving your infrastructure with strategic and tactical considerations in mind, it's hard to keep your competitive edge. You're starting to fall behind the market in terms of launching new offerings.

Losing face, losing trust, losing say

If you recognise your organisation in any, or all, of these symptoms, you should see this as a cry for help. Your anxiety about losing strategic control of your network by sourcing management help from outside may be causing you to lose control of your operations instead. And the outcome of that might be more far-reaching than you expect. You may already be losing the trust of your business to deliver new and forward- thinking services. And that's only the first step: once trust is lost, so is influence. Before long, important top-level decisions about the vision, mission, and evolution of the business as a whole might be bypassing the ICT division altogether.

It's time to reconsider. It's time to ask for help. If your question is still whether it's possible to rid your cash-strapped and understaffed ICT division of the burden and frustration of day-to-day maintenance without giving up control of your network's strategic future, the answer is a resounding yes. It's possible to do so in three steps.

Step1: Free up some cash by cutting costs in the right place

Look inside first. It's becoming a widely known fact that the biggest part of what your network costs you to own has nothing to do with how much you pay external service providers for things like basic maintenance and support services. In fact, if the way you operate your infrastructure is already showing the danger signs we've discussed, the worst thing you can do is to reduce the level of help you get from outside. You can only save so much by skimping on service contracts.

Probably as much as 85% of your budget goes to internal ‘run' costs, that is, you're spending it on in-house engineers, logistics, vendor management, management tools, and training - much of it to little effect because, chances are, your internal systems and processes are immature. And as your network grows in both size and complexity, the problem just gets worse. Try to standardise and streamline as much as you can, while also reducing your contract costs.

Step 2: Don't sweat the small stuff

Systems and process standardisation usually makes it glaringly obvious that many of your most valuable in-house skills and resources are being wasted on simple, day-to-day tasks. These may just as well be assigned to an external services provider you can trust to offer you predictable costs and guaranteed service levels.

Decide which services and functions you really need to do yourself, particularly those that have the most important strategic value. In other words, offload more of the regular operations, such as break-fixing and monitoring, while retaining more of the strategic functions, such as researching, planning, and development.

Step 3: Pick the right partner

This might be the most crucial of all the decisions you need to make. A provider of managed network services isn't the same as a provider of basic maintenance services. A vendor, for example, may look after only its own brand of technologies in your network, and has no visibility or say over the rest.

Nor is a managed network service provider the same as an outsourcer. In an outsourced model, the provider is both responsible and accountable for the infrastructure. With a managed network service, you retain financial and strategic control - and you're still accountable. The service provider is responsible only for the day-to- day operations.

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