This is part 3 of a 4 part series exploring the difference between a one, two or three man IT support model and a managed IT support contract. The author has over 30 years working as an IT leader with some of the best run companies in the world. He has worked both sides of the fence – as a company IT employee and for outsource providers. He’s seen successful engagements and failures. This experience informs this series.
My intent in writing this series of blog articles is to compare and contrast qualities of in-house IT with a managed IT contract. In Part 1 last month, I discussed cost, response, reliability, dependability and help desk. In Part 2, I compared experience level, dependability, process and world view. In Part 3, I’ll discuss the differences I’ve seen in the use of tools, technology and standards.
In Information Technology language, ‘tools’ refers to software and hardware that monitor, assess and detect anomalies on the network. They can sit quietly in the background, collecting information regarding ‘normal’ performance and send alerts if ‘normal’ changes. They can also be used post facto to diagnose changes from ‘normal’.
Tools range in price and sophistication. Open source tools are often free or low cost. These tools may or may not come with formal support and training. Vendors sometimes provide tool sets for free to promote the sale of their products. Other commercial tools may come with an extensive list of features and a high price tag. Senior Network engineers and senior security officers, with certifications from companies like Cisco, are generally responsible for implementing and operating these tool sets.
Small IT shops may have a spattering of tools IT individuals are comfortable using. Rarely do they have the technical training to use many tools that are available. They use tools with which they feel comfortable, when they use tools at all. I’ve never seen a small IT shop that has invested in a robust, comprehensive tool set necessary to adequately manage and support modern networks. Gaps exist. Support suffers accordingly in poor performance and lengthy down times.
A managed IT support model includes many of the tools and techniques used by the best run companies. Managed IT organizations must leverage these tools to respond effectively to network problems, keep ahead of potential complications and achieve superior customer service. The cost of these tools and the training required to apply them are built into your contract cost. The managed IT partner assumes the responsibility to purchase, upgrade, train, analyze and track changes on your network using tools small IT shops don’t use. This translates to better business performance.
How do you choose technology? Do you go with Microsoft or Linux servers? What laptop is the most reliable for field use? What backup solution will you use? Is Amazon or Microsoft cloud best for your business? Should you upgrade to the newest Microsoft Office release? Is Cisco network equipment really the most reliable? Should we move to VoIP phones? How do you know you’re getting the best bang for the buck?
Small IT shops influence technology buy decisions every day. Usually, business leadership looks to their IT staff because they don’t have the experience or knowledge to distinguish between technologies. In my experience the small IT shop chooses technology for which they are the most familiar, independent of a cohesive plan or ‘best for the business’ case. This fractured approach leads to high costs and poorer support down the line.
A relationship with a managed IT provider, over time, should make technology purchases a business driven decision. Managed IT provider has a broad, deep and historical view of technology as it has evolved. They’ve seem the results of both good and bad decisions by their customers and use this experience to inform their recommendations. Furthermore, a managed IT provider should always analyze your needs from a ‘tell me about your business requirement’ perspective. They’ll take that information, along with understanding your current technology state, and help you mold a closer knit, standard configuration. This approach will help create a lower cost, high performing environment for better business performance.
Driving toward business driven standards is another approach for simplifying your network, lowering cost and improving uptime. Small IT shops may have loosely defined standards if any and are quick to jump on the newest technology for technology sake. This approach results in a hodge podge of technology that comes with a high support cost. Can you say, “My IT guy is irreplaceable?”
Standards, especially open standards, are important because they eliminate the ‘irreplaceable’ IT shop. Business owners rarely make decisions based upon a risk, but they should. Ensuring that your technology strategy and tactical implementation are based on open standards will help protect the business by giving it a choice to choose only the best support model for the business. If the business grows and finds it requires higher performance only achievable with a managed IT vendor, then it’s not as risky to make the change. But if the business is stuck running unique technology, then it limits its choices and usually finds those choices are more expensive.
Managed IT wins on tools, technology and standards. Tune into next month’s, Part 4 installment – roles, risk and planning.