Although IT is now a fundamental part of the structure of a business, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding all the available management options. Search engine Google estimates there are around 135,000 searches each month for ‘What is IT outsourcing?’, 33,100 for ‘What are managed services’ and 27,100 for ‘What are shared services?’.
There is obviously a great need for clarification on the alternatives to managing the IT department in-house.
IT sourcing models
Generally, when certain business functions or operations are performed and managed by an external party, it is called outsourcing. In the case of IT support, many things can be outsourced: from the help desk to software development, from a small part of the department to all of it.
We normally define full IT outsourcing the practice of having an external provider take care of all IT support functions and operations: staff, hardware and software usually belong to the third party used, and are based at the provider’s site. This could also be located in another country or continent, taking the form of near-shoring (within the same continent) or off-shoring (overseas).
A different approach is to keep the infrastructure in-house and only outsource management and staffing to an external partner – totally or in part. When the IT department is kept in-house but completely managed by a service provider, you have a managed service. If only some staff members are managed by an external provider, like in the case where different service providers coexist in the same environment to keep competition high, it is called a co-sourced environment. Finally, managed sourcing is the practice of having some extra resources to cover for sickness, annual leave and peak in service as needs arise without having to employ contractors and going through a selection process, as these engineers are immediately procured and managed by a third party. Managed sourcing typically has a lesser supplier management framework associated with it and is suitable for quick, lower cost and high volume resourcing. This practice can lead to the supply converting into aco-sourced or managed service support service in time.
An externally managed IT support service can also be shared between a number of companies, for added cost benefits: this is a shared service, which can be especially efficient if the participating companies have similar needs and environments, and the number of those sharing is kept low. This model can also be adopted in part, limited to certain functions such as out-of-hours support or peak times.
Reasons for outsourcing
Why do people use outsourcing and managed services for their IT? There are many different reasons for this. A KPMG report entitled ‘UK Service Provider Performance and Satisfaction 2012’ shows how the drivers for outsourcing are constantly changing. If a couple of years ago the main drivers were financial – ‘cost savings’ for 83 per cent of respondents, and ‘financial flexibility’ for 41 per cent – there is now a shift towards a more holistic and strategic view of this practice. Whilst ‘cost savings’ remains very high (70 per cent) it is now followed by ‘access to skills’ for 51 per cent of participants and ‘quality improvement’ in 46 per cent of cases.
Overall, you can say that having access to skills and experience which are not present in-house is one of the main aspects of outsourcing the IT support function. Having a generally predictive cost (depending on the contract) and being able to control service quality through Service Level Agreements (SLA) are a near-guarantee for service desk cost-efficiency.
Choosing the right sourcing model
Every organisation has different needs and requirements, therefore their IT support needs to be personalised for maximum success. A pure model – full IT outsourcing or a fully managed service – can be effective for some organisations, but others may feel that a mixed model, integrating co-sourcing and shared services in their normal in-house service, works better for them.
Your service provider of choice needs to understand this and help you choose the right model for you, therefore both fit for purpose and fit for use. Having previous experience of your environment is also an important advantage, especially if IT has a strategic function for your organisation, such as in the case of banks, traders, law firms or some media companies. A thing which organisations wishing to use one of the many outsourcing solutions need to know is that the choice of service provider is as important as the choice of model.
A combination of trusted IT service provider and appropriate sourcing model is key to transform the IT function from mere business support to a business enabler. IT can then become a value-add and help organisations improve their service to their clients – with all the benefits this entails.
Ben Whitehead, Service Delivery Manager