Archive for the ‘managed services’ Category

What can be considered ‘warranty’ for a managed IT service?

September 27, 2012

In the plethora of IT offerings companies are faced with, Imageproducts and services have become extremely competitive not only with regards to price, but also in offering their assurance that what they offer is of good quality, will last in time and can deliver on its promise. As this has become the norm, no business would dare buy hardware or software that came without a written warranty. But how can organisations have some sort of guarantee of quality and efficiency when what they want to buy is not a product but a service?

Best practice is designed to understand the utility and warranty of any investment and it is important the distinction between the two is understood. The utility of an investment is the recognition of whether it is ‘fit for purpose’; the warranty goes beyond that to recognise whether your fit-for-purpose product is actually fit for use.

Firstly, it is important to understand which aspects are central in defining what can be identified as ‘warranty’ for a managed service. A good track record is of course imperative for the Service Provider, but this does not necessarily mean a very large number of clients of all types and sizes. Larger and widely-known Service Providers are not automatically the best choice for an organisation – can they understand your particular business, give you what you need and deliver the most cost-efficient service? You will find that a provider which is specialised or has relevant experience in dealing with organisations that are very similar to yours in type, size and needs might be the best choice for you. So this is what you should look at as a guarantee: a provider that has successfully carried out projects for clients that are similar to your organisation.

At the same time, it is important that the provider does not offer you an out-of-the-box solution for ‘all organisations like yours’. You might be similar in your structure and needs to other organisations, but this does not mean that you do not have some important differences. For example, NHS clinics all have similar needs and structure, but are very different in the way they deal with them – most clinics will use customised software and have different types of end users. The same is true for financial firms, from banks to private investment or currency exchange firms, where efficient and tailored IT is a vital element for their success.  In fact, every sector is vastly different, so in a selection exercise, be sure to understand the Service Providers you are talking to can offer positive evidence that they have supplied similar solutions.  Further to that, Service Providers that service a wider range of sectors will typically have a greater advantage in providing bespoke or ‘tailored’ solutions for your organisation.

These aspects are crucial in your choice of Service Providers, but what can guarantee the quality of the actual service itself? This mainly lies in the Service Level Agreement (SLA), which outlines agreed levels of performance monitored through certain metrics such as First-Time-Fix rate, calls answered within a set time, Abandonment rates, etc. These targets need to be consistently met, and if they are not, the Provider will be in breach of the SLA, which can have a financial impact. Consistently missing targets might mean the Provider losing the client and, in the long run, their reputation as well. With these metrics in place, it is in the provider’s own interest to perform at their best and not incur in fines or contract termination.

The choice of SLAs can make the difference between real and perceived efficiency and inefficiency. It is good practice to spend some time deciding, together with the Provider, what metrics to adopt (some will be more relevant than others) and where to set targets. Metrics have to be very detailed – setting a typical ‘70 % First Time Fix rate’ on its own is not enough. Ask yourselves: what counts as FTF? It normally refers to simple and common issues dealt with by Service Desk staff; but should printer cartridge replacement be considered a FTF even if it’s done by desk-side engineers? If some end users insist in a desk visit will it not be included in the FTF rate? This allows to have a clearer picture of how efficient of inefficient the service is and to understand if a managed service solution is right for your organisation or should be somehow modified to improve performance.

These metrics need to be tangible and agreed before they are incorporated into a live service.

In conclusion, we could say that a ‘warranty’ for a managed service should cover both the Service Provider and the service offered. It is a guarantee of quality if the Service Provider has the right track record for your company and the appropriate SLAs are in place, as well as fines and penalties for breach of the agreement. Only by carefully choosing the Service Provider which will manage your IT service it is possible to achieve efficient IT which is able to support and enable business success whilst bringing cost savings and general efficiencies to working practices.

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Ben Whitehead, Service Delivery Manager

This piece has been published on ITSM Portal: http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/what-can-be-considered-warranty-managed-it-service

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To learn more about managed services visit: http://www.plan-net.co.uk/index.php/support-services/managed-it-support-services.html

 

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Selling Managed Services to the CFO

August 28, 2012

It can sometimes be very difficult for IT Managers, CIOs and other Senior Managers within the business to get the CFO’s buy-in for an IT project. Many find it even more challenging when they are considering proposing a Managed Service model, where a third party manages the IT Service Desk or parts of it, taking over an in-house function.

The CFO wants to know what the benefits are, especially in financial terms: how does it save us money? What are the risks involved? And finally, why would using a provider be better than doing things in-house? Luckily, it is not difficult to show the return on investment of this sourcing solution if all the factors are accounted for.

Often, the perception in the market place is that a managed service trades in-house knowledge and control for greater cost. This is particularly the case when the organisation does not present the correct business case and/or is unaware of the true expense of its IT Service.

With this in mind, the very first step in preparing the business case for the CFO to review is consider all the financial implications of having an in-house solution. Armed with this knowledge, one can now consider the business case profile for the CFO.

The first and most tangible benefit of a managed IT service is cost. Expenditure related to managing the IT Service Desk can be extremely variable: it includes HR costs, sickness and holiday cover and training, as well as the design and implementation of new strategies and best practices to ensure service efficiency and continual improvement.

With a managed service, all of this becomes a fixed monthly cost, smoothing out the expense and providing known, quantifiable out-goings. It also lowers the risk profile of the service to the business with defined Services Metrics and the Managed service providers taking on the absence cover and staff training.

There is often a general apprehension amongst companies in having a third party take care of an internal function, particularly one that is viewed as the face of IT to the rest of the organisation. It is important to note that, with a managed service, the organisation always retains a level of control over the outsourced function, which allows them to focus on strategic business decisions, rather than grappling with the day-to-day management of the service desk.

Unlike full IT outsourcing, in a managed service the organisation normally retains ownership of all hardware and software, as well as locating the service desk within their premises rather than elsewhere. The organisation sets the Service Level Agreements (SLA) and if these are not met, there will be consequences – normally a fine and, in the long term, the non-renewal of the contract. These SLAs are constantly refined and honed as the business grows and changes.

It is easy to see that, in the end, it is the service provider that risks the most. If they fail, the organisation can find another provider or return to in-house provisioning, but they will damage their reputation and this affects their chances of getting new clients in the future.

Additional benefits include the immediate access to skill-sets and expertise which may be in short supply or not present internally. A fresh approach can result in spotting inefficiencies and improvements that internal staff are used to and don’t see any more, or alternatively are trying to cover up to defend their work and decision-making.

All in all, a managed service is a cost-efficient solution that can increase an organisation’s competitive advantage. There are different models which can be adopted: an organisation might only outsource its helpdesk or desktop support staff, the out-of-hours function, or use the provider for its flexibility in providing an amount of temporary staff for seasonal increase or holiday and sickness cover.

With the right model, tailored to the organisation’s specific needs, IT can become a cost-saver and a real value-add. Managed Services can not only support the business but also help it grow, flexing with the needs of the company and allowing the CFO to invest finances in other areas and projects without having to worry about unexpected IT support costs any more.

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Jennifer Grant, Service Delivery Manager

This article has been published on Service Management: http://bit.ly/Om1Y7r

7 things you should know about Managed IT Services

April 26, 2012

With more and more companies looking at outsourcing solutions for all or part of their IT, it is important to highlight the main features of a Managed Service, especially as an alternative to full outsourcing or off-shoring. Here are 7 things organisations should know about Managed IT Services:

1) It’s not all or nothing
A common misconception is that you have to outsource your entire IT function in order to obtain the cost-efficiencies you are seeking. This leads to the ‘fear factor’ of loss of control/influence of back office Services, and therefore a reluctance to explore the breadth of options available.

The approach more and more firms are adopting is one of precaution whereby they test the theory by outsourcing specific functions to suppliers. It is becoming more commonplace for organisations to outsource their 1st & 2nd line support, an area which is typically not bespoke and more easily replicable by a supplier.

However, the key to success of any outsource venture is the selection of vendors. A plethora of suppliers exist within the market, but it is critical that the supplier of choice is one which is aligned to the specific requirements of the business and does not dictate the provision of Service through a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

You could choose a service provider for out-of-hours support, so that you don’t have to rely on an internal rota system where staff are paid 1.5 or 2 times their hourly rate to provide support from their beds.

Or you could even just get a few extra resources to cover for holidays and/or to provide additional capacity during peak times which compliments and supports your existing solution.

2) It can give you more control over your IT
Whilst an in-house service seems like the best way to be in control of your IT, it is common for difficulties to arise in terms of reaching your target service levels and delivering the high levels of customer service demanded by business users. These limitations are often related to the existing skills, resources and budget that are available internally; there are also elements of staff management that can affect the final results, such as sickness, holiday cover, staff turnover and so on.

Opting for a ‘partial’ outsource means the only thing you need to do is set the appropriate SLAs and then it’s up to the supplier to meet them – using whatever tools and techniques are available, be it up-skilling staff, Continuous Service Improvement (which should be a fundamental delivery item of any managed service) or implementing new processes. In this way, you have more control over the most important thing – the service levels your organisation needs.

You should be looking for someone who wants to build a long term partnership with you and whom you believe will be seen as an extension of your existing IT function, and not ‘that 3rd party lot that sit in the corner!’

3) It’s safer than other types of outsourcing
The additional attraction of ‘partial’ outsourcing is that you retain ownership and control of your systems/data and how they are stored and managed. This is something which has become even more critical given the requirements of data protection and client confidentiality, something which ISO27001 is seeking to address.

This means, for instance, that there will be less issues concerning security of your data than if you used an offshore service desk, where the infrastructure upon which your data is stored and processed is owned by another company based in a country thousands of miles away and where there might be different regulations and laws concerning information security. It is also safer than a fully outsourced solution where all operations are run at another site and using another company’s infrastructure.

4) You will not lose your staff
Some companies which have an internal support function are worried about losing their trusted IT people who have been working for them for years to another company, and not being able to get them back if they decided to do a U-turn after a failed outsourcing contract.

Your employees rights are protected under TUPE, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations, which ensure the terms & conditions at transfer are protected.

This means they are not lost forever – if things don’t turn out well and you want to bring the service back in-house, you can TUPE them back quite easily or onto another supplier.

5) It opens you to new opportunities
The strong benefits to outsourcing are not only the increased levels of Service but the increases in efficiencies and therefore the reduction in cost, something which is clearly a driver for all organisations in the current climate.

With an in-house Service this is often impossible to deliver i.e.

Reduced costs = Reduced Efficiencies = Reduced Service

Outsourcing opens up the possibilities to the adoption of new models which are affordable thanks to the various options available. For instance, a shared out-of-hours service that supports a number of organisations which are similar with regards to type, sector and requirements, with which to share the costs and ability to access high skills; or a dedicated peak-times service in addition to your own in-house desk to help during periods of increased demand, such as a particular event or a busy season.

6) The costs can be shared
If your organisation needs highly efficient support with specific expertise, but does not have the budget for this, a shared service can be an ideal solution. It provides access to the high skills that might be otherwise unaffordable for your organisation but at a much lower price, as the costs are shared between different organisations. Best results are obtained if the participant organisations are of similar type and with similar needs, and if the number of clients sharing is kept to a minimum.

7) It can create a strategic advantage
An efficient, reliable and fast IT Support where all you have to do is set SLAs and expect them to be met can be an asset for certain types of organisations, such as those in the financial sector, especially banks. With so many financial services relying on fast and efficient technology and 24/7/365 uninterrupted accessibility, the less downtime and inefficiencies you have, the more probability you have to gain ground in the market and beat your competitors that have a weaker IT service.

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Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article is on Sourcing focus:

http://www.sourcingfocus.com/site/opinionsitem/5372/

Are managed IT services set to grow this year?

January 25, 2012

Business of all sizes and sectors across the country are still worried about the poor conditions of the current economic environment, which is not set to improve this year, as analysts and experts have already announced. With no way of avoiding this situation, organisations can only try to make the best of it, and perhaps use it as an occasion to really assess what expenses are essential to their business and how they can take advantage of the weakened financial setting. It is important to try to make the best of what one has and what is available in order for an organisation to survive or even grow during hard times.

Of course when money is tight the Service Desk is one of the departments more likely to suffer, with all the possible consequences on the rest of the business. With most IT projects scrapped from the beginning, it takes a good justification to invest in anything more expensive than a screen wipe. Yet correct management of the Service Desk, including continuous training of IT staff, an inexpensive absence cover system, continuous service improvement ethos, updating service management processes to the latest and most relevant best practices and meeting the appropriate targets can still be possible without incurring in eye-watering bills. This is the principle behind a Managed IT Service – a Service Desk can work to a good standard at all times, because someone else is taking care of it and all variable costs become fixed.

Various types of IT outsourcing have become popular in the last few year – from offshoring to cheaper countries to having only some Support staff managed by a provider. Different options work for different organisations, but generally speaking the popularity of one over another during a recession or uncertain economic environment depends on a series of factors and in particular: low risk; ROI; ease of adoption/set-up; as well as a financial factor.  In times like these, where one doesn’t want to be involved in large projects or revolutionise their whole IT department and have to re-think the way they deliver and use IT Support, a radical option such as offshoring or full outsourcing might not be ideal. With a Managed IT Service Desk, the ‘status quo’ of the IT department should not be affected as the expectation is the supplier will implement a robust framework which ensures that existing Service Levels are at least maintained, whilst transitioning the Service Desk to a ‘future state’ model over an agreed period of time.

This meets the requirements of ease of adoption and risk, as it is easier to set up, reverse, retake charge of or switch provider, when compared with a fully outsourced or offshore solution. This option can also assure a certain level of information security compared to a fully outsourced service, as the Service Desk will be based at close sight within the organisation’s premises (unless otherwise requested) and the system, and therefore the data stored and processed within it, is owned by the company. The minimised risk makes this a good choice when one cannot afford to take risks.

As for the financial factor, most outsourcing models will eliminate the cost of certain projects such as staff training or service management implementations, and make variable costs become fixed: the provider will agree to meet certain SLAs for a set price, and it is up to them to provide the appropriate staff upskilling, best practice processes and so on within their budget, in order to meet targets. But a managed IT service will not require the extra cost of moving the service desk elsewhere, hiring or buying new equipment, sending managers over to another place, city or country to check on how the service desk is doing and, also, the costs involved in switching back to in-house or to another provider if the initial project failed.

Finally, the return on investment is clear and demonstrable. Having an expert provider taking control of your existing IT Service Desk will increase productivity and efficiency, reduce the volume of incidents and Service failures and ensure a significant part of your IT spend is fixed and controlled, giving the company peace of mind (IT becomes someone else’s problem) and allowing business to function at its best.

With these premises, it is likely that managed IT services will be chosen over and over again as an option to meet the demanding IT standards of a modern-day organisation in a time when any investment must be carefully thought and justified, and the return on investment clearly proven. This much needed headache relief can allow companies to carry out their business without having to worry about the quality and sudden expenses related to their IT, and therefore get a better chance to survive or even increase their work in these hard times.

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article is on Sourcing Focus: http://www.sourcingfocus.com/site/opinionsitem/4807/

Focus on 2012: 5 key areas in Enterprise IT

December 19, 2011

According to the industry analysts, experts and professionals, some of the changes and novelties introduced in the last few years are set to become actual trends in 2012. Influenced by the ever-challenging economic climate, disillusioned yet careful outlook on industry best practices and need to obtain measurable efficiency from any IT project, these are the five key areas that will acquire growing importance next year:

1)      Larger use of non-desktop-based applications

This is due to of a growing need for mobility and flexibility. Users need to be able to work while travelling, from any desk or office (for instance, in the case of large/international companies) and from home, as home-working is growing due to the financial benefits involved. It is also a good choice to guarantee business continuity in the case of unforeseen circumstances such as natural disaster or strikes which leave the workers stranded or unable to reach the office. As well as cloud applications, virtualised desktops are becoming a must-have for many organisations. Companies with older desktops which need updating anyway will find this switch more financially convenient, as well as those which have a large number of mobile users which need to access applications from their smartphone or laptop while out of their main office. It can also give those organisations considering or embracing home-working more control over the desktops, as they will be centralised and managed by the company and not at user level.

2)      Larger use of outsourced management services

The ‘doing more with less’ concept that started to take grip at the beginning of the past recession has translated into practical measures. These include handing part or the whole of the Service Desk to an external service provider which, for a fixed cost, will know how to make the best of what the company has, and provide skilled personnel, up-to-date technology and performance metrics. Managed services, IT outsourcing and cloud services will become even more prominent in 2012 and the following years due to their convenience from a practical and financial point of view. With the right service provider, the outcome is improved efficiency, less losses deriving from IT-related incidents and more manageable IT expenditure.

3)      Management plans for ‘big data’

There is much talk around the current topic of ‘big data’, which describes the concept of the large amount of varied data organisations have to deal with nowadays. There are some practical issues that arise from this – mainly how to store it, share it and use it, all without breaching the Data Protection Act. However, at the moment it is still very difficult to understand how to take the next step: using this data strategically and to create business advantage. This is something companies will have to look at in the years to come; as for the next year, they might just concentrate on dealing with data safely and efficiently, possibly storing it on a private virtual server or using public cloud services.

4)      A more balanced approach to security

This new approach sees the over-adoption of security measures dropped after the realisation that it might affect productivity as it may cause delay in carrying out business operations; it could also diminish opportunities that are found in sharing data within the sector to allow organisations to improve and grow; lastly, it can be counter-productive, with employees bypassing the measures in place in order to make operations quicker. Although being compliant with on-going regulations is becoming vital, there will be more scoping and tailoring than large technology adoption. Organisations will be analysed to understand which areas are in need of security measures and to what extent. This way, heavy security measures will be applied only to high risk areas rather than throughout the whole organisations, with less critical areas able to work more freely. In this approach, risks are balanced against efficiency and opportunity and the end result is a tailored solution rather than a collection of off-the-shelf products.

5)      Less budget control

Due to the challenging economic climate, other departments, in particular the financial department and therefore the DOF, will have more control over IT investments. CIOs and IT Managers will have to be able to evaluate if their IT project is necessary or just a nice-to-have, and how it can bring business advantage.  All proposed IT investment will have to be justified financially; therefore, it is important to analyse each project and find a reasonable ROI before presenting it to the finance decision-makers. This implies that IT professionals have to learn ‘business talk’ and manage to translate difficult technical descriptions in business terms.

All in all, developments within IT will not come to a halt next year – investment and changes will continue but with a more careful outlook and a stronger focus on efficiency, safety and Return on Investment rather than on following trends or adopting the latest technology for the sake of it. Because of this, the difficult economic climate could also be seen as a good thing: organisations make wiser and far-sighted choices that will create a solid base for any future decision that will be made when times are less tough and spending capacity rises, increasing the efficiency potential of IT for business purposes.

Tony Rice, Service Delivery Manager

IT Support: grow-your-own or buy organic?

May 12, 2011

IT support staff are for many companies what vegetables are to your body – essential elements for efficient functioning and critical to avoid major failures. Exactly like cultivating your own greens, having an in-house IT team may give you a sense of trust and control unlike other solutions. However, it is also expensive and time-consuming, therefore not always convenient.

A ‘home-grown’ solution may suit larger organisations that either have the need to train analysts to use their self-developed software, have security or strategic reasons to have total control over the IT department or have the resources (financial, human and time-related) to train and manage a large IT personnel base – although this is quickly moving away from the norm for even these sizes of business.

Other organisations, smaller and more prone to seeking cost-efficiencies even outside of the office, might find an outsourcing or managed service solution more suitable. Of course, getting engineers from a service provider is like getting veggies from a market stall or through online shopping – it is generally easier and cheaper, but the risk is that they are not trustworthy. The engineers provided by a third party are completely out of your control: you don’t know where they come from, if they were trained correctly or if they will harm your company by stealing data.

But this might not be a huge problem for small companies for which IT is not strategic. A full outsourcing or offshoring solution could suit organisations which do not need engineers with very specific knowledge or strict SLAs and for which data security is not a major issue. However, companies which do need security and efficiency, but also to cut down cost and access expertise they lack internally, would need a solution that merges control with delegation.

Going back to the vegetables metaphor, to balance the need for quality and reliability with the desire to delegate cultivation and management, you would probably go to a trusted organic greengrocer’s, where products feature quality labels, PDO and organic certificates, and a reliable, experienced source.

It is in fact important to carefully choose a support provider that can meet your specific needs, with certified, trained and up-to-date engineers able to meet targets measured through KPIs. Managed services, moreover, will allow the organisation to keep some kind of control over the IT department while leaving its management to the experts.

All in all, there isn’t one best choice: an organisation might find advantage in keeping the department in-house, having a co-sourced solution or outsourcing management or the whole department to a third party. The important decision is to choose carefully based on the organisation’s features, needs and goals so that IT can be used as part of their overall strategy for business success.

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article has appeared on Computing magazine and Computing.co.uk: http://www.computing.co.uk/ctg/opinion/2069345/support-grow-organic


Surviving IT spending cuts in the public sector

February 15, 2011

How to create cost-efficiencies in the post-Spending Review scenario

After the announcement of 25%-40% budget cuts last year, it is reasonable to expect IT to be one of the departments to suffer the most in public sector organisations. However, cuts in IT support and projects may bring inefficiencies and disruptions, which can then lead to real losses and increasing costs.  More than ever, CIOs and IT Directors at public sector organisations are taking various options into consideration, from quick-fixes to farther-sighted ideas, trying to find a solution that will produce savings without compromising on service quality and data security, and perhaps even increasing efficiency. Here are some common ideas analysed:

Solution 1: Reducing headcount

Firing half of your IT team will produce immediate savings since you will not have to pay them a salary the following months, but when Support staff is insufficient or not skilled enough to meet the organisation’s needs it can lead to excessive downtime, data loss, security breaches or the inability to access applications or the database. A ‘quick-fix’ such as this represents a false economy. Reviewing resource allocation and improving skill distribution at Service Desk level, on the other hand, can be a valid solution. Indeed many IT departments can find themselves top heavy with expert long serving team members where the knowledge supply out-weighs the demand. A larger proportion of lower-cost 1st line engineers with improved and broader skills and a fair reduction of the more deeply skilled and costly 2nd and 3rd line technicians can not only reduce staff spend, but also create efficiencies with more calls being solved with first-time fix.

Solution 2: Offshoring

Although the thought of employing staff who only ask for a small percentage of a normal UK salary may sound appealing, offshoring is not as simple as ABC. It requires a large upfront investment to set up the office abroad, with costs including hardware, software, office supplies and travel and accommodation of any personnel that manages the relationship with the supplier. Organisations are not able to afford that kind of investment, especially since this solution only creates cost-savings in the long term – but the public sector needs cost savings now. Furthermore, the different culture and law can represent a risk to information security: data could be easily accessed by staff in a country thousands of miles away and sold for a couple of dollars, as various newspapers and TV channels have found out. With the extreme sensitivity of data processed by Councils, charities and the NHS, no matter how hard foreign suppliers try to convince the public sector to offshore their IT, it is unlikely this will happen – it is simply too risky.

Solution 3: IT Cost Transparency

Understanding the cost of IT and its value to the organisation, being able to prioritise and manage people and assets accordingly and knowing what can be sacrificed, can help identify where money is being wasted, which priorities need to be altered and what can be improved. For instance, do all employees need that piece of software if only three people actually use it more than twice a year, and do you need to upgrade it every year? Do all incidents need to be resolved now, or can some wait until the more urgent ones are dealt with? Do you need a printer in each room, and when it breaks do you need to buy a new one or could you make do with sharing one machine with another room? These and many other questions will lead to more efficient choices, but only after having identified and assessed the cost and value of each aspect of IT, including people and assets.

Solution 4: Cloud computing

There are contrasting opinions on this matter. The Government CIO, John Suffolk encourages the use of this service, and reckons that the public sector would be able to save £1.2bn by 2014 thanks to this solution. However, many believe that placing data in the hands of a service provider can be risky due to the highly sensitive nature of the data involved, so traditional Cloud computing may not be an ideal solution.

A shared environment such as the G-cloud, where various public sector organisation share private data centres or servers, may be a safer option that allows the public sector to achieve major efficiencies and cost savings, while minimising issues related to data security.

Solution 5: Shared Services

A shared service desk is not for everyone – it can only work if the organisations sharing have similar needs, culture and characteristics, and as IT can be a strategic advantage for competitive businesses, sharing the quality may mean losing this advantage. But for the public sector, this solution may be ideal. Local councils with the same functions, services and needs will be able to afford a higher level of service for a reasonable price, sharing the cost and the quality.

Solution 6: Service Management Good Practice

‘Doing more with less’ is one of the most used quotes since the recession started. And it is exactly what the public sector is looking for. Public organisations don’t want to be ITIL-aligned, obtain certifications, and tick the boxes. All they want is efficiency and cost savings – and through the right Service Management moves, after an Efficiency Review to find out what needs improvement and how, this can be obtained through the right choices regarding people, processes and technology.

Solution 7: Managed Services

A solution where the IT Service Desk is kept internal with its assets owned by the company, but managed by a service provider is becoming more and more popular among organisations from all sectors. When the sensitivity of data and a desire for a certain level of control over IT rules out full outsourcing, but in-house management does not allow to reach potential cost savings and efficiencies, a managed service may represent the ideal ‘in-between’ choice. The post-Spending Review public sector, then, may benefit from a flexible solution that is safer than outsourcing, but more cost-effective than an in-house solution.

Every challenge can be a new opportunity

Although budget reduction may affect investment in large IT projects and shiny new technology, it also represents the ideal opportunity to analyse what is essential and what is not, and to prioritise projects based on this. The public sector, then, find itself prioritising for effectiveness over compliance, cost-efficiency over cheapness and experience over offers, when choosing providers and tools for their IT. This will lead to the choice of solutions that will help organisations run more smoothly and safely, invest their resources better and, ultimately, deliver a service that will bring maximum customer and user satisfaction.

Martin Hill, Head of Support Operations

(also on Business Computing World: http://www.businesscomputingworld.co.uk/how-to-create-cost-efficiencies-in-the-post-spending-review-scenario/)

Taking the third option

October 26, 2010

Many organisations are moving to a ‘best of both worlds’ between insourcing and outsourcing – Managed Services.

Efficient management of IT Support has become a crucial issue for organisations across all sectors. It is being increasingly recognised not only as a means to improve the whole business, but also as an instrument to create strategic advantage and added business value.

Many organisations identify two distinct types of management options for their IT Support – controlled and visible in-sourcing and the apparently cost-efficient outsourcing.  But for organisations dealing with high value users, non standard applications or sensitive data, outsourcing can represent too big a risk, leaving the single option of keeping IT Support in-house. Financial institutions, law firms, professional services businesses and some sections of the public sector may well then believe that they have no option but to ignore a potentially sizable benefit in cost and efficiency.

However, there is a third option embraced by a diverse pool of organisations such as software giant Microsoft, public sector body Serious Fraud Office and law firm Simmons & Simmons that allow the utilisation of outsourcing benefits with none of the drawbacks – the Managed Service.

A recent survey of CIOs showed that 19 per cent of those interviewed are already using Managed Services for their IT Service Desk, and that number is expected to rise to 34 per cent towards the middle of 2011. According to participants in the CIO Market Pulse Survey for Management Excellence they chose Managed Services primarily due to a lack of appropriate internal resources, a desire to retain control and the need to reduce costs.

A Managed Service was seen as the best option for their organisation because it was thought to be less risky than traditional outsourcing and more efficient than internal management. In fact, this solution can be regarded as more than just the halfway house between insourcing and outsourcing, it is now in many cases a superior solution incorporating all the best features of both and none of the weaknesses.

Its main strengths are similar to those of outsourcing – for instance, the provider manages all aspects of the function, from staff to operations and is responsible for Service Level Agreements and TUPE. The differences mainly involve the physical location of the team, with a Managed Service utilising the clients office space and infrastructure and an Outsource placing the team anywhere in the world.

Although outsourcing is universally assumed to be the cheapest option since it is often carried out in countries where the cost of labour is very low, statistics show that overall cost savings often don’t exceed a mere 10-15%. In fact, when the possible degradation of service and inevitable cultural changes are forced into the user base and given a cost, the actual saving can be in low single digits. The problem becomes even more acute when the user base comprises staff who generate income streams or are a high salary cost to the business.

Using high value users’ time to prop up a poor performing support function can easily be costed and the results are startling. Using just an average user cost to a business  of say £20 p.h., simple maths demonstrates that 30 extra minutes per month per user spent interacting with a poor Service Desk, in a 2000 user business will cost it £240,000 p.a. in lost working time. Using the same equation with a Doctor, Lawyer or Banker’s costs produces frightening numbers.

Moreover, offshoring presents an increased risk of data security breaches: there have been many stories in the press of offshore employees selling credit card, health and other personal details collected from client databases.  It can be difficult to control and monitor an office located on the other side of the globe, but the problem of data security does not end with offshoring – even when the outsourced support function is located near the client’s office, all information stored and processed in the systems owned by the provider is at risk, and so is the intellectual property.

If the function is run on the client site and the assets are owned by the client, there is a sense of control over the data and intellectual property. These characteristics make Managed Services similar to insourcing. However, unlike an in-house solution, management of operations, processes and staff is left to the expertise of professionals who are measured via SLA and more often than not, subject to penalties for failure to perform.

Little wonder then that organisations across all sectors are embracing ‘the third option’. Microsoft made headlines when a press release announced that their Service Desk, desk-side services and infrastructure and application support were managed onsite by a provider. Although some of the firm’s critics took it as a sign of weakness, assuming that a software company should be an expert at managing the Service Desk as well, the IT community understood that it was a strategic move driven by the desire to create cost-efficiencies in a safe way. If the likes of Microsoft choose managed services over in-sourcing and outsourcing as the best solution for them, it is likely that the model will apply for many other organisations where control and cost reduction is vital.

It appears that instead of forcing more organisations to offshore to cheaper countries, the economic environment is leading to managed services becoming the favoured choice. According to the CIO survey, 40 per cent of organisations are adopting this option as a result of the economic climate for different aspects of their IT. In comparison, only 26 per cent are turning to outsourcing and 29 per cent are keeping services in-house.

Taking all of this into account, the evidence appears to suggest that the future of IT Support as a business enabler rests on finding the right balance between control and delegation, thus ensuring efficiency meets security in an environment which remains in sight and firmly in mind. Although outsourcing and insourcing still have a place in many organisations, as sourcing models mature and evolve it is becoming apparent that a significant number of organisations will move towards more bespoke, internally managed solutions to meet their particular needs.

Richard Forkan, Director

Find this article on Outsource Magazine: http://www.outsourcemagazine.co.uk/articles/item/3589-taking-the-third-option

The peculiarities of Metro Bank’s IT outsourcing model

October 20, 2010

Recently-launched Metro Bank has made headlines these last few months for more than one reason: it is the first high-street bank to launch in over 100 years; it follows a retail store model, offering longer opening hours and no weekly closing day; and virtually all of their IT is outsourced to a Managed Services provider.

The news of a bank outsourcing its IT does not come as a complete surprise, as many banks outsource certain functions such as software development, IT Support etc. There are elements of novelty in this choice, though – for instance the fact everything but security and the local networks and terminal devices is being outsourced, which puts a lot of technology in the hands of the provider. It is also unusual that they have chosen a new provider, niu Solutions, which is a merger of four different IT and telecom providers and has little track record as a unified company. And finally, what is most interesting about Metro Bank’s set-up is that they are using a new ‘pay-as-you-grow’ Managed Service model that is highly-virtualised, flexible and scalable – something only a start-up is likely to have considered.

Some publications reported that the bank is using cloud computing, but they are probably mistaking the somewhat flimsy term with plain virtualisation. This is not a shared service – the bank has paid upfront for the hardware and has employed the provider to manage their systems, which run remotely from two data centres in the UK.   While it’s likely that the provider will be looking to add customers to the model, there’s little doubt that Metro will insist upon a high degree of separation of “their” equipment in the provider’s datacentre to help minimise security risks.

With any financial firm, but particularly a retail bank, information security is an overriding concern.  As well as the detailed personal and financial records they hold for their customers, there is also concern about who has access to the various financial systems that are used for recording and executing financial transactions.

Locating kit at a provider’s premises introduces a transfer of control issue, but Metro bank will mitigate that by ensuring data at rest is encrypted, and that the right security standards are enforced at the provider’s datacentres.

Clearly it is in the provider’s interest to supply a good and secure service to retain their clients and their reputation, and the advantage of dealing with a supplier is that roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined and contracted.  This is in contrast to relying on internal staff – the assumption might be that this improves security, but it also introduces the risk that there is less formality and, consequently, fewer proper control measures.

The biggest concern in a modern bank is logical security, rather than physical. Access to accounts and key financial systems will be highly restricted and audited. Since operational security at Metro Bank is retained in-house, the risks of a provider’s rogue employee having the level of access necessary to steal data or using the system for criminal purposes is relatively low.

A concern in any outsourcing arrangement is the financial stability of your chosen partner.  Such concerns would be particularly acute for Metro Bank as there would be serious repercussions if, for example, a company failure meant it couldn’t get access to its systems.  Clearly Metro will have done its homework on its chosen provider and insisted on various safeguards and insurances.

The new ‘pay-as-you-grow’ model appears to be convenient especially because of its scalability potentials – after an upfront payment for hardware, the bank pays a cost per user and increases its spend as the client and user base grows. With any new venture, it can be difficult to predict what the level of growth will be, and by adopting this model Metro will only pay for the growth as it’s achieved – rather than needing to make significant upfront investments to ensure growth isn’t hindered. Also, by leaving IT to the experts the bank is able to concentrate on customers and operations without having to worry about IT availability and support, sure of getting a high quality service thanks to SLAs.

This model is certainly interesting, but needs to show it can work in order to gain more trust among both banks and bank customers, and therefore be embraced by a larger number of companies. Retail banking is a better candidate for the model than, say, Investment Banking where the breadth of systems typically used and high-speed real-time requirements for data delivery might deter the organisation from being so bold. Nevertheless, this innovation can create many benefits from a business point of view: if this model manages to work over time, it could create many more opportunities for service providers to enlarge their range of work, and for banks to embrace cost-efficiencies that will enhance their competitive value and, ultimately, their potential for success.

Adrian Polley, CEO

Are you Off-Sure about your IT Service Desk?

July 15, 2010

No matter the economic climate, or indeed within which industry they operate, organisations are constantly seeking to lower the cost of IT while also trying to improve performance. The problem is it can often seem impossible to achieve one without compromising on the other and in most cases, cost cutting will take prevalence, leading to a dip in service levels.

When things get tough the popularity of off-shoring inevitably increases, leading many decision-makers to consider sending the IT Service Desk off to India, China or Chile as a convenient solution financially – low-cost labour for high-level skills is how offshore service providers are advertising the service.

In reality things are not so straightforward. The primary reason for off-shoring is to reduce costs, but according to experts average cost savings only tend to lie between 10-15%, and what is more, additional costs can be created – research shows, in fact, that they can in some cases increase by 25%.

Hidden costs, cultural differences and low customer and user satisfaction are reasons which have made nearly 40% of UK companies surveyed by the NCC Evaluation Centre change their mind and either reverse the move – a phenomenon known as ‘back-shoring’ or ‘reverse off-shoring’ – or think about doing so in the near future. Once an organisation decides to reverse the decision, however, the process is not trouble-free. Of those who have taken services back in-house, 30% say they have found it ‘difficult’ and nearly half, 49%, ‘moderately difficult’. Disruptions and inefficiencies often lead to business loss, loss of client base and, more importantly, a loss of reputation – it is in fact always the client and not the provider which suffers the most damage in this sense.

Data security is another great concern in off-shoring. An ITV news programme recently uncovered a market for data stolen at offshore service providers: bank details and medical information could be easily bought for only a few pounds, often just from call centre workers. Of course information security breaches can happen even in-house, caused by internal staff; however, in off-shoring the risk is increased by the distance and the different culture and law which exist abroad.

Not a decision to be taken lightly, then. Organisations should realise that the IT Service Desk is a vital business tool and while outsourcing has its advantages, if they do it by off-shoring they are placing the face of their IT system on the other side of the planet, and in the hands of a provider that might not have the same business culture, ethics and regulations as they do.

So before thinking about off-shoring part or the whole IT department, organisations would be wise to take the time to think about why their IT is so expensive and what they could do to improve it, cutting down on costs without affecting quality, efficiency and security and moreover, not even having to move it from its existing location.

Here are some measures organisations could take in order to improve efficiency in the IT Service Desk while at the same time reducing costs:

Best practice implementation

Adoption of Best Practice is designed to make operations faster and more efficient, reducing downtime and preserving business continuity. The most common Best Practice in the UK is ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) which is divided into different disciplines – Change Management, Risk Management, Incident Management to name but a few.

ITIL processes can be seen as a guide to help organisations plan the most efficient routes when dealing with different types of issues, from everyday standard operations and common incidents up to rarer events and even emergencies.

Whilst incident management seems to be easily recognised as a useful tool, other applications of ITIL are unfairly seen by many as a nice to have. But implementing best practice processes to deal with change management, for example, is particularly important: if changes are carried out in a random way they can cause disruptions and inefficiencies, and when a user cannot access resources or has limited use of important tools to carry out their work, business loss can occur – and not without cost.

Every minute of downtime is a minute of unpaid work, but costs can also extend to customer relationship and perhaps loss of client base if the inefficiencies are frequent or very severe.

Realignment of roles within the Service Desk

With Best Practice in place, attention turns to the set-up of resources on the Service Desk. A survey conducted by Plan-Net showed that the average IT Service Desk is composed of 35% first-line analysts, 48% second line and 17% third line. According to Gartner statistics, the average first-line fix costs between £7 and £25 whereas second line fixes normally vary from £24 to £170. Second and third line technicians have more specific skills, therefore their salaries are much higher than the ones of first line engineers; however, most incidents do not require such specific skills or even physical presence.

An efficient Service Desk will be able to resolve 70% of their calls remotely at first line level, reducing the need for face-to-face interventions by second line engineers. The perception of many within IT is that users prefer a face-to-face approach to a phone call or interaction with a machine, but in reality the culture is starting to change thanks to efficiency acquiring more importance within the business. With second-line fix costing up to 600% more, it is better to invest in a Service Desk that hits a 70% rate of first-time fix, users for the most part will be satisfied that their issues are fixed promptly and the business will go along way to seeing the holy grail of reduced costs and improved performance simultaneously.

From a recent survey carried out by Forrester for TeamQuest Corporation, it appears that 50% of organisations normally use two to five people to resolve a performance issue, and 35% of the participants are not able to resolve up to 75% of their application performance issues within 24 hours. Once you calculate the cost of number of staff involved multiplied by number of hours to fix the incident, it is not difficult to see where the costly problem lies. An efficient solution will allow IT to do more with less people, and faster.

Upskilling and Service Management toolset selection

Statistics show that the wider adoption of Best Practice processes and the arrival of new technologies are causing realignments of roles within the Service Desk. In many cases this also involves changes to the roles themselves, as the increased use of automated tools and virtualised solutions mean more complex fixes can be conducted remotely and at the first line. As this happens first line engineers will be required to have a broader knowledgebase and be able to deal with more issues without passing them on.

With all these advancements leading to a Service Desk that requires less resource (and therefore commands less cost) while driving up fix rates and therefore reducing downtime it seems less and less sensible for organisations to accept off-shore outsourcing contracts with Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) that guarantee a first-time fix rate of as little as 20% or 30% for a diminished price. It seems the popularity of such models lies only in organisations not being aware that quality and efficiency are something they can indeed afford – without the risk of off-shoring.

The adoption of a better toolset and the upskilling of first-line analysts, especially through ITIL-related training, will help cut down on costs and undoubtedly improve service levels. However while it will also remove the necessity to have a large amount of personnel, especially at higher level, the issues with finding, recruiting and training resource will still involve all the traditional headaches IT Managers have always faced. With this in mind it can often be prudent to engage with a service provider and have a co-sourced or managed desk that remains in-house and under internal management control. Personnel selected by an expert provider will have all the up-to-date skills necessary for the roles required, and only the exact number needed will be provided, while none of the risks associated with wholesale outsourcing, or worse, off-shoring, are taken.

Improving IT infrastructure and enhancing security

Improving efficiencies in IT does not begin and end with the Service Desk of course. The platform on which your organisation sits, the IT infrastructure itself, is of equal importance in terms of both cost and performance – and crucially, is something that cannot be influenced by off-shoring. For example, investing in server virtualisation can make substantial cost savings in the medium to long term. Primarily this arises from energy saving but costs can also be cut in relation to space and building and maintenance of physical servers, not to mention the added green credentials. Increased business continuity is another advantage: virtualisation can minimise disruptions and inefficiencies, therefore reducing downtime – probably the quickest way to make this aspect of IT more efficient in the short, medium and long term.

Alongside the myriad of new technologies aimed squarely at improving efficiency and performance sits the issue of Information Security. With Data Protection laws getting tougher due to the new 2010 regulations, forcing private companies to declare any breaches to the Information Commissioner who has the right to make them public, and facing them with fines up to £500,000, security is becoming even more of an unavoidable cost than ever. Increased awareness is needed across the entire organisation as data security is not only the concern of the IT department, but applicable to all personnel at all levels. The first step in the right direction is having a thorough security review and gap analysis in order to assess compliance with ISO 27001 standards and study any weak points where a breach can occur. Then workshops are needed to train non-IT staff on how to deal with data protection. Management participation is particularly important in order to get the message across that data safety is vital to an organisation.

Taking a holistic view of IT

Whatever the area of IT under scrutiny, the use of external consultancies and service providers to provide assistance is often essential. That said, it is rare to find an occasion where moving IT away from the heart of the business results in improvements. The crucial element to consider then is balance. Many organisations, as predicted by Gartner at the beginning of this year, are investing in operational rather than capital expenditure as they begin to understand that adoption of the latest tools and assets is useless without a holistic view of IT. When taking this methodology and applying it to the Service Desk it soon becomes apparent that simply by applying a Best Practice approach to an internal desk and utilising the new technologies at your disposal, the quick-fix cost benefits of off-shoring soon become untenable.

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article is featured in the current issue of ServiceTalk