Posts Tagged ‘managed services’

Legal IT – do you need a specialist service provider?

October 22, 2012

The need for an efficient, reliable and secure IT function is nowadays vital for any organisation in the legal sector. Their IT needs are specific to their sector and the Support function has a necessity to be able to cater for their demanding requirements.

With this in mind, it can be asked: Do they need an IT service provider that specialises in the legal sector? Or can any provider do the job?

Why are law firms different?

First of all, it is important to understand the specialised requirements of the legal sector. Law firms are unlike many other types of organisations in terms of the demands from end users and the non-standard organisational structure.

Typical end users are high-fee earners (Lawyers/Partners) who work long, late hours and sometimes weekends, dealing with highly sensitive documentation which they might access from different (and sometimes personal) devices.

Because of this, they need highly efficient data access 24x7x365 with minimal downtime, as well as a high level of data security. Mobility (home working) or BYOD support might also be necessary as end users often need to work from their smart phones, tablet computers, iPads and personal laptops, as well as their home PCs.

As for a law firm’s structure, this can vary considerably. This could include a main office in the UK with satellite offices or partners around the world, in different time zones. This is becoming more and more popular as the legal sector expands towards Eastern countries. Otherwise, it could consist of a network of partners across the UK linked to a central office – possibly hundreds of professionals who work from various locations or only collaborate intermittently with the organisation. These complex structures need a more flexible, scalable and secure IT system than other more common ones with only one building from which all end users work.

Supporting a law firm

There are various IT solutions to support legal firms, which depend on the size, structure and specific needs of each organisation. The main issue is supporting lawyers/partners, who often work beyond their normal working hours or are based in a different time zone, at any time of day or night.

More common structures use an internal IT service with support staff working on a night rota, taking calls from their home. Other structures require more complex models.

Global law firms might have an IT department (or trained Secretaries) in every office or country, and use a ‘follow the sun’ model for their out-of-hours support. But they might find that a central IT department based in only one location, which acts remotely to support all satellite offices, is more financially convenient and better suited to their needs, than having a Service Desk for each office – especially for 1st line support or, in any case, for operations which can be performed remotely. However, to support different countries means having to work with different time zones, so the IT Service Desk needs to be staffed on a 24x7x365 basis to be able to cope with these demands.

An alternative model which could work for UK-based organisations (with or without satellite offices or partners abroad) is having an in-house IT Support function for normal office hours, managed internally or by a service provider, but using a shared service desk for the out-of-hour calls and peak service times. The shared service will also be available for when overseas offices in other time zones require support.

Sharing IT support with other law firms, as long as the number is contained and the participating organisations are similar to each other, also means sharing costs. Hence it could be a very cost-effective solution to have total coverage.

A shared service centre can also be a good solution for smaller law firms who cannot afford high levels of skills and would like a more economical, yet still highly efficient IT service, sharing costs as well as skills with other similar organisations.

Big fish or small fish?

When choosing their support provider, law firms might go for well-known global organisations with a wide-ranging client base. The supposed benefit is that they have a lot of experience, in several different environments as well as an overall good general knowledge of all sectors.

This solution might be suitable for some law firms for which IT does not have a strategic function. For others, a general knowledge of all sectors might not be enough. For a strategic approach to IT, where it is used to create value and is not only a business supporter but an enabler, it is necessary that the provider has a good understanding of the market they will be dealing in.

Great customer service is essential when dealing with users in the legal sector. While larger service providers may rely on their name to generate new business and care more about “sealing the deal” than making a good impression on new clients, this is not the approach for the smaller, niche firms. The latter strive to deliver great customer care as it is their work and not their name that wins clients over.

Skills and flexibility

A smaller, niche support provider has important skills available to suit a law firms’ needs. Having had experience specifically in the legal sector, it is able to fully understand the needs of their organisation and compare them to other firms that are similar to them, putting forward some ‘tried and tested’ ways to improve their IT service.

They can also provide more flexibility in the service they offer. As what they offer is not standardised but bespoke, it can change with the organisation as needs arise, without charging more for every little change. Larger service providers tend to sell standardised models which can be quite inflexible, where they can only include a certain number of calls and charge for anything extra as well as any change to the model. In particularly busy periods the charge for the extra tickets can be very expensive. The same is true in case of a business restructure or merger which involves a change to the IT support model.

Do you need a specialist?

Overall, the choice of service provider depends on how the strategy for IT is set out for the law firm – whether they just need a cheap generic service or they see IT as a potential valued add-in which can help their business become even more successful.

A generic service provider does not necessarily lack knowledge of the legal sector. However, a legal specialist is a safe choice for those in need of a service which is already legal-proof and has a strong track record in dealing with a number of organisations successfully.

Ian Parker, Service Desk Manager

See the blog on Plan-Net’s website: http://www.plan-net.co.uk/news/item/172-legal-it-do-you-need-a-specialist-legal-it-service-provider.html

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What is IT outsourcing, businesses ask? What are managed IT services? And finally, what are shared services?

October 11, 2012

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

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

 

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/

NEWS: Plan-Net expands UK’s only 24/7/365 shared, legal-dedicated IT support service

April 17, 2012

News release – for immediate release

17-04-2012

Service Provider Plan-Net Plc. is extending its unique 24-hour legal-dedicated IT support service to include more clients. After successfully running it with selected organisations for a period of time, the shared service is available to a limited number of City law firms.

Plan-Net’s central London legal-dedicated service centre caters for all of the requirements of a modern law firm; 24-hour availability, including weekends and bank holidays, high levels of customer service and security, high response rates, specialist knowledge of legal technology, and global reach.  The service is also modelled to align with each client’s individual IT support operations.

Plan-Net are restricting the number of firms that can participate in order to maintain quality levels of response, fix-rate and customer service.

Richard Forkan, Director at Plan-Net, said:

“Speaking to our clients in the legal sector over a number of years, it has become clear that a gap in the market exists for a legal-dedicated service that can meet the unique requirements of this sector.

With law firms under increasing pressure to maximize chargeable hours, the need to keep fee earning lawyers productive is not just limited to standard working hours.

We’re also seeing more and more UK law firms expand internationally and specifically in the middle and Far East requiring IT support to be truly 24/7.

The only options available to law firms in the UK at the moment are either to invest in their own in-house out-of-hours capability, which is a huge expense, or use a generic service which doesn’t accommodate the unique service models, applications and customer service requirements of individual legal firms.

Our legal-dedicated service has been built in specific response to the market, combining the cost savings of a shared service with the specific expertise and service levels needed in the legal sector.”

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Notes to the editor

  • There are limited places available in the Shared Service Centre. Law firms that are interested in participating should contact Plan-Net on 020 7353 4313 or send a message through this Contact Us form: http://www.plan-net.co.uk/contact-us
  • About Plan-Net

A specialist in transforming IT operations into high-performance, cost-efficient platforms for business success, Plan-Net is the service provider of choice for organisations in need of a tailored solution to suit their specific needs. Its focus on achieving high levels of availability, capability, response and customer service benefits clients demanding tangible competitive business advantage from their IT.

Plan-Net’s Support and Consultancy Services have helped clients enhance IT performance, flexibility, security, cost-efficiency and user-productivity for over two prosperous decades.

Website: www.plan-net.co.uk

Blog: https://plannetplc.wordpress.com/

Twitter: www.twitter.com/PlanNetplc

  • Press contact:

Samantha Selvini

Press Officer, Plan-Net plc

Tel: 020 7632 7990

Email: samantha.selvini@plan-net.co.uk

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/

The GLOCAL IT Service Desk

June 27, 2011

‘Stay local, act global’ is the new mantra for IT departments

With companies becoming increasingly international and IT support more and more remote, the IT Service Desk finds itself dealing with a user base that often extends to an EMEA or global level. The idea of outsourcing to a service provider seems now more than ever a convenient and cost-efficient solution to many organisations – in fact, the IT outsourcing industry in the UK is now generating over £40 billion a year, accounting for 8 per cent of the country’s total economic output, an Oxford economics research recently revealed. Delegating management of the IT Service Desk allows companies to focus on their business whilst leaving IT-related matters such as Incident, Problem and Request management with their associated headaches – to the experts.

It is, however, wrong to think that a ‘global’ desk has to be based in India, China or Poland. Such an off-shore or near-shore solution might not be safe enough for those companies which need to keep a high level of control over the data and IP processed by their IT system, such as those in the financial, legal and public sector. But an outsourced Global Support team does not actually have to be physically located abroad – the service just needs to be able to reach offices and branches across the world, which surprisingly can be done even from Sevenoaks, London or from your very own headquarters.

In addition to this, choosing a managed service rather than a fully outsourced solution can prove an even better arrangement. In fact, whereas with full outsourcing and offshoring the level of control over the IT department can never be full because the whole infrastructure usually belongs to the provider, a managed service can provide a safer solution for those organisations which are very careful about security, such as those whose very sensitive or precious data cannot risk being stolen, leaked or lost. Many companies simply see value in knowing the people responsible for assisting their business.

Although a solution which is 100% safe does not exist, retaining ownership of the infrastructure and keeping the Service Desk in the office or near the premises means that there is a lesser risk of data security issues getting out of hand, being reported too late or being hidden. By using a trusted provider and retaining a certain level of control over the department, the chances of a security breach are therefore minimised.

A Gartner research published last month revealed that IT outsourcing is increasing all over the world: global IT spend by businesses increased 3.1% in 2010 amounting to $793bn, a slight rise from the $769bn that was spent in 2009. This shows that the market is slowly going back to pre-crisis levels of 2008, after which it fell by 5.1%. Companies are spending more even if the economic climate continues to remain uncertain and the fear of a double-dip recession is still in the air – clearly they believe IT outsourcing is worth the risk, and this could be because of the flexibility it allows them to have.

Some Support solutions, in fact, enable organisations to increase and decrease the size of their IT Service Desk according to need. This could not be so easily done within an in-house service: engineers would have to be kept even when not fully utilised, meaning inefficiency occurs, made redundant during low service needs or made to work harder and longer at peak times. If we apply this to a global scale and the implication of different employment law for each country, it gets unnecessarily complicated.

A Support services provider should be able to add and take out engineers and move them around flexibly, and some even have a multisite team hired expressly to go where needed at short notice within the provider’s clients. With this level of flexibility, the ties that bind organisations to providers can be more an advantage than a disadvantage during global expansion or difficult and rocky economic times.

Martin Hill, Head of Support Operations

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/)

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