Managed services are increasing in popularity, as more companies outsource their computer network management.
“A structured managed services program provides the benefit of reducing your IT costs and risks of hardware failure while standardizing IT management through streamlined efficiency, often all at lower costs than the company could manage by doing it in-house,” says Eric Risheill, subject matter expert for the Managed Services Division at Blue Technologies Smart Solutions.
Managed services programs are imperative for those who don’t have in-house IT talent or the capacity to manage their networks. Risheill adds many small and midsize businesses have not replaced downsized IT staff, so managed service providers (MSP) can fill that gap easily and cost effectively.
Smart Business spoke with Risheill about how to utilize a MSP in your company.
How can business owners decide which service(s) to outsource?
Some companies instinctively know what they need to keep, but many don’t; they simply may have a hunch things could be running better.
The MSP will ask pointed, direct questions designed to ascertain what services are of value. Expert MSPs take the core services and modularize them to put them into packages in an effort to match a client’s needs. Then, customize it further to get the perfect fit.
Some only seek monitoring, with the MSP only calling if there’s a problem. However, most employers who are going down this path will say, ‘It would be nice to know if there’s a problem, but we don’t have the skills to deal with it.’ Therefore, the MSP should not only identify the problem but also fix it, even though that company may have the capacity to do so. This should include a backup mechanism.
How should companies deal with pushback from their internal IT staff?
An IT person’s first thought might be, ‘Hey, that’s my job, and if someone comes in to help me I’m not doing my job right.’ There is a degree of that, but MSPs are not out to create a reduction in head count. They come to help and are hopefully viewed as a resource to count on.
From an IT perspective, networking computer management is not that exciting. It’s one of those necessary evils, and very frequently the smaller, internal team doesn’t have the capacity to deal with computer management — doing the patching, the anti-virus and updates. In fact, for a lot of smaller companies, there may not be a dedicated IT resource at all. Sometimes the president, CFO or controller manages all the technology in addition to his or her full-time job.
What are some best practices when moving into managed services?
Roll up your sleeves and ask direct questions to those providing IT support, related to the costs to maintain workstations, software revisions, server status or network status.
Generally, business owners will know if there are frequent outages or problems with the network or viruses, but they really need to get answers from their IT staff and get it with proof. For example, reports that show the system is fully patched or one that shows the anti-virus is up to date.
Secondly, determine the cost of maintaining your equipment. Don’t forget to factor in labor costs, including salary and benefits, technology costs, contract costs, etc. Then, compare these costs against what a MSP will charge you.
Finally, execute a document with your MSP called a service level agreement. This agreement spells out, in full detail, exactly how things are going to go. It’s the responsibility of both parties to negotiate and fully understand the terms before they get started. Then you know the full extent of the services and how they will be delivered, because the last thing you want is a surprise when you need somebody. ●
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It can be more than a full-time job to keep up with technology as it evolves, and smaller and midsize entities that tend not to have dedicated technology staff can face even more acute challenges.
So many changes occur, it’s hard to know what’s available, says Paul Karlin, M. Ed., director of Education Technology & Services at Blue Technologies Smart Solutions. Also, you must train staff and invest in maintenance to keep technology from sitting around unused or broken.
At the same time, organizations need to continually budget for change.
“They’ll say, ‘OK, we’re done. We’ve got a great network and computers,’” Karlin says. “They don’t realize that it’s going to be three, four or five years, and then they have to do it all over again. It’s an ongoing need that has to be budgeted for every year.”
Smart Business spoke with Karlin, who helps schools integrate technology into classrooms and buildings, about how all entities can stay on top of technology needs.
How are schools and classrooms using technology today?
Schools like any organization use technology to conduct business — from keeping track of attendance and grades to payroll, accounts receivable, marketing and communication. And like the corporate world, the right technology maximizes efficiency and employee productivity, while reducing costs.
In addition, whether your classroom is in the educational world or corporate America, technology can improve learning. It’s a vehicle for direct instruction, such as Internet research, educational software or apps. Another use is assessment. In schools, based upon Common Core Standards, groups of states are adopting national tests given on computers, driving schools to update bandwidth.
Technology also is used as a tool to solve problems, create things and be more productive. This higher-level learning, when educating students or employees, isn’t just reading material and taking a test. For example, when learning about global warming, a science teacher challenges students to come up with energy-saving devices, using computer modeling and 3-D printers to develop prototypes. It goes beyond comprehension to becoming part of the dialog of how to make the world better.
What do you recommend as the way to best keep up with technology changes?
There are two overarching strategies. Entities can invest in their own technology staff. If they are large enough and have the resources, it’s a good way to go. But the technology field is very competitive, with IT people moving from job to job. If your key tech person puts in his or her two-week notice, it can leave you scrambling.
The other strategy is to build technology partnerships. Your technology partner can use proven business practices, which in IT includes monitoring, providing a help desk, having disaster recovery, ticketing systems to track problems, etc. You don’t have to worry about retention, and there’s no knowledge gap. You’ll get regular updates on what’s working, what’s not and what’s coming to help inform your decision-making.
Technology partners usually don’t just consult; they deliver products, and provide equipment, services and training. Their middle name has to be accountability, because if they don’t get it done, they aren’t going to be around anymore.
How can organizations prioritize updates or new technology?
The latest technology fad shouldn’t drive updates. For example, organizations are implementing one-to-one computing, where there’s a computer for every person. But if that takes too much attention away from instructors in an educational setting, it may not be a good fit. First, understand organizational goals and needs, and then match those to updates or new technologies.
Consider how to improve efficiency and reduce costs. You may save money by introducing a new technology like server virtualization — five servers function as 20, via software, to reduce support and energy costs. Also, determine if introducing a software package or process will save time or allow staff to focus on their core roles.
Whether it’s technology change or any other change, don’t jump on the bandwagon. Start with the need, problem and/or goal before you come up with solutions. Technology is not going to fix everything; it’s just a piece of the answer. ●
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Technology is impacting business owners at jet speed with accelerating volatility and rate of change — and it’s caught some off guard.
Historically, if you were making a product or providing a service, your only job was taking care of your customers, says Bill Julka, vice president of Blue Technologies Smart Solutions.
“Now, technology has become so pervasive, it has become the business. If business owners neglect technology, they do it at their own peril,” he says. “They have to pay attention — hiring the right people and interfacing with the right vendors who can help them navigate through technology and all its myriad uses in their own business.”
Smart Business spoke with Julka about business technology and IT budgets today.
What has changed with technology?
Technology has gotten complex. The days of needing computers and an IT department for just basic accounting functions are gone. With social media and mobile devices, the world is connected any time, anywhere. Employees want to print from their mobile devices and access office computers, information and databases when on vacation.
This makes it difficult for business owners to do everything in-house. Companies depend on reliable technology vendors, which act almost like business partners. By partnering with somebody attuned to technology, business owners aren’t spending time in areas they aren’t comfortable with.
When creating an IT budget, what’s important to understand?
Many business owners feel their largest discretionary expense is IT. But you need a consistent IT budget, good times or bad. In good times, it helps you run your business and create satisfied customers. In bad times, you need to spend the IT dollars wisely to improve efficiency to gain a competitive advantage and provide better service at a lower cost.
When setting IT budgets, management needs to understand and be able to measure the direct relationship between IT and productivity. A trusted, proven vendor can help provide analytics that show the results of technology adoption.
What are common IT budget concerns?
Many business owners feel IT budgets keep increasing, while the level of service deteriorates. They also complain about the unpredictability. For example, software upgrades aren’t easy to manage.
In addition, companies are finding they need electronic content management software to take full advantage of their technology, research and data. Without software to rapidly search the enterprise’s servers, efforts are duplicated or wasted, further stressing IT budgets.
Why is outsourcing a good answer, and when doesn’t it work?
Technology has indirect costs often left off IT budgets. The budget needs to account for the energy it takes to house infrastructure or the cost of rolling out technology. With labor, outsourced support can provide services more efficiently. The outside provider monitors a network cost effectively with better-trained people assigned over a large number of clients. Also, what if you need one-eighth of a network engineer and half of a firewall expert? Outsourcing helps a company only pay for what it actually needs.
One company switched to an outsourced vendor and its IT budget went from increasing 10 or 20 percent annually to 3 percent. Customer service went up in a measurable manner. With an outsourced vendor, costs are predictable, no matter the technology and how often it’s upgraded.
However, there are exceptions, based on the product or service. If your unique product or service doesn’t have skilled vendors for your particular area, you won’t achieve economies of scale. Also, you may not want to share proprietary knowledge with anyone, even an outsourced vendor.
What’s key to measuring ROI?
First, calculate where you are now. Then, implement the technology and gauge key performance efficiency measures, with help from your vendor. Certain efficiencies are instantly noticeable, such as customer service or costs. Other complex technologies may take a few months or a year to generate results. It’s a matter of developing a strategic plan, following it and then measuring the results. ●
Bill Julka is vice president at Blue Technologies Smart Solutions. Reach him at (216) 765-1122, ext. 8211 or email@example.com.
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