Managed service considerations Featured

7:00pm EDT November 24, 2006

Is your company still calling its system integrator whenever there is a problem? What if there were no problems

in the first place? Wouldn’t your IT people have more time to work on all new projects, rather than having to spend their time putting out fires every day? Sound good? If so, you may want to consider working with a managed service provider.

“Managed service is not a new concept,” says Clay Price, senior consultant with Systems Evolution Inc. in San Antonio. “It’s the practice of providing complete accountability for a company’s networked system. What is different, however, is the way providers structure and present their offerings.”

Price says that managed service is the wave of the future. “Under the old model, a systems integrator would wait for the client to call with a problem,” he says. “The new model is proactive, designed to ensure that the client remains productive and profitable at all times.”

Smart Business spoke with Price about the value proposition of managed services.

Can you define managed service?

Managed service is often bandied about. It is rarely well-defined. At Systems Evolution, we define it as infrastructure management and optimization to provide the highest level of productivity and accountability to the client.

Managed service should entail a proactive approach, encompassing:

Computer, device and server management, including basic proactive and preventive management, as well as preventive maintenance through monitoring and reacting to pre-failure conditions.

Security and networking, providing physical and logical security barrier implementations.

Data protection and recovery, ensuring all user and business data are properly backed up.

Communications and collaboration, unified messaging, e-mail, voice, etc.

Why would a company want to consider a managed service arrangement?

First, it allows the company to move IT from a variable cost to a fixed, predictable expense. It allows the company to leverage its IT staff’s time and knowledge by freeing them up to focus on strategic, productivity-enhancing projects and training, instead of the daily minutiae of desktop support.

Next, managed service provides faster response time and less downtime. Under the old model, systems integrators would make money while the client was losing money. Under the new model, managed service providers make money while the client is making money — a mutually beneficial proposition.

Importantly, a managed service agreement can provide greater peace of mind. Networks are vulnerable. Managed service providers ensure that all workstations are up-to-date and fully protected from viruses, hackers and system crashes. Today’s businesses are now highly dependent on IT to conduct business. System failures can seriously derail a company’s operations and possibly even put some companies out of business. For example, consider the consequences of a major system failure for a CPA firm on April 1.

How do managed service providers differ in their approach?

One approach is a business proposition based on the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF). Simply stated, this is a suite of best practices and business processes designed to facilitate the optimization of a client’s infrastructure. The purpose is to increase productivity while decreasing costs through identification and automation of key business tools and processes.

MOF provides guidance for a managed service provider aiming to assist its clients in the following areas.

Optimization — helping to guide the company into more effective service-level management, capacity planning and other long-range planning efforts.

Support — supporting the organization to help it better align its IT services with its business processes.

Change — managing IT services to the same level that a company expects from the rest of its business processes.

Operations — improving operational efficiency, allowing the company to free up internal IT staff resources, expand and align services with the business, and achieve a stronger infrastructure ready to meet the ever-increasing demands for availability and security.

What should a company look for in a managed services provider?

What is the provider’s value proposition? Does it plan to get deeply involved in your business procedures? Is it going to take the time to truly understand your business, or does it just fix problems? Look for a vendor that comes in, asks questions and helps you understand the realities of your system and its future potential. Make sure the vendor will be accountable for providing fast response, quick resolution and stable costs. Ask about its monitoring equipment and remote management tools. Overall, the vendor should provide a proactive service program to maintain a secure, reliable and optimized system.

CLAY PRICE is a senior consultant with Systems Evolution Inc., San Antonio. Reach him at clay.price@systemsevolution.com or (210) 734-2664.