Managed network services Featured

10:46am EDT July 30, 2006
Not every company has its own information technology (IT) department, but that doesn’t diminish the need for tech-savvy individuals who can handle network administration, Web hosting, software integration and other important technology-related processes.

That’s where a managed network service provider comes in. By taking over those tasks, and by allowing companies to focus on their core competencies, these third parties can alleviate much of the pain associated with constantly evolving technology.

“If a firm doesn’t have an IT staff, or if the staff it has spends all their time putting out fires, then managed network services is a good option,” says Randy Steinle, general manager at Houston-based Systems Evolution. “A managed network services provider can come in and actually become the firm’s IT staff, and help the firm make use of its technology investment.”

Smart Business spoke with Steinle about how companies can work effectively with managed network service providers to save time, money and hassle.

How do managed network service providers work?
They pro-actively monitor and manage companies’ networks for them. The third party in essence becomes the company’s IT staff, allowing the firm to do its job even better as a result of the technology expertise that is available. These third parties can help companies use technology to enforce internal processes to see how employees and the company as a whole are performing, or provide a matrix against which those processes can be measured, tweaked and improved upon.

Are we seeing more companies outsourcing network administration to third parties?
Outsourcing is an overused word, but at the end of the day the concept works when it’s done effectively and efficiently. Businesses are not afraid to spend money yet are very cautious about investing large sums in technology solutions. Driven by their bottom lines, companies that use the outsourcing model are finding that they get more for their operational expense money and can be more effective at driving their own business by shifting dollars to capital expenditures that return better ROI or competitive advantage. They also gain access to a wide range of resources that they wouldn’t normally have with a small or nonexistent IT department.

How can a company work with a managed network service provider?
Either the third party comes in and takes over the entire process or it complements an existing IT staff. Regardless of which approach is taken, the first step is to assess the firm’s inventory of assets, both in terms of hardware and software. That gives the service provider insight into how things are being handled, what improvements can be made, and what it actually has to work with. Next, the provider will interview key stakeholders in order to learn the company’s strong points, challenges and goals when it comes to IT. From there, the firm will make sure that the infrastructure is in place to support those goals and handle technology challenges that come along.

Once these exercises are complete, the managed network services provider will create a report that highlights any problem areas that need immediate attention, as well as ‘midrange’ items that should be addressed in the near future and the long-term strategies to achieve desired business goals.

What benefits can a company expect from working with a managed network services provider?
It gains the expertise and knowledge of someone who is charged with preventing problems, as opposed to simply putting out fires on the IT front.

This pro-active approach helps companies gain insights into what’s coming down the road, and allows them to do whatever possible to minimize system downtime, which is be very costly. Acting as a ‘virtual CIO,’ network service providers should be engaging clients in quarterly business reviews to make sure IT spending and infrastructure are in alignment with business goals. The providers should also supply valuable insights and matrices that allow companies to make more informed, intelligent IT decisions.

Are there any challenges that companies have to work through?
Companies have to seek out experts who have experience with their technology.

If you’re using a Unix server, a Windows database or Cisco firewalls, for example, then look for a managed network services provider whose staff has the certifications and experience necessary to work with these systems. You don’t want someone learning on your dime, so be sure to ask upfront about such issues.

The other area of concern involves the monitoring of the company’s internal systems, and just how quickly the third party can address issues when they come up. The best approach is to pick a firm that can take the monitored data and information and turn it into the kind of information that executives can use to make smart decisions.

RANDY STEINLE is general manager for Systems Evolution in San Antonio. Reach him at (512) 680-2442 or randy.steinle@systemsevolution.com.