Fundamentally, outsourcing is based on the assumption that a provider can perform a function or service cheaper, more effectively, or faster because their core business is focused around that specific function or service. For example, an IT outsourcing firm approaches a bank and says, “Your core business is servicing your customers, giving financial advice and managing financial assets – not running an efficient help desk, upgrading application platforms and developing a disaster recovery strategy.” And this is true. Every business’ area of expertise is focused around the services and products that create direct value for its customers – not around information technology services. However, this simple idea becomes complex when, say, the bank wants to offer banking solutions that are only feasible through new technology, such as mobile banking. Now the bank’s core competency is more intertwined with technology. While some would argue that this work still could be outsourced, I say, “It depends.” Each bank and business is unique, and the bank has unique information about the value it wants to provide to customers that cannot be recreated outside the organization. This requires more of a partnership between the business and the IT outsourcing firm because the services are now non-standard.
1. Track ticket and call metrics
Let’s assume you already have a service desk or helpdesk platform to manage your tickets, and you can track the ticket throughout its life cycle. Here are a few things that must be tracked, monitored and managed:
- Call abandonment
- Average wait time
- New tickets
- Tickets resolved
2. Have a self-service portal
Invest the time and money in a self-service portal. It will save your sanity, your company’s money and increase user satisfaction. Just think how much better off you will be if you could eliminate 80 percent of your basic tickets. And as a user, you’ll be happier because you won’t have to wait for the basic information you need to do your job.
3. Invest in remote troubleshooting software
Yes, feet on the street make everyone feel better, but it’s a terribly inefficient way to run an IT department. All managed IT service providers have some type of remote desktop control that allows them to easily take control of a user’s box and fix the problem on the fly instead of walking to their cube or hopping in a car and driving to their office.
4. Do a root-cause analysis on your tickets
Performing a root-cause analysis on your common tickets saves time and money. It also helps you create a business case for upgrades, new purchases, or additional resources. Imagine that you find out that 30 percent to 40 percent of your tickets are password resets then think how easy it would be to calculate the ROI on an automated password reset tool. You can easily calculate the total number of hours spent by users and IT support workers on this task. Multiply that by a wage rate, and calculate how many months it would take to break even by purchasing a tool.
5. Invest in an imaging and deployment platform
It’s difficult to manage anything that isn’t standardized and it’s even harder to scale since every user has a unique configuration. Add on the compliance and security issues and you’ve got some real problems. Oddly enough, having a few select images for pre-defined user types solves all of those problems, and that’s why any managed IT services provider worth its salt has invested in a disk-imaging solution. Most systems include these features and benefits:
Image building and deployment
There is a difference between having an OS image you use and an imaging solution. An imaging solution will let you edit the image after the initial creation, saving you the time it would take to rebuild an image every time you wanted to make a minor change. This also saves time on the post-installation because you can easily incorporate necessary changes into your original image.
6. Use a central image repository
Easily manage current images, archive old images, and ensure the correct image is deployed, saving IT administrators time and rework.
7. Have pre- and post-imaging tasks
Automate tasks such as bios configuration and raid types before installing your Windows image, and follow it up with a scripted domain join, service pack install and pre-set application deployment.
Software Deployment and Updates
8. Leverage automated patch management and deployment
This one is a frequently overlooked but is a large security risk. Few users call into their IT department asking for a patch update, so you need to think about it for them. Patch management fits into the same category as backups and security. And, they’re a lot like insurance – only beneficial if you have it before something bad happens. A good patch management solution has three components: configuration and scheduling; management and deployment; and tracking and reporting. Here’s a look at each:
Patch Configuration and Scheduling
Not every patch is a good one. In fact, many IT service providers auto-approve certain types of patches and restrict others. Some patches can cause you application downtime or introduce new problems to the environment. That’s why IT service providers configure and schedule their ongoing patches to help reduce the number of incidents.
Patch Management and Deployment
Some organizations might benefit from allowing their users to prioritize the order of their system patches. This is especially true in when a large number of patches are necessary and remote users have a limited time on the network to apply all the patches.
Patch Tracking and Reporting
The larger and more distributed your environment is, the more challenging patch management becomes. In these environments, tracking and reporting are critical to gain visibility into the compliance of your system patches.
Infrastructure & Computing management
9. Host your infrastructure in a data center, not your closet
This may sound like a no-brainer, but seriously, don’t make this mistake. How many organizations have you worked at where the critical data about their customers or the applications they use every day were in a closest, with no backup A/C, no redundant power and no convenient fire sprinkler nearby? With the explosion of data center companies and the cloud, you should either move your rack of servers to a co-location facility or look at P2Ving your applications into a private cloud provider. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets fired for not taking that step.
10. Take backups and test your recovery
Hopefully your company already has addressed this with a fully tested backup solution and everyone sleeps peacefully at night. If you’re not sure, get up and go check. Seriously, go ask someone. There are too many statistics about businesses failing or never recovering from a serious data loss for companies to not spend money on backup and recovery tests. A lot of managed IT service providers take client backups just to save time in case something fails so they don’t have to spend the weekend rebuilding servers or restoring data. Just spin up the snapshot from the last backup window.
11. Deploy agents
Nobody can be everything to everyone, so why try? Invest in some IT system agents that allow you to remotely monitor, manage and troubleshoot issues from home, work – or from the beach. Agents are what enable centralized IT reporting, management and automation, and they aren’t that expensive for what they allow you to do. In fact, most managed IT services providers pay for, and install, all their client’s agents because they couldn’t do their job otherwise.
12. Do the security basis
Basic security measures should include centralized anti-virus, spam and firewall and regular scans for end-point security. Most managed IT services providers will include centralized anti-virus, spam filtering and a firewall protection for exchange because it reduces their headaches as much as yours. Centralized anti-virus is critical because it allows the administrator to run reports on PC health and see when the last scan or update was completed. Spam and firewall management also is critical because spam and virus signatures are constantly being updated and ongoing updates and maintenance are needed.
13. Take your policies and patch management multi-vitamin
Taking a multi-vitamin helps your body protect against so many aliments, just like automated patch management. With reference to security, automated patch management ensures that critical and security patches are applied as they are released so that your infrastructure is not exposed to known security threats. Setting policies around firewall settings, installation permissions and updates for your end points and users is another piece of the puzzle. This prevents your users from falling victim to human error and helps ensure that the security measures your company has paid for are being used.
14. Treat annual security audits like an annual checkup
Invest in a periodic security assessment, or at least a third-party scan once a year. A security assessment is a great way to protect your business and give you tangible issues to talk with management about for budget approval. Assessments are more expensive than scans, but they are more thorough because of the limits of automated scanning software. If you can’t find it in your budget to get an assessment, I would highly recommend a security scan. This will give you a good baseline of where you stand with potential security holes in your infrastructure and applications.
15. Look for single points of failure in your network (redundancy, redundancy, redundancy)
Hardware is bound to fail, and you can’t predict circumstance or timing, so why put your business at risk with a single point of failure in your network? Almost everything in your environment is dependent on speaking with the outside world or communicating with your other internal systems. A good managed IT services provider is going to look at all seven layers of the network, from physical redundancy, to application redundancy such as domain controllers. Redundancy is key to avoiding single points of failure, and we’ve all heard the adage, “A chain is only as good as its weakest link.”
16. Invest in a network-monitoring tool to help with issue analysis
Without the right tools, you’ll spend a significant amount of time trying to track down the root cause of your user problems and could easily spend money on items that don’t resolve the core problem. A good networking management tool or appliance will allow you to monitor and diagnose on bandwidth, packet loss, latency, errors, discards, CPU and memory. It will have customizable alerts so you can set thresholds based on your business requirements and needs.
17. Make sure you have the right telecom services
With the explosion of data, web services, and social media sites such as YouTube, data consumption has exploded in the past five years. Lots of businesses are spending more on telecom services to support VoIP, internet traffic and data replication. I would recommend monitoring and even restricting user web traffic to bandwidth intensive or non-business sites such as YouTube and Facebook to keep costs in check. Also, make sure you have enough bandwidth to support any data-intensive solutions such as VoIP or site-to-site SAN replication or backups. Transferring large amounts of data over the wire can kill your performance, so if you can, move some of that type of work to off- hours.
CIO and Strategy
18. Do quarterly IT Business Reviews
Meet with business heads at least once a quarter to discuss technology investments via use cases. Communication is critical for IT nowadays and, in my experience, it happens to be one of the weakest areas for a lot of IT professionals and managers. With businesses reliant on technology now more than ever, it’s critical that executives understand the impact of under-investing in IT and the impact new investments will have on the business. This isn’t always easy for IT professionals to articulate, so it’s important to have quarterly meetings and business reviews. I recommend trying to identify the actual use cases – specific examples of how the business would use the technology – instead of talking about what the technology can do.
19. Leverage your partners and/or suppliers
Leverage your vendors, distributors and peers for advice before making a big investment or technology platform decision. Vendors and distributors are a huge source of information that often goes unused. These companies often have technical sales resources and account managers that are there to help guide your investment decisions and have tons of resources available, often for free.
20. Pay for IT consulting…when you really need it
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a consulting firm. No one has all the answers all the time. Technology is becoming more pervasive and complex all the time, and it’s impossible to be an expert on everything. If you can’t get the information you need from your peers, the vendor, or your distributor then maybe it’s time to talk with a systems integrator or IT consulting firm.