By Patrick Zelten
For many of us, the classic image of home ownership is lying in a hammock on a sunny summer’s day, sipping lemonade while a cooling breeze wafts over us. Of course, that image gets shattered pretty quickly once you sign the papers. As anyone who has owned a home can attest, the reality is a never-ending series of little tasks. It seems as if you never get to do what you want to do, because you’re always busy doing what you have to do.
When you think about it, it’s no different for IT departments. They are often so busy keeping the current technology running that it’s tough to find time to do the kind of brilliant work that builds personal brands and adds significant value to the business. In fact, according to Gartner, 65 percent of IT budgets are allocated for activities that keep the lights on.
So how do you get back to building rather than just maintaining? You do that by understanding which systems absolutely must be managed within the organization and which can be managed through alternative means: co-managing the systems, putting them in the cloud or hiring a managed services provider (MSP). This hybrid model allows both internal and external resources to be used more strategically and effectively.
Here are some considerations that can help you determine which option is best for your situation.
· Know your organization. It’s tempting to start with technologies when you’re anxious to rebuild your IT department’s structure, but the first step should be making a thorough assessment of your organization and how it works. Some technologies are mission-critical and cannot be entrusted to an outside organization.
At the same time, you have to understand the difference between what’s important and what has to be kept inside. For example, a firewall is very important to security, but it probably doesn’t need to be managed internally.
Speaking of security, the level of data protection required is another key factor in the internal-vs.-external decision. If there’s little concern over the consequences of certain data being exposed, a public cloud becomes a viable choice. If the data is sensitive or proprietary, however, you’ll likely want to consider managing it internally.
The key is focusing on what you’re trying to achieve. Are you looking to add expertise without adding head count, or capacity without capital expenses? Do you want to offload some maintenance work? The answers to these and similar questions will help you determine whether a hybrid model works for you.
· Know your personnel. While a particular system may be mission-critical, you also have to determine whether you have the internal expertise to manage it effectively. If there are frequent updates to the knowledge base required to service it, you have to judge whether your IT staff has the bandwidth to keep up with the updates.
Conversely, the more proprietary a system is, the more likely it must either remain within the organization or be co-managed. If you opt for the latter, be sure the roles and responsibilities on each side are spelled out clearly to ensure that expectations are met and the model is successful.
It’s also important to know what your staff wants from their jobs. If they want to work on the latest high-value technologies but feel they’re stuck with routine work, it may be difficult to retain them over the long term. And spending time continually training new staff can get in the way of adding business value.
One other important factor is how well your IT organization works with others. Will your staff view an outside provider as an extension of your organization, or will they cast a wary eye at what they perceive as a possible threat? The answer to that question can be a major determining factor in which provider you choose and how you decide to engage with it.
· Determine the right model. In the IT world, three basic external provider models are available. The one that’s most similar to keeping systems in-house is a managed services provider. When using this model, assignments are divided between your organization and the MSP.
A good MSP should act as an extension of your own organization. It may have a similar culture to yours and be willing to adapt its ways of working to yours. You will maintain control over policies and service levels, although the MSP will normally advise you about them based on its broad experience working with multiple organizations. It’s a very close working relationship, but it may be viewed as intrusive or threatening by your staff if they’re used to having tight control.