Managed IT Services Buyer's Guide - part 3

Here are the final three questions from our ten-point Q&A that's designed to help guide your procurement process. Part 1 included the first three managed and hosting service buyer's guide questions and Part 2 had the next four questions.

8. What are the type and scope of management capabilities that you routinely offer?
  • Request a list of capabilities and associated benefits, relative to your needs.
  • Historical reporting is essential, forward-looking insight is valuable.
Examples of typical basic management tools include a service desk and management of various activities including assets, configuration, fault, change, release/update, performance, capacity reporting and planning, and trend reporting with recommendations.

9. If required, how will you support existing or acquired IT/networking infrastructure?
  • Service providers may have policies that limit the device types they support.
  • In addition, some providers only support devices they install and configure.
If you are like many managed service users, then you have an environment where a combination of self-managed and out-tasked infrastructure will need to coexist -- at some point in time. Service providers should be able to delineate how their role and responsibilities start and end in a multifaceted scenario. Likewise, they should explain their role in the event that they are asked to operate in a multi-vendor or multi-service provider environment.

10. How do you price and deliver professional services, beyond the scope of the managed service?
  • Examples of advice, support, and guidance should be included as standard.
  • Ask for non-standard consultation examples, and associated fee structure.
There will likely come a time when you will ask your service provider to perform an activity that is beyond the scope of your managed service agreement. You should anticipate this event by asking the service provider what constitutes routine (non-billed) information and guidance, and in contrast what is the fee structure for time and materials work -- or other billable activity.

In Summary
Managed services have a long and successful history of helping businesses like yours to reap the full benefits of IT and networking technology capabilities -- without the drudgery and distraction of the ongoing equipment operation, management, maintenance, and perpetual updates or enhancements.

You can download the complete checklist "How to Select a Best-Fit Managed Service Provider" as a .pdf document.

Also, the "Managed versus In-House Service Comparison Calculator" may help you build an internal business case. This build vs. buy expense comparison tool should only be used for basic estimates. We recommend that you consult a managed service provider to obtain an accurate comparison, based upon your actual requirements.

Collaboration as a Service Gains Momentum

Human talent fuels the business model creativity and process execution that drives today's leading enterprise innovations -- the ones that every executive truly wants to emulate. That's why savvy managers will always choose to hire the best talent -- regardless of where those key people may reside.

The common obstacle, of course, is finding both productive and cost effective ways to regularly bring together a geographically distributed talent pool. Online collaboration is one approach many business leaders will consider.

The growth of globally disbursed teams demands that online collaboration tools are flexible, scalable and easy to deploy. Moreover, project-centric teams often can't predict the "when and where" they’ll need to reunite their subject matter experts for an impromptu task.

IT managers are increasingly being told to move from a rigid just-in-case technology investment model to a much more agile just-in-time methodology. So, what's fueling that new momentum?

More Haste, Less Waste
The current economic realities require business leaders to be able to move to action quickly -- it's all about increased haste, but absolutely no waste. It's a challenging environment, for sure.

Managed or hosted collaboration solutions are proven to be a perfect fit for these types of scenarios. How do you plan to incorporate these new services? Consider adding Collaboration as a Service (CaaS) to your company's internal IT service portfolio.

CaaS is a subscription based service that can provide your organization with reliable and secure on-demand collaboration solutions -- all at a predictable and affordable price.

According to a recent Nemertes Research market study, more enterprises are turning to Managed Services Providers (MSPs) to reduce implementation and operational costs of their collaboration applications.

Demand for Rich-Media Collaboration
Adoption has grown from 27% to 63% of study participants from 2006 to 2008, with management of collaboration applications -- especially rich-media services -- as a key driver for growth. For example, 33% initially utilize VoIP solutions, as demand for real-time, rich-media collaboration applications continues to grow.

New platforms have emerged for managed service providers. Cisco unveiled a new software-as-a-service (SaaS) architecture and enhancements to its SaaS-based collaborative applications.

"Adoption of SaaS and cloud services represent a growing share of finite and expensive WAN bandwidth," said Abner Germanow, director at IDC. "Until recently, SaaS and cloud services were delivered on a best effort basis that will not be good enough to meet the business criticality, performance, and video service demands facing future waves of SaaS and cloud service maturity."

Managed Service Buyer Checklist – part 2

The following are questions four through seven of a ten-point Q&A designed to help guide your managed or hosted service procurement process. Here are the first three buyer questions and service provider answers.

4. What is the depth and breadth of your current managed service portfolio?
  • A service migration path provides the means to adapt to your growth needs.
  • Service providers that are specialists may offer services through their partners.
It helps to have a forward-looking view of your needs when selecting a service provider. Sometimes a specialist is preferable to a multi-service provider. Otherwise, try to anticipate future service requirements, and consider giving preference to a provider with those combined skills.

5. How can I be sure you will apply the best people, processes, and tools? Is your company certified by a leading vendor, and are your offerings delivered using industry-leading technologies to meet the highest quality of service?
  • Service providers have data on how they've qualified to meet standards.
  • Providers are often required to attain a "qualification level" that is tiered.
The good service providers will achieve basic industry-standard technical certifications. The better service providers will comply with the ITIL foundation practices. The best will have passed the stringent qualifications of a service designation process that requires an independent third-party audit of their performance. They must pass rigorous annual assessments of their network operations center. Technical design and operations staff must also complete advanced training.

6. Where are your network management facilities located, and what are the hours of operation? Describe your escalation process, in the event of an outage.
  • Service providers typically have both primary and backup facilities.
  • Find out whom to contact when your primary support contact is not available.
Depending on your needs, service support during regular business hours may be enough. However, some businesses have requirements for 24-hour operation. Help desk coverage, staffing levels, and backup planning are important aspects to consider in this scenario.

7. What are the assurances for levels of availability, serviceability, performance, and operation? What is the process for remedy if and when levels aren't maintained?
  • All service providers establish and maintain benchmark measurements.
  • Service contracts detail the metrics, and references have results data.
It is now common for service providers to offer service-level agreements (SLAs) as an integral part of a service contract, where the "level of service" is formally defined. The SLA can include the common understanding about services, priorities, responsibilities, and guarantees -- sometimes specifying financial remedies as a result of failure to comply with SLAs.

Next step: The remaining Q&A will be featured in part 3. We'll also provide a link to a complete list, and an ROI calculator to help you start to build a business case.

Video Communication Applications in Healthcare

Just as architecture has the power to transform a skyline, create new vistas and reshape the horizon -- so technology has the power to redefine healthcare, that's the theme of this year's HIMSS09 conference and exhibition in Chicago, Illinois this week.

Cisco video technology was featured in the AT&T Telepresence Solution booth on the exhibition floor. Visitors to the live video demo described their perspective on potential new applications, and Wendy Bohling, Senior VP at Magpie Healthcare had a more profound point of view. She said, regarding the business impact, "Telepresence changes and differentiates a hospital."

Quest to Improve the Patient Experience
Enhancing communication capabilities in healthcare can be equated to the potential for productivity and cost-reduction benefits, which are clearly valued. However, perhaps the emerging opportunities will now also focus on patient safety and the overall patient experience.

A recent study, conducted by Zogby International, sheds new light on the heavy toll that communication lapses take on patient care, clinical efficiency and the overall ability of nurses to do their job. More than 250 practicing nurses were surveyed. They included those in medical-surgical, emergency room, operating room, and critical care or intensive care unit service.

The Key Survey Findings Include:

Improving "people-to-people connections" offers the greatest potential for progress. The primary issue centered on the opportunity to improve communications among care team members. The time that nurses spend chasing other people to get answers was twice as great as the time they spend locating other resources.
  • When asked how many minutes per shift are typically spent "chasing other people to get answers," up to 86 percent of respondents estimated wasting as much as two hours per shift.
  • When asked about information needed to improve communication, 48 percent of nurses surveyed said, "care team availability and location" is most needed from a communications device at the point of care.
  • In an open-ended question about the most significant challenge that a nurse's communications device could address, 56 percent of nurses said, "better communication between staff."
  • About 60 percent of nurses in the study estimate they work up to 10 hours of overtime each week due to time wasted or lost trying to communicate with other staff.
If the visitor comments at the AT&T Telepresence demonstrations are an indication of an emerging trend, then the opportunities for hospital administrators, and other healthcare industry leaders, to apply the latest managed or hosted service offerings certainly looks very promising. Clearly, IT transformation is a rising priority.

View the Day Two video of additional demo visitor commentary.
More demo visitor perspectives on the Day Three video coverage.

Business Video Impact is Far Reaching

Many of the visitors to the AT&T booth at the VoiceCon 2009 are having their first experience of a TelePresence solution in action. Tina Vestal, customer care center manager at CHEP, perhaps sums it up best with her assessment -- "it's amazing!"

Earlier this week, BAE Systems Land and Armaments, part of the third largest defense company in the world, agreed to enhance their global employee collaboration and productivity with the AT&T Telepresence Solution.

BAE Systems will use Telepresence to provide an in-person meeting experience with executive leadership and engineering teams across the U.S., and the United Kingdom. This capability will also be expanded to Sweden, South Africa and other regions in the future.

Their TelePresence applications are intended to be far reaching, across numerous parts of their organization. Live video-based meetings will help them accelerate decision-making processes and problem-solving for high-priority projects.

More Productive Meetings, Less Unproductive Travel
With the anticipated increase in productivity through engineering team collaboration, and frequent management team interactions, the BAE Systems participants will also realize direct operational cost reduction.

AT&T's fully managed service includes in-room equipment, installation, full monitoring and management of the application, network provisioning, remote help desk service and on-site equipment maintenance and repair.

"We anticipate a reduction in travel time, costs, and realize other benefits -- including improved employee safety and quality of life through this environmentally-friendly tool," said Bharat Amin, VP & CIO at BAE Systems Land & Armaments.

BAE Systems is a global company engaged in the development, delivery and support of advanced defense, security and aerospace systems in the air, on land and at sea. They employ 105,000 people, and have customers in over 100 countries worldwide.

Also view the Day Two video commentary from demo visitors.