IT Focus Area: managed services
July 20, 2016
5 Steps to Choosing a Managed Hosting and Managed Services Partner
Pop culture history is filled with great partnerships: Batman and Robin, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and Doctor Who and … well, whomever happens to be his latest trusty sidekick.
These sidekicks share common traits: they’re confidants for talking through ideas, they happily work behind the scenes so that the hero shines, and they have the hero’s back when the going gets tough.
But finding the right partner takes time and careful thought — especially if you’re looking to recruit a managed hosting and managed services provider to complement your IT organization.
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Managed hosting is a comprehensive service that can provide everything from the building that houses infrastructure to the supervision of equipment, operating systems and applications. There are many degrees of outsourcing, from basic vendor management/support, to fully managed patches and upgrades.
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all.
Managed hosting and managed services is an outsourced operations team — the X-Men of IT — that provides the data center facility (including power, cooling and connectivity), security, storage, compute, and other resources to manage and operate every layer of IT on behalf of their customers.
The most successful IT departments blend traditional and selectively outsourced delivery models. It’s not unusual for companies to ultimately see a 20 to 30 percent cost savings when they engage with a managed hosting and managed services partner. Organizations frequently tell us they see a lower risk profile, higher staff morale and more stable IT environments — not to mention the fact that they have more time to focus on proactive rather than reactive strategies.
As business shifts to become more agile, companies should use a managed hosting and managed services partner who is nimble and responsive. Finding the right partner, however, takes careful analysis because each one delivers different benefits. It’s important to figure out which partner’s offerings most closely align with your company’s business strategy — and can help you move forward faster.
1. Determine How the Partner Will Support Your Business Goals
There are many different needs that managed hosting and managed services can fulfill, but it’s key to pinpoint early on what offerings will best support your company. Are you draining your resources applying a much-needed hardware upgrade or launching new, mission-critical apps? Do you suspect holes in your security strategy due to misused resources or a skills gap? Could non-core functions be handled more efficiently externally? Does your business need room to expand without spending a lot on infrastructure? Does your company need help with getting to the cloud or managing the cloud?
Large enterprises tend to seek help with very specific tasks. A parent company may strategically source the IT of a newly acquired business, for example, rather than merge the existing applications and processes. Growing small to mid-size businesses, on the other hand, are more likely to pursue a full-service solution that lets them invest in growing their business rather than merely keeping the lights on.
Identifying your overall goal at the outset will help narrow down what kind of managed hosting and managed services provider is the best match. If you don’t need the partner to provide equipment, for example, you can immediately cross off your list any that require you to use their infrastructure.
2. Audit Your IT Environment
As you prepare to engage a partner, review your company’s existing technology. Assess what’s current and what’s ready for an upgrade. Analyze whether everything works in harmony. Look at how changing certain elements might either simplify or complicate processes.
Understanding your environment will help you identify places where a managed hosting and managed services partner can benefit you. If you’re in need of an IT upgrade, for example, it could be worth using the partner’s infrastructure rather than pay to modernize your own technology. Or perhaps you don’t have the skillset in-house to manage an emerging technology. A sophisticated partner will already know how the new technology may impact security, performance, and other applications.
A partner can also assist you with the audit process. They’re a team of experts with processes built around industry standards and deep knowledge in multiple disciplines. They know what’s working for other businesses like yours and can recognize opportunities for improvement. Once the overview is complete, you can use that knowledge to plot out a strategy and estimate a timeline for handing over the reins.
3. Determine What to Strategically Source vs. Keep In-House
When you decide how you’re going to use a managed hosting and managed services provider, it’s necessary to take an honest look at your company’s IT strengths and weaknesses. The stuff you do efficiently and well? That’s what you want to keep in-house. But a partner can greatly improve your operations by tackling the work that’s consuming too many resources or isn’t your team’s strong suit.
Perhaps your IT team is segregated into functional silos. Different people run the network, database, server, etc. No single person has the expertise to support a single device that unifies those operations. A partner, however, can easily manage a converged solution.
Some enterprises may spend a lot of money on the operational care and feeding of their environment and would like to free up their budget for new revenue generating activities. By engaging a partner to manage core operations companies free up capital and labor to focus on innovation.
For example, a large online retailer wanted to focus more on growing its business while improving the usability and visual appeal of its website. A managed hosting and managed services partner assumed responsibility for the nuts and bolts of operating the site, and as a result, the company grew 100 fold. The partner provided the support that allowed the company to relocate its resources to strategic development.
Matching the right functions with the right team — yours or your partners — will help ensure you get the maximum value from your IT. It’s worth repeating that, contrary to some opinions, managed hosting and managed services doesn’t eliminate jobs; it gives staff more time to focus on strategic priorities.
4. Analyze the Provider’s Core Competencies
Some companies hesitate to cede control of all or part of their IT to an outside hosting provider. Others don’t realize the value managed hosting and managed services can add to their operations. The best way to mitigate these concerns is to take a close look at providers’ core competencies to ensure their particular expertise aligns with your priorities.
First and foremost, do some research to make sure you can trust potential partners to handle your critical business needs. It may seems obvious, but take the time to examine their results and learn about their successes.
Every provider will have a menu that outlines what they will support, which makes it simple to compare offerings with your needs.
Do they provide their own equipment?
Do they have dedicated team members that you’ll know by name? Or will you call a center for problems?
What type of monthly reporting do they provide?
Do they offer the highest industry service level agreements (SLAs)?
Do you have specific technology that requires specialized expertise?
Is your application profile simple or complex?
Companies who are looking for a scalable solution will need to make sure it is within their partner’s capabilities and then draft a contract that accommodates flexibility. Some managed hosting and managed services providers can scale up or down as often as every month to accommodate a highly variable workload.
If transparency is important to your team, make sure that the partner has a master portal that lets you see what their engineers see. This will allow you to drill in and see the different layers within your infrastructure and what’s happening with them, even if your team isn’t operating them.
Remember to think about the provider’s culture and personality fit too. You’ll be working closely and it is important to have people who mesh well with your own team.
Bottom line, you should feel comfortable with every aspect of the partner, from what they can do, to their personalities and how they plan to engage with you.
5. Define the Scope of Work
When it is time to draw up a contract, make sure everyone understands the expectations so you never have to question who is supposed to do what (or who dropped the ball, if it comes to that). When you’ve determined your business goals, outline responsibilities and make assignments.
Ensure the contract locks in the most efficient way to handle your business needs. If you need a scalable solution, for example, make sure you don’t get locked into a fixed-services contract.
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Once you’ve gone through this whole process, both you and your partner should have a deep understanding of each other and how you can work together to achieve your objectives. The greatest value of the relationship is being able to accomplish more as a team than you would be able to on your own.
Bringing IT All Together
Excelling as a team requires trust and an active commitment from both sides. Just as Batman knew he could always count on Robin, you’ll never have to doubt your managed hosting and managed services partner’s ability to help move your business forward. When you partner with the right provider, that’s when you’ll be the hero in your company’s IT story.