Convergence Coffee Talk – A Managed Service Provider Should Neither Need To Be Managed Nor Provided. Discuss.

By: Jennifer Manfred

Welcome readers to a new installment of Convergence Coffee Talk. (Remember you have to pronounce the titles with a heavy New York accent: kaw-fee tok). Last month we had a scintillating (or at the very least entertaining) conversation about marketing and what madness is on the horizon for Convergence Networks. This Convergence Coffee Talk segment (with your host Jennifer Manfred) will focus on How a Managed Service Provider is Neither Managed Nor Provided. Our guest Steve Williams, the Spiderman of Sales (he’s quick and agile, not like Batman who’s just a human dressed up with cool toys), will discuss why successful businesses are outsourcing their IT, and the difference between a vendor that you have to manage and a strategic, valued IT partner.

Step into the Wayback machine for a moment:
Back in the ancient, prehistoric days (20 years ago), IT scrambled to make sure systems were up and running, users could print, open their application (Wordperfect, Lotus123, Excel), and send and receive email (which was in its infancy). Servers crashed a lot, hard drives failed, internet service went down, and software was buggy; it was a bit of the wild west. Thankfully, with proper care and feeding, stability and efficiency aren’t just abstract ideas in the world of IT these days.

Fast forward to today. As a company grows, the multiple hats that each employee wore start to get distributed out to specialists – Managers, Human Resources, Accounting (Accounts Receivables, Accounts Payable, Payroll), Operations, Sales, Marketing, etc. IT should also hand off some of their hats.

Play to your strengths:
There are skills and abilities that are well suited for managing IT infrastructure (servers, firewalls, email systems, help desk, cloud services, etc.) that are different than the skills needed to write code to extract data from a database and publish it to a report for use by the Sales team or Purchasing Agents. When company demands grow, IT starts to separate into infrastructure management and application management. The infrastructure group makes sure everything is up and running consistently and answers help desk questions. The application group makes sure that the primary “line of business application” your company uses (Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce, NetSuite, etc.) is providing the information needed to make decisions and build on your strategy. Those are the two sides of the IT coin – and both are critical to successfully growing a business.

Focus Pocus:
Steve was remarking how in an increasingly competitive marketplace he has witnessed firms flailing away trying to “do all and be all” with no clear focus vs. the successful firms that concentrate on their core competency and outsource functions that aren’t a part of that core focus. It’s the age old question that decision makers have to ask themselves – should we build or buy: Does it make sense to try and staff and manage an in-house infrastructure and application IT team when it’s not our core competency? Could we make more effective or efficient use of our resources (time, talent, money) if this component of our business was outsourced?

It is usually most cost effective to outsource the infrastructure management component of IT. Outsourced IT providers typically have the enterprise class tools, continuous training, a wealth of experience across many IT solutions and “depth to their bench” that you just can’t get as cost effectively with internal IT.

Depending on the size of the company, keeping the application management team in-house may make the most sense. The application “team” (could just be one person) has to know each and every business unit’s function and requirements. They then work with that team to get them the information they need in the form of data, reports, and dashboards. Depending on the company type and business model, that may mean full time work for one or for a whole team, or it could be setup once and revisited at regular intervals with an outsourced resource.

Managing a vendor, or working with a partner:
Have you ever noticed how successful leaders meet with and listen to coaches and mentors on a continual basis? Professional coach Daniel Pendley says that executives need coaches for the same reasons that high-performing individuals rely on them: “We cannot see our own mistakes, and if we are not getting better, we are getting worse.”

Whether in-house or outsourced, your IT team should be part of your trusted circle of advisors. You should have a technology roadmap that matches your technology to your business goals and forecasts the investments needed in the next 12, 24, and 36 months. Your trusted advisor should be able to make a business case for how the solution being advocated will increase efficiencies, reduce risks, or increase revenue.

Granted there are certain IT functions that are transactional – needing to renew a software license for example – but if every touchpoint with IT feels like a transaction with no value-add, then you really aren’t getting your money’s worth and are missing an opportunity.

Regardless of the size of your company, you should build a relationship with an IT partner – not a vendor. A partner will seek to understand your business needs first and foremost. They will then look to give you the best solution possible, given your situation, and sometimes it may not be what you want to hear, but it will be what is best for you and your company. They won’t make suggestions based on what kind of “juice” they get from recommending a particular vendor. (Hopefully they don’t get any kickback and can remain agnostic to the correct solution).

We cannot see our own mistakes, and if we are not getting better, we are getting worse.

Proof is in the pudding (pronounced puhdin):
Steve has seen and heard it all (please don’t make me eat my words by trying to prove him wrong) in terms of technology. He’s been able to refine his process and help a lot of businesses benefit from a strategic IT partnership. His depth of knowledge spans beyond technology, evident in his ability to answer my last nagging interview question… What does the penguin say when it walks through the office front door wearing a sombrero? To which he poignantly responds: The penguin asks “Why is the air conditioning not working?” Duh (and here I thought it was going to ask for another Margarita). The moral of the story is simple; select an IT partner that can become an extension of your organization and not a managed vendor masquerading in a penguin suit… with a sombrero (yeah, I bet that #converganalogy will generate some fun comments). Stay tuned for our next installment of Convergence Coffee Talk when our topic centers around humanizing technology, which does requires both humans and technology. Discuss.