By Judd Cain, Executive VP Global Managed Services, Tait Communications.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done.” —Steve Jobs, 1997
Most organizations begin with a small group of passionate and committed people who pull together to manage the whole array of business functions that need to be handled for the business to move forward. Whatever it is, they find a way to get things done. These tasks and functions pertain not only to the core mission but also include everything from IT and Communications to HR and Payroll. It was always assumed that it was more efficient and cost effective to handle everything internally—largely because that was how it always happened. In today’s environment however, many of these functions require specialized expertise, tools and processes to meet a minimum level of capability.
In the not-so-recent past, the IT department may have supported the entire computing capability for a company — a mainframe and some stand-alone PCs. They managed computing only. Communications were handled by facilities, and security consisted of some badges given out by HR and alarm system that a local security company installed and serviced once a year. Today, the picture is far more complex. The IT team may have responsibility for and manage the servers that support almost every aspect of the company, internal networks, firewalls, external networks, telecommunications, video conferencing, physical security and more. But more likely, IT has outsourced some or all of the functions to Service Providers.
These Service Providers have now entered the market with offerings that provide both superior service quality and lower costs. Services now exist for almost every conceivable discipline, from all aspects of IT, to human resources, to product design. For most business or technology challenges there is a Service Provider that can help. But, organizations frequently struggle with the process of determining what and when to outsource.
As Steve Jobs noted, when it comes to where to invest an organization’s time, energy and resources, “you have to pick carefully”. Many managers measure their success by the span of their control, and fail to realize that functions they manage have become distractions and/ or sources of inefficiency. Managers at all levels should ask themselves, “Is this function a critical component of our core competency? Can we find a better way to handle it?”
The trigger point for adopting a new approach usually comes as a realization of how much it costs to continue the approach the organization has traditionally used. A system may have reached its end of life, and the new one—which costs significantly more—requires special skills which the organization does not have, or a key employee retires and it takes three people to get the required skills to replace her. And it is often the case that the particular function has delivered sub-optimal results for a long time before the red flag was raised.
How can organizations avoid falling into this trap? Ask some fundamental questions on a regular basis:
- What is our core mission as an organization?
- Which functions directly enable us to complete that mission?
- What skills are critical to performing those functions?
- What capabilities do we need to have in place to support functions and to assure the on-going availability of skills?
- What are we doing today that falls outside of these areas?
Is there an economical way to get the same level of support?
Consider a real-world example: Public Safety organizations are now recognizing that a seemingly core function—critical communications—can be supported by a Service Provider in a manner that not only provides higher service levels, but also enables the organization to upgrade to the next generation of system.
Police Officers, Fire Fighters and EMTs depend on critical communications systems to execute their jobs and, in many cases, to save their own lives. The entire radio system and its support has traditionally been viewed as an integral part of the Public Safety Department’s operation. Many officers felt they could only rely on “one of their own” to choose the right radio system and terminals, and to keep them running.
Two key changes have taken place that have caused many critical communications managers to re-evaluate this approach. First, traditional radio systems have developed over time into complex communications networks with IP backhaul to keep up with the requirements placed on them. Second, the availability of qualified radio engineers has diminished as fewer people enter the field and—as an increasing number of experienced personnel retire—expertise is becoming hard to find.
Some organizations have responded by transferring radio support to the IT group only to learn that there are still radio-native elements that cannot be handled. Another set of radio-centric agencies have held off on upgrades or tried to augment their radio teams with the necessary IT skills to keep the systems running. Yet a third group has recognized that using radios is part of their mission, but supporting them is not. Consequently, this group has utilized Managed Services Providers to monitor, manage and support some or all aspects of their networks.
Adopting Managed Services as part of the business model provides the extra benefit of certainty as it locks in operating costs, which, in many cases, includes the cost for technology upgrades. The value of this approach is even higher when you consider that service levels typically rise as a result of the increased expertise and process-focus that are core elements of best-in-class Managed Services.
Service Providers have evolved to manage the most critical applications — where life can literally hang in the balance — to apply expertise, tools and processes to provide higher levels of services and lower costs. But the key is to recognize the need to enlist expert help.
Once the decision has been made to enlist the help of a service provider, the lynchpin for any organization is to choose a provider that not only has the skills to deliver a quality, cost-effective service but who also shares the sense of mission with the agency. It has to be an organization that truly understands the environment in which Public Safety professionals operate. It is important therefore to ask some key questions.
Choosing the right service provider: key questions
- Is there a natural fit? Do they understand and can they demonstrate that they are knowledgeable on your core infrastructure technology, the applications you use, or seek to use in the future and the various tools that are native to your particular environment?
- Are they capable of providing a detailed statement of work for a total approach that matches your current and anticipated future needs?
- Are they a certified provider: do they have the appropriate ISO certifications and do they follow Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) processes?
- Do they use management tools that work natively with your infrastructure?
- Do they have extensive experience in serving organizations of your size and focus? Can they provide references?
View your Managed Services provider as a long-term partner who will not only help with the day-to-day network operations, but will also provide guidance about the best technology and solutions to adopt going forward. Discussions should not be limited to the reasons for, and the resolution of incidents; it is important to consider the level of capacity utilization and when technology will reach the end of its useful life. A Managed Services provider can also help to select technology and facilitate evaluations by setting up realistic test environments.
In most instances, the decision to use an external party to manage a mission-critical function (such as critical communications) is the hardest step in the process. Find a partner who can truly match your delivery requirements, and who understands your mission. Tremendous benefits will flow from leveraging the skills of the right Managed Services partner.
Innovation and success, as Steve Jobs pointed out, come not only from the things that we decide to do, but also from those we don’t.
This article is taken from Connection Magazine, Edition 3. Connection is a collection of educational and thought-leading articles focusing on critical communications, wireless and radio technology.
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