By bluesource

With in-house IT departments getting busier but still facing budget cuts, how can they do more with less — and operate at an optimum level? Andrew Mckeeve, COO at bluesource poses the question and provides some answers

The tough economic climate is forcing IT executives to examine the effectiveness, efficiency and resources within their in-house IT departments. This pressure comes from a variety of senior members within an organisation. The CIO has to cut back on IT costs, while simultaneously maintaining or improving service levels. The CFO needs to see greater budgetary efficiencies and is piling pressure on the IT department as a cost centre. The CEO needs to find better ways of competing in an increasingly tough marketplace and is looking to IT for help.

Facing the expectation of lower IT budgets and increased demands for new IT-enabled services, IT departments need to adopt innovative approaches for the management and deployment of information technology. This could involve consolidating and adopting new, efficient, technologies and choosing pragmatic managed service models that involve outsourcing management of IT to third party experts.

In house IT challenge

In an ideal world, the successful IT department is populated with motivated, hard working staff, focused on interesting, strategic projects that add value to the bottom line of a business. But in the cold reality of the real world, running a successful IT team is fraught with problems and aspired goals are rarely achieved.

So what are the challenges facing in-house IT departments?

They are under increasing pressure to rationalise resources, this may involve reducing staff levels, but unfortunately this is also at a time when they are getting busier.

The management headache

Keeping IT systems up and running is a thankless task, no-one appreciates the IT department for system up-time but they are vilified if a system fails. The IT department also faces risks, both internally and externally, that can impact on its future existence. Internal risks come from the rest of the business, in terms of the perception of how the IT team operates — is it positive or negative and what level of confidence do they engender in their users?

If the IT team’s time management is adversely affected by constantly fire fighting system management issues, rather than working on strategic technology enhancement projects or planning for the future, their internal perception won’t be favourable! An under pressure, inefficient, IT team that isn’t able to deliver its services, faces external risks that can involve departing clients - with the associated business losses and costs of having to generate new customers.

Refreshing technology

Many IT departments tend to only possess specific in-house skills and knowledge which can leave them a little constrained. Because so much time is spent managing systems, these IT teams have little time to review/consider new technologies and updates - and ultimately utilise them.

Making an informed purchasing decision for an IT team is critical for success. But again, time constraints usually make building a credible business case for new technology adoption problematic. To get the proposition right is highly time consuming and also requires relevant expertise. It is also very hard to put an accurate ROI on new technology without help from an external expert who can properly manage user testing.

Quick cost and efficiency savings

So how can in-house IT teams become more efficient and cost effective? I’m sure most IT directors would want their staff involved in useful projects rather than just conducting tedious, daily IT admin. I also believe if they were liberated from stressful fire fighting, to work on more stimulating IT projects, staff would be far happier, motivated and committed too! More time could also be spent with their heads up, thinking about what IT could be doing better.

IT departments should look to optimise and protect their legacy investments. Good housekeeping and vendor prescribed best practice maintenance, will improve uptime and performance - as well as reducing the cost of the resultant remedial work. If a server environment is managed to its optimum level, this will help these systems last longer - delaying the expense of replacements.

Outsource the hassle

What are the options for addressing time consuming system management? Keeping it in-house is one option but that won’t help solve the challenges of maintaining its security, availability and other risky problems discussed earlier.

Another route could be to approach the system vendor to establish what levels of support and maintenance they provide. The reality is that vendors are not geared up to be specialists in managing their own products and this means they probably can’t deliver the level of support and management required.

The option that has the best chance of providing the appropriate levels of systems management, is to find a specialist service partner — one that offers all aspects of best practice systems management, on a 24x7 basis. These managed services partners possess a range of better qualified and experienced people who focus on their core competencies of system management and provide a deep well of knowledge. They also deliver more professional system reporting and analysis.

In-house IT teams can then protect their legacy investments by very economical off-premise management, rather than spending on knee jerk solutions that require them to re-purchase off-site hosting infrastructure.

So, by outsourcing the management of IT systems, this means that the in-house IT team retains ownership of IT, whilst having more time to control their strategy. Good managed service providers will also provide an insight into the overall status of critical technologies, with reporting that highlights performance, data growth and forecast usage. This intelligence enables the in-house IT team to respond and plan accordingly.

As well as the benefits of reduced system risks and redeployment of IT resources, vast in-house IT cost savings can be also be achieved, associated with lower support resources, licensing fees and staff’s increased time, efficiency and productivity.

Key questions for in-house IT to consider

•How can we reduce the cost of updating and managing existing systems?
•How can we get cost effective external support without losing control internally?
•Are critical business messages reaching the right people at the right time, by the most effective means — securely?
•Is our information easily accessible and fully compliant with relevant regulations?
•What level of ‘innovation’ is right for our business?
•What level of system reporting / analytics are required?

Key questions to ask a managed services provider and technology consultant

•How close are their relationships with key vendors that they claim, could they bring a vendor along to a meeting?
•How can we measure Return On Investment on our IT investments?
•Have they done this before? Can they provide references?
•What happens when an SLA isn’t met?
•What level and frequency of systems reporting do you offer?
•Are your service contracts flexible?