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Top 10 criteria for selecting a managed services provider

How cloud and managed services help IT deliver business value

The potential benefits of managed services can be achieved by selecting the right provider—one that can demonstrate the ability to provide skills, processes and resources that exceed your in-house capabilities. When you evaluate managed services providers, consider the following 10 criteria to help you make an informed decision.

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#1 Deep skills and experience

Any managed services provider should, as a baseline, have skills that go beyond basic operating system maintenance and availability management. Ask about skill levels related to managing change, virtualization, high availability, middleware and databases, multiple network technologies, cross-platform integration, mobility, security and, of course, cloud technologies. Go beyond the basic questions about certifications and headcount. Ask about scalability and availability of staff with specialized skill sets, how specialists are organized and share knowledge, and how best practices are communicated. By the same token, a managed services provider should have deep expertise across all delivery models, including not only managed services and cloud but also traditional IT and strategic outsourcing. In this way the provider can help you achieve an integrated multisourcing strategy—in-house, managed services, outsourcing and cloud—structured to meet your needs.

#2 Proactive, technology-based approach

Find out whether the services provider has a “break/fix” mentality or a proactive approach that emphasizes problem prevention and continuous improvement. Look for a provider that goes beyond simple monitoring and device management; for example, employing sophisticated technologies like advanced analytics can drive incident prevention by analyzing failure patterns across platforms and processes, affording visibility into areas for customer and service provider improvement. The provider should employ sophisticated back-end technology like automation across all offered managed services. Look for technologies that provide such capabilities as sophisticated alert mechanisms, automated workload categorization and prioritization, incident escalation and remediation. Ask to what degree the services provider uses automation to reduce human intervention and improve quality and productivity.

#3 Alignment with industry best practices and ITIL standards

A key to achieving a more reliable, highly available IT infrastructure is to optimize IT management. A services provider should employ industry best practices in managing your IT resources—in particular, aligning with the ITIL approach to IT service management. ITIL best practices encompass problem, incident, event, change, configuration, inventory, capacity and performance management as well as reporting. Best practices for transitioning from in-house to the provider’s management system are also a critical area to explore.

#4 Consistent processes and consolidated service visibility

Consistent service delivery is built on consistent processes that are clearly scripted and employ a repeatable methodology. Your services provider should be willing to share examples of policy and process documentation and explain how they are replicated across multiple delivery centers. Similarly, a services provider should have a knowledge management system that enables staff from any location to access historical problem and resolution information. Also important is the means by which the services provider gives you visibility into the health of your infrastructure and the performance of your managed services. Look for a security-rich, web-based portal that consolidates related services into a single dashboard with access to real-time service visibility, online tools for managing services and flexible reporting capabilities.

#5 Support for multivendor, multicloud environments

Today’s IT infrastructures are typically heterogeneous, hybrid environments of traditional IT—composed of hardware, software and network products —and public and private clouds from a variety of vendors. A services provider should have at minimum proven experience working with multivendor, multicloud hybrid environments—and more important, have relationships with leading vendors to help ensure availability today and visibility into product evolution paths and emerging technologies. A truly vendor-neutral services provider should be able to play the role of broker—helping you plan, buy, manage and operate across multiple cloud models and providers that provide the best fit for your business.

#6 Consistent global service delivery with local resource options

Choosing a managed services provider with global capabilities can position companies of all sizes for growth and expansion in today’s economy. Global delivery capabilities offer many advantages, including rapid implementation in new locations, the ability to effectively manage customer projects that span operations in multiple countries, local-language support for branches or subsidiaries, and in-country location of resources and data to help address regulatory and legal requirements. As whether a services provider employs standard delivery processes across all locations and how multilocation teams are organized and communicate.

#7 Performance-based SLAs

A significant advantage of managed services is that responsibility for performance rests with the services provider. Focus on what the provider delivers rather than how the service is performed. This helps the provider innovate, improve service delivery and reduce costs for mutual benefit. In turn, the services provider should be willing to commit contractually to meeting your service-level requirements—and back up those commitments with financial penalties or other consequences if those SLAs are not met.

#8 Broad portfolio of managed services aligned to your business

Because your business and IT needs are continually changing, you want the flexibility to add managed services without adding unnecessary cost and complexity to your sourcing strategy. Many organizations find that services fragmentation—using multiple managed services vendors—can become costly and complex. Although sourcing by process may seem optimal because it allows you to hire “best of breed” for a particular activity, it can perpetuate silos, hinder agility and make change more difficult. To preserve future flexibility, require that any prospective provider offer a thorough suite of managed services, from infrastructure management and managed security, resilience, mobility and other IT services to managed hosting and cloud. Also, look for a provider that offers flexibility in doing business with you, such as giving you the option to retain your current equipment and, where it makes sense, your current processes. Managed services can also offer a new financial approach to deploying IT capability. Your chief financial officer (CFO), for example, might want a managed services provider that can offer a pay-per-use option, allowing the enterprise to scale up or down to match business requirements.

#9 Technology foresight and a path to innovation

With strategic partnering becoming increasingly prevalent, it’s important to consider the impact sourcing relationships can have—not only on business outcomes but also on a company’s core business model and corporate culture. If innovation and transformation are critical components of your business strategy, how can a prospective managed services provider contribute? Does it have proprietary insights or experiences that can shed light on future technological or market shifts? What competitive advantages could you gain from access to—or even better, collaboration with—the provider’s research and development function? How can the provider’s expertise, assets, reach and partner network help you develop new business models or expand into new markets?

#10 Financial stability and reputation

Whether you are considering a relatively short-term, introductory foray into managed services or looking for a long-term, strategic relationship, a prospective vendor’s financial stability is crucial. Today, a services provider’s length of time in the market is no longer a reliable predictor of future longevity. Research annual reports, financial statements and opinions offered by business and IT industry press and analysts. And ask potential providers to back up their claims with customer references and quantified success metrics.

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Written by Nathan Cullen

IT expert with passion for consuming complex tech, driving adoption among team, and leveraging the network for continued growth.

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