The IT catch 22: how to find the time to make IT more strategic?

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IT departments are currently faced with an avalanche of exciting new technologies that need to be evaluated and assimilated, along with the requirement to comply with new regulations, support ongoing change and align IT with a changing and ever-more competitive business environment.

And, if that were not enough, they have to do all this without a significant rise in their budgets. Oh and then theres the little matter of moving towards a service-oriented infrastructure and formulating a strategy to deal with the increasing number of security attacks widely predicted for the next few year. If only we had the time to be strategic! say the thousands of IT managers struggling just to deliver the everyday levels of service their companies require.  But there is a way of giving yourself the breathing space you need to tackle the big stuff, as John Davies (pictured), Comunicas Technical Service Manager explains.

Ask an IT manager, any IT manager, and the chances are they know the feeling all too well: there simply isnt enough time in the day to be strategic, but if there were, there is so much that could be done to make the IT infrastructure better at supporting the businesss objectives. Startlingly, industry guesstimates say that companies spend up to 70% of their IT budgets simply maintaining or redeveloping what they have, while at the same time between 60% and 80% of application functionality is redundant. The speed of technological change, the high level of mergers and acquisitions in some industries, and the tendency to stovepipe development (which results in multiple systems all doing the same thing), all add up to one big IT headache. But, while IT staff face a moving pavement which requires most of their effort just to stay still, malign threats to business IT systems are on the increase, business is becoming ever more demanding on the systems that support it, and a seemingly never-ending stream of new technologies waits to be evaluated and integrated.

According to Research by Comunica of SMBs the key problems that keep stopping IT Managers from being strategic are:

1.   Suppliers not delivering.

2.   Managing multiple suppliers.

3.   Delivering IT across multiple sites.

4.   Internal IT Staff not effective.

5.   Coping with lots of different types of networks which are unreliable.

6.   Time spent chasing support problems.

 

 Stop the world I want to get off! the IT managers may cry, but there are relatively few options to solve the dilemma:

     You can employ a few more IT staff if your budget will stretch to that.

     You can outsource IT support but youre worried about the cost and the level of service you will receive.

     You can employ consultants to deliver the big project stuff you need but you know this will be expensive and that it may not be delivered on time or be exactly what the business needs.

And, after all, this is the clever, fun stuff that your own staff desperately wants to get their teeth into.

More often than not, none of these options really appeal, so the business just soldiers on trying to fire fight and concentrate on the day-to-day and whatever incremental gains can be made.

But dont dismiss that outsourcing option out of hand just yet, as there are a number of flavours of outsourcing to consider. Traditional IT outsourcing involves the IT department being completely outsourced to a third party often with the consequence that in-house staff are no longer required and are therefore made redundant, resulting in a huge loss of expertise to the business and extra cost. Theres a lot of bad press and frustration surrounding traditional outsourcing, which all too often was simply driven by cost-saving initiatives. Best practice when selecting and managing an outsourcing partner can, and does, produce satisfactory, long-term relationships between outsourcer and client. However, the big bang nature of this approach means it seems far too risky for many businesses.

But outsourcing doesnt have to be like this. Numerous businesses have taken a much more granular approach to core functions such as IT, analyzing where their own expertise can add the most value and where third parties can contribute value to the business by making the function more effective.

For example, under a managed service desk arrangement, you can use third-party expertise to manage all or part of your IT support using their expertise to manage the day-to-day service desk tasks that keep IT systems running to agreed service levels. This type of arrangement can be very flexible, with the third party providing niche skills needed to fill expertise gaps or extra staff to cope with peak workloads, sickness, training and holidays. In-house staff can be freed up to tackle strategic IT projects, allowing the business to retain expertise and to maintain continuity of service. The rock on which traditional outsourcing has wrecked itself cost-saving is rarely the main driver for this type of approach. Usually the primary driver for using a managed service desk is the desire to improve the IT offering and reshape it for strategic reasons. This approach solves many of the objections raised to traditional outsourcing, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Managed service desk versus traditional outsourcing

A well implemented managed service desk can therefore allow an organization to maintain or even improve its level of IT service support, while also retaining intellectual property, and all without increasing overall cost. The benefits of this approach are shown in Figure 2, along with factors that help ensure the approach is successful.

Figure 2: Benefits of managed IT services

 

Choosing the right partner to provide this type of service can be tricky, but it isnt rocket science. Most businesses want the same thing: a flexible, reliable and innovative partner that will help them maintain service levels while managing cost. Theyd like a company that has a culture of delivering and a working style characterised by open, frank communication. A bonus would be if this partner had an understanding of their specific business requirements and a track record of having successfully delivered this type of service to other similar businesses. Though a tall order, this is not impossible. And a successful managed service desk arrangement has the primary benefit of reducing risk for your business, because it allows all those long-delayed strategic initiatives to be delivered.

 

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