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How a Managed Service Provider Can Help Your IT Career Hit the Big Leagues

October 18, 2013

[Contributed article by Patrick Zelten]

BatterUp

There is a saying among baseball players in the Dominican Republic that “No one ever walked their way off the island.” It’s used to explain why players from that region are such “free swingers.”

While conventional baseball strategy might dictate that you only swing at good pitches, and that a walk is as good as a hit, players from the Dominican Republic know they may only get one chance to impress a Major League Baseball (MLB) scout and get signed to a contract that will get them off the island and to the USA. And the only way to impress those scouts is to hit the ball hard. So they pass on doing what’s expected in order to focus on doing something that will get them noticed.

That’s an approach ambitious IT managers should embrace when it comes to how they spend their time. However, typically the majority of their time is spent keeping the lights on – i.e. performing all the routine maintenance tasks that keep current hardware and software running smoothly. In fact, according to Gartner the budget is broken into two parts — continuing IT operations costs or “keep the lights on” money (circa 65%), and new projects for business improvement and change (circa 35%). Source: Gartner CEO Advisory: Three Changes You Can Make to the Way IT Innovation is Framed, Mark Raskino, Jackie Fenn (28 June 2013).

It’s important work. Perhaps even mission-critical in some respects. Yet it’s also what’s expected, mere table stakes. In fact, you might say that while letting the lights go off regularly will certainly get you noticed in a negative way, meeting expected service levels—no matter how much skill, time and effort it reflects—will likely do little to advance your career.

To become a superstar within the organization, you need to do something spectacular – something that helps transform the business for the better, or at least delivers noticeable value to it. You need a home run, not a walk. But how can you hit that home run when the bulk of your day is spent monitoring, tweaking, patching and otherwise tending to the day-to-day needs of the organization’s technology?

This is where bringing on a managed service provider (MSP) can help. If you can hand off most of the 65 percent “keeping the lights on” duties to an MSP, you will gain back time for you and your staff to perform more meaningful work. The right MSP can also bring you new ideas that have worked with other companies or in other industries – ideas you can suggest to your management that make you look brilliant. And “brilliant” is definitely a good reputation to have when you’re looking for a career boost.

Striking out the fears

 So why don’t more IT managers bring in an MSP? For many, it could be a misunderstanding about what an MSP is. They may still think of it as 1990s-style outsourcing, where entire internal IT departments were shut down and their functions moved to an offshore provider to drive down costs.

Here in the second decade of the 21st Century, an MSP is not a replacement for an IT department. It’s an enhancement to it.

The objective in bringing in an MSP isn’t to reduce head count; it’s to free those minds to develop the innovations and make the kinds of contributions that only internal personnel, with their deep knowledge of the business, can create in order to add value to the business.

IT managers may also hesitate to bring in an MSP if their performance reviews depend on documenting a high uptime. In those cases, they may feel pressure to take personal responsibility for performing the actual work. Yet the evaluators don’t really care who keeps the lights on, so long as they stay on. By choosing the right MSP, and holding them to a higher service level agreement (SLA) than the organization might be able to commit to internally, IT managers can still meet or even exceed performance goals without having to invest a lot of time in the day-to-day operations that make achieving “five nines” uptime possible.

One other factor that may be preventing the move is concern about a loss of control. IT managers may fear that the MSP will come in and start dictating policy or telling their staff what to do. Yet that’s not the way a proper MSP/client relationship works.

Instead, the MSP should be viewed as an extension of your IT department, operating under the same business policies, security protocols, approval and rule change procedures etc. as internal personnel. It’s still your IT environment. The MSP may make suggestions, but in the end it’s you who makes the decisions.

Going to Bat

Once you’ve decided bringing in an MSP is a good idea, it’s time to go to bat for them; in other words, build the business case. Generally this involves identifying an area of need and showing how the MSP can fill it immediately.

The MSP should be able to assist you with demonstrating the business value. They can help you identify areas of need, develop service level agreements (SLAs) that meet or even exceed your internal department’s current performance and lay out penalties if those SLAs are not met.

For many organizations, the business case for bringing in an MSP is made based on staffing needs. For example, perhaps you’re having trouble finding or retaining the right skillsets to maintain the level of security demanded by the business. You can show how bringing in an MSP that already knows the security technology you’re using can solve the problem faster, and more cost-efficiently, than hiring and training a new internal staff member. After proving themselves with this project you can use it as a lever for other work.

You might also consider using an MSP to provide local (or remote) support for one or more branch offices. As they demonstrate their value the program can grow until they are providing support for multiple solutions, or even the entire organization.

A third possibility is in cases of rapid growth, where it is difficult for the internal department to keep up with technology patches, upgrades, user provisioning and other maintenance-type work. The cost to hire, train and provide benefits for internal resources to meet the peak demand versus bringing in an MSP to fill the gaps will likely easily justify the MSP; once they have demonstrated their value it will be easier to explain how they can take on additional work.

Of course, in the end you have justify the cost by demonstrating the ROI. If the MSP can deliver the service faster and at a higher level than your internal department, that’s great. If in doing so they allow your team to get to other work that improves profitability or creates a distinct business advantage, that’s even better.

Swinging for the Fences

Beyond the what and the how comes the “why?” Why you should make the effort to bring an MSP on board and integrate them with your in-house team? The reason is that there are several ways working with an MSP can help advance your career.

As mentioned previously, the most obvious is by giving you and your team time to do great things instead of spending your days merely keeping the lights on. Rather than punching out a few singles or taking a walk here and there and hoping someone notices, you can really swing for the fences with dramatic projects that have sweeping, long-term impact on the organization.

Beyond that, though, by working with an MSP you’ll gain access to a broad range of knowledge and experience your team may not possess. In their role as consultants, the MSP can offer suggestions on ways to approach a business issue that your team may not have thought of. They will likely be able to help you build the business case by pointing to other successful implementation in which they’ve participated.

An MSP can help drive cost optimization as well by providing focus on your maintenance tasks. For your internal staff, maintenance involves things that have to be done, even though they may not be the most exciting. For the MSP, however, that is their primary focus with your organization, and in order to keep the engagement they must do it well. This focus will help you ensure your environment is kept current with all patches and updates. It will also help you avoid staffing challenges by having a “bench” to call on when the situation requires it. It could even help you lower your costs. Most importantly, though, it will give you and your staff time to focus on areas that are core to driving the business, which will make you look like an all-star to the front office.

The overall impact of these contributions is they show you to be more strategic and less tactical. Which is exactly the impression you want to make when you’re looking to advance your career.

Make It to the Game

homeplateJust as no one ever walked their way off the island in baseball, it’s highly unlikely you’ll advance your career by doing only what’s expected. You need to do things that have a positive, noticeable effect on the business.

Working with an MSP can give you the time, knowledge and resources to make a major league improvement in your organization while helping you move to the top of the lineup for your next job. And that’s a home run in anyone’s book.

Patrick Zelten is the vice president of managed services for Forsythe, a North American IT infrastructure integrator headquartered outside Chicago. He can be reached at pzelten@forsythe.com.

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