Midmarket Companies: 8 Key Questions for your Future IT Services Provider

Recent data shows that the “great thaw” continues and the economy is coming back. Unemployment is less than 7 percent, the GDP expanded at the rate of 3.2 percent, increased IT spending is returning to pre-2008 growth rates, a plethora of new technologies, and aging hardware have led to a new dawn of opportunity. Many of America’s mid-market IT managers are now anxiously catching up to their larger competitors.

In fact, the continued economic resurgence has led to 79 percent of IT professionals suggesting that their 2014 IT budgets would either remain the same or increase over 2013, a year that enabled many mid-market IT departments to begin rebuilding.

The surge in mid-market comes as no surprise to readers of The Top 7 Communications Trends for 2014 white paper, which noted the rise of mid-market IT:

New technologies are powerful drivers of middle market empowerment. Mid-market leaders are no longer satisfied with solutions that are scaled down versions of larger systems. Instead, they want solutions designed to meet their specific business needs, as well as the ability of their IT people to manage them.

Support excellence will increasingly mean providing the right information in a tempo and volume that a smaller operation can handle, along with the tools needed to put that information to use.

Not being ready to invest in new employees, servers, appliances, and networks for many years has left many seeking outside solutions to help them catch up. That’s why 88 percent of mid-market businesses say they are planning to consult an external partner for assistance in developing and implementing their IT strategies, according to a Frost & Sullivan report.

With Gartner estimating that companies spend as much as $6,600 per year per employee in IT costs, many mid-market managers are increasing relying on enhanced support and outsourced solutions that enable adoption and support for new technologies without bearing the costs associated with technology, heavy staff training or staff resource redeployment.

The following 8 key questions can help you choose the right service partner:

  1. What capabilities & technologies are you missing from your current business communications tool box?

  2. Is your service vendor just providing scaled versions of larger solutions? One-size-fits-all solutions that are narrowed down will not necessarily meet future needs of a mid-market company. For too long, mid-market solutions were just limited solutions intended for larger enterprises. Does the partner offer customizable solutions that are tailored to your company’s needs?

  3. Does the company know your needs and your industry? Mid-market companies are often more industry specific than their enterprise counterparts.

  4. Can the service partner integrate, support, and manage disparate technologies in various locations? Having a partner that can quickly evaluate and manage all communications and collaboration resources will ensure continuity of service and ultimately, competitiveness.

  5. How deep is your service partner’s bench? Can they support your company’s headquarters on-site or halfway across the world? Mid-market does not equal single site, many mid-market companies have multiple locations that can span the globe.

  6. Are the right resources available both right now and as I scale up and business continues to expand? All business want to grow; can your service partner support you at all stages of growth?

  7. If something does go wrong, how easy is it to access the right solution? The need for support can be very variable, but when a mid-market businesses needs support, they don’t want to learn a new interface to access it. Does the service partner offer a full range of ways to access support 24×7 and enable you to use the collaboration venue that is most efficient to your IT team?

  8. When ready, can the vendor help my company take advantage of cloud offerings? Not all service partners are created equally, choosing one with cloud experience can help ease the transition to cloud for the parts of your IT infrastructure that make sense.

The expanding economy and advancing technology have created unimaginable opportunities, but with that comes considerable risk. Customized support from a valued partner can help simplify the path to deployment, empower employees and enhance your competitive edge. How mid-market companies manage investing in IT now will have profound effects in 2015 and beyond. Service partners can help smooth that revolution.

Are you planning to rely more heavily on service partners to accelerate your adoption of new IT solutions?

What challenges are you seeing at your mid-market company when it comes to growth and IT?

Follow me on Twitter @Pat_Patterson_V

Related Articles:

Cloud Service Providers Talk About Their Ventures Into the Lucrative Communications-as-a-Service Market

The cloud is increasingly taking a front seat among IT decision-makers, and for good reason. Looking solely at cloud-based communications, recent market data shows that its growth is outpacing on-premise communications.

Some 55 percent of large enterprises currently host unified communications on-premise. That number will fall to 17 percent by 2017, according to new research from IDG. By comparison, pure cloud, hosted and hybrid models will grow from 37 percent adoption among large enterprises today to 69 percent in the next two years.

Innovative cloud service providers are fueling this growth, and in this article, I wanted to sit down with two Avaya customers, in different market regions, to talk about their venture into the exciting market of cloud-based communications and discuss what enabling technologies from Avaya they have deployed and why.

Let’s start with DTSI Group. DTSI Group primarily provides innovative, end-to-end solutions of world-class facilities, advanced communication services and game-changing technology to Business Process Outsourcing companies doing business in the Philippines. The company powers 60 percent of the Philippine contact center industry, with 500,000 call center seats enabled. They are also taking the U.S. market by storm, offering customers a suite of high-value services, including Contact Center-as-a-Service.

“We wanted to be the first company to address the [Business Process Outsourcing] industries’ need for a utility-based, Software-as-a-Service solution,” said John Pike, DTSI Contact Center Architect and Sales Engineer. “The BPO market is both very seasonal and often grows and retracts very quickly. Giving a BPO the option to pay according to how much they use each month is a powerful business case.”

DTSI Group chose to implement their Contact Center-as-a-Service offering on Avaya Collaboration Pod. Collaboration Pods are pre-integrated, pre-tested solutions for running virtualized communications either internally or as a service within the data center.

“Our main business goal was to provide a cost-effective, highly scalable, resilient and flexible system to meet the unique requirements of our clients,” Pike said. “With the deployment of the Collaboration Pod, we are able to support a large number of stations and contact center agents in a small footprint. The system we are using is capable of supporting 8 instances of the Avaya contact center solution with 2,500 agents per instance.”

When it came to the decision about whether to buy a pre-integrated solution versus building their own virtualized infrastructure to host the CC-as-a-Service applications, DTSI decided that the Collaboration Pod would actually save the company money over the long term.

“We did a comprehensive TCO study of the Collaboration Pod solution comparing an equivalent do-it-yourself solution and found that over three years the Collaboration Pod solution would save us $400,000, and over five years save us $600,000. We were then able to pass along this cost savings to our customers,” Pike said.

Speed of deployment was also a major consideration, as they had customers who wanted to take advantage of DTSI’s services as quickly as possible.

“The Collaboration Pod shortened our time-to-market by about a month,” Pike said. “We were able to take the rack, plug it in and turn it on and follow a few simple instructions to get up and running. We were able to turn up live agents on the system within days of being deployed.”

DTSI Group has aggressive plans for expansion. Headquartered in the Philippines, they are able to leverage lower operating costs to deliver high value and cost-effective services to their clients in the U.S. With the Contact Center-as-a-Service market on the increase, this company is poised for success.

The next company I wanted to feature is Connex Telecommunications Corporation, a cloud service provider based in Richmond Hill, Ontario that provides a suite of enterprise communications, networking and infrastructure solutions.

Last year, Connex made it a goal to become the first to market in Canada with a cloud-based, per-user, per month, full UC solution. As a result, they launched Connex Hosted Services under the Connex Cloud brand to deliver Unified Communications, Contact Center and Video Conferencing-as-a-Service.

“We are a nimble and agile company that drives business by providing exceptional services. We focus on making things simple for our customers,” says Peter Manickavasagar, Vice President, Global Strategic Solutions at Connex.

This company also chose the Avaya Collaboration Pod as the best solution to secure their first-mover advantage in hosted services. “After we received Collaboration Pod at our warehouse, it took roughly 2 weeks to configure and bring to the Connex Data Center to turn up services,” Manickavasagar said.

“In terms of rolling out services to our customer base, the Canadian market we serve (larger enterprise customers with 100+ users) prefer private network implementations,” he said. “Therefore, we are deploying a Collaboration Pod that supports multiple instances of the UU/CC applications so that each customer is completely isolated on their own network.”

Commenting on how they roll out these services to their customers: “Turning up new customers has been very fast on the Collaboration Pod,” he said. “The only delays we’ve had is on the networking side and delivering that secure network connection to our customers.”

Connex really likes the unified management and remote monitoring capabilities of the Pod, as well as having single call support across the entire infrastructure. Manickavasagar said he expects his company to see operational cost reductions as a result.

With multiple customers already taking advantage of hosted services on the Collaboration Pod, Connex is clearly an innovator taking the Canadian market by storm with their suite of hosted services.

For more information on DTSI Group, please contact John Pike at john.pike@dtsigroup.com or at 704-657-5488.

For more information on Connex Telecommunications Corp, please contact Peter Manickavasagar at pmanickavasagar@connexservice.ca or at 905-944-6526.

How to Avoid These 5 Key Solution Outages

The New Year brings new opportunities to look back, and–more importantly–look forward. In 2015, many IT managers will resolve to keep their systems up and running 24/7 without fail. And no wonder: An average service outage can result in $385,000 in related revenue loss.

The costs are significant, but the five causes of communications outages are relatively simple.

According to an analysis of our customers in a recently published white paper, the top five causes of communications outages—and the percentage of those outages that could potentially have been prevented had best practices been followed—are:

  1. Power outage: 81%
  2. Lack of routine maintenance: 78%
  3. Hardware failure: 52%
  4. Software bug or corruption: 34%
  5. Network issue or outage: 27%

“Nearly two-thirds of outages resulting from the top five causes, and more than a third of all outages, could have been avoided by using industry-leading outage prevention practices,” writes Joey Fister, Senior Director of Emergency Recovery and CALA Technical Support Services.

In this white paper, Avoiding Outages: Preventive Steps to Avert Five Key Causes, Fister’s insights can help companies avoid revenue loss and productivity-destroying downtime.

The full white paper is available on avaya.com.

Below are excerpts, including the industry-leading practices and tools that organizations can use to reduce the potential for the top outages we have seen most prevalent in the Avaya customer base:

  1. Power outages. Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units are essential to keep systems operating through lightning strikes, storms and other power disruptions.But are they adequate?UPS arrays should meet the specifications of the communications and networking systems they support, of course. But as organizations grow, so does the mix of gear relying on UPS systems. Adequate UPS systems, as well as proper grounding of sensitive equipment, are crucial.

    Audits can help determine if facilities can meet power demands and ward off problems. Your service provider should be able to provide the framework for periodic audits or even help you conduct them. Particular attention can be given to hardware that is approaching the end of manufacturer support (EoMS).

  2. Lack of routine maintenance. Just as people understand that a poor diet, lack of exercise and parking in certain activities can worsen their health, most organizations know that poorly-tended systems can fail from lack of proper care.Yet, the high percentage of remediable outages (78%) attributed to poor maintenance suggests organizations are underutilizing upkeep—one of the best ways to maintain system uptime.Most equipment emits telltale signs when a problem is approaching. Proactive health checks, disciplined system monitoring and observed maintenance schedules can aid in hearing the signal, helping improve the reliability of communications assets.
  3. Hardware failures. Old equipment may chug along today, but it won’t forever. Continued use of those “sweated assets” is an increasingly risky gamble with major consequences should they go bust.If replacement parts or equipment are not available immediately when they fail, the length of the resulting outage can be extended significantly while replacements are located and acquired.An organization needn’t upgrade everything, though. Proactive upgrades of equipment approaching EoMS, audits to verify system redundancy, system health checks, and failover strategies for critical systems can help reduce hardware-based outages.
  4. Software bugs or corruption. While software vendors constantly release fixes and upgrades into the marketplace, not all organizations are eager to apply them. Some choose to let others occupy the upgrade frontlines and endure potential rollout hiccups, then follow along at a safe interval.This strategy breaks down disastrously when an organization suffers an outage that would have been avoided with a fix that it voluntarily chose to postpone. A sound patching strategy, and proactive patching to eliminate known issues, can help maintain software performance and avoid software-related outages.
  5. Network issues or outages. Jitter, delay and latency can be warnings of a possible network outage. In some cases, a simple audit of an organization’s underlying network can identify where such conditions exist.A network diagram can prove indispensable in isolating an outage, speeding resolution by illustrating the relationships among pieces of equipment. And rigorous configuration control processes can help ensure that system changes and refinements do not inadvertently trigger outages and other problems.

What best practices do you use to avoid big solution outages?
Follow me on twitter @Pat_Patterson_V

5 Reasons Why Right-Brain Thinking Is Driving Cloud and IT Decisions

Have IT managers lost their minds? Or are they only using half their brains? And if so, which side are they using now? Which side might they use more of in 2015 and beyond?

The answer may surprise you. In what some might call the tale of two brains, IT managers are increasingly moving from the left side of their brain to the right. What do we mean by that?

The theory of left-brain or right-brain dominance suggests each side of the brain controls a different type of thinking. “For example, a person who is “left-brained” is often said to be more logical, analytical, and objective, while a person who is “right-brained” is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective,” writes Kendra Cherry in Psychology Today.

There’s no denying that many IT managers are presumed to be more left-brained, due to the types of jobs they have traditionally gravitated to. They lean toward focusing on tangible technology and onsite dedicated equipment solutions, which correlates with a hardware box mentality. What else does left-side thinking mean to IT management? They tend to bring:

  • Logical, methodical, systematic planning to IT system management
  • The ability to see and articulate a direction and implement a solution
  • Sequential processing–one step leads to another–deadlines, schedules and regulations are all met
  • Great at math, as critical thinking and reasoning dominate
  • Problem-solving mentality to a situation right in front

Left-brain thinkers have dominated IT since its inception, but the increasing complexity of solutions, enabled by software, and the limitation of IT resources have caused many in IT to ”think different.”

In the same way Apple brought a different, more creative way of thinking to computing in 1997, the next generation of IT managers may not be techies. The next generation of IT managers may come from completely different backgrounds than computer science and information technology management. They will be more interested in outcomes for the business and less concerned with the technology that gets them there. Enter the world of cloud, where the right-brain IT manager is more focused on the functionality and capabilities they are providing to the business–not how is it being provided. They can leave the “how” to their cloud service provider.

These right-brained IT managers will think more subjectively, less objectively. Just as has happened in the worlds of finance, transportation, energy and design, IT is dealing in an increasingly complex world that requires intuitive, creative, big-picture problem solving. Creative approaches are causing a dramatic shift that is absolutely necessary for resource management and solutions that grow business value. All these drive the need for more right-brain thinking.

How radical is the shift?

The real question for the left-brain IT manager is “Why?”

Here are the 5 reasons why right brain thinking is increasingly needed in today’s IT managers. You can see many fit well with the drive to cloud:

Thanks to offsite application management and migration to the cloud, more than half of IT managers think of cloud first, leveraging technology that is off-premise and on the Web. Gone are the days of buying and installing pallets of equipment and running cables from x to y.

It’s about the revenue. It’s not about speeds and feeds. It’s not just the tech numbers anymore. It is not as much about driving the specs as it is about driving business goals and revenue, enhancing employee engagement and maximizing customer lifetime value.

IT managers are no longer being burdened with where to place the next server or how to keep a particular system up and running. CIOs are focusing on outcomes and productivity that drive business results.

It’s all about the Opex, not Capex. Shifting technologies and needs are leading many to look beyond investing equipment that grows old as soon as it is bought. Opex means that shifting needs can be quickly adapted to, and worrying about the next upgrade is replaced by driving adoption of the next great capability that will drive competitive advantage.

There’s an app for that. The cloud is the primary way to buy solutions that enable quick adoption of customer engagement, team engagement, and productivity solutions, leading to better business performance.

Which side of your brain dominates your thinking? The right or the left and why? How important is creativity in managing your IT environment?

Follow me on Twitter at @Pat_Patterson_V.