5 Things You Must Do When Supplementing Your Team With Managed Services

There has never been a more important time for IT managers to seek the assistance of outside partners.

Increasingly, IT managers are turning to Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to help fill the talent pool gap that prevents many from implementing helpful but increasingly complex apps and technologies.

Among the challenges are those found in December 17, 2013 blog “The Rise of the 7 Communications Trends for 2014.”

As the forward-looking 2014 trends paper stated:

“Vendors are continuously creating new applications, some of which are transforming how organizations deploy and capitalize on technology. While this innovation can help boost business growth and improve efficiency, new solutions can further burden IT organizations that are already being compelled to handle growing service demand with shrinking staff resources.

“New applications and business-consulting demands may also require skill sets beyond those of existing staff. This imbalance between requirements and resources could prompt organizations to explore staff augmentation options beyond the typical ‘manage my switch’ arrangements. They will also seek help from technology management tools that smoothly integrate into their existing operations.”

So many factors, including cloud-based solutions, demand for leveraging Big Data, mobile solution integration, a surging economy that is leading to limited talent pools, etc. have come together to create the perfect storm for overwhelmed IT managers.

While many IT managers may be motivated to replace antiquated networks that have been in use since before the Great Recession, they may be hindered by the inability to find skilled resources to define and implement a roadmap and the tools to simplify the evolution.

In some cases, even if the talent can be acquired, the costs may be unreasonable.

Related article: Blind Spots in Your CEM will Kill Your Profits

The Rise of Out-Tasking

Instead of complete “out-sourcing,” many IT managers are turning to MSPs to “out-task” certain projects or management functions that require a particular expertise not readily available on staff or in today’s job marketplace. By out-tasking the IT organization can spend their valuable time on the core business goals and projects that drive additional competitive advantage at a business level.

Great examples of projects that are easy to “out-task” are release management, and legacy communication solution management. In both cases, the function is well defined but can free up significant time and remove unnecessary distractions from IT.

In this economy, moving from old to new solutions can leave a company in a lurch as they try to find the right personnel to help transform infrastructure and then ensure they maintain their skills. Out-tasking is a great solution to reduce the risk of transformation leveraging an MSP can help evolve the infrastructure much easier and faster. Working with a virtual staff and/or leveraging a cloud-based solution without having to bring people on board is likely to be the best solution for many businesses in 2014 and beyond.

The Top 5 DO’s and DON’T’s to Ensure You Make the Best Choice in MSPs

Do:

  • Prepare a statement of work with clear goals, metrics, timing and fixed budget costs so that the MSP staff can make a best bid for the project. Don’t forget to focus on Performance and Growth initiatives
  • Ask about the management capabilities of the MSP employees and the team mix. How many engineers and employees are dedicated to Managed Services and how many will be assigned to you. What is their level of expertise? How many employees are on the company’s Help Desk? How many other clients leverage the Managed Services practice? Is staff available around the globe on a 24/7 basis? What types of tools are you provided to assess how your applications are being handled? Is there a portal to you can use to view your application status in real time?
  • Question how the MSP employees and solutions can help mitigate risk, reduce cost of ownership and improve overall performance. Does the MSP leverage industry standard processes and tools?
  • Ask if the MSP can offer integrated solutions that include operations, professional services, and equipment maintenance. Are the MSP offers structured to enable you to flexibly choose what you need while still maintaining full accountability?
  • Investigate what each MSP specializes in. Many companies are now realizing that to get the most out of their investment they need to leverage MSPs with specific application specialties (Collaboration/communications, ERP, CRM, marketing automation, etc.).

Don’t assume:

  • A potential partner with IT experience can enable an easy transformation or can fix the problem. New apps and technologies can require expertise that is not always readily available. Ask about related experience.
  • That the team has backup plans or that adequate security measures are being taken at all times.
  • The MSP team complies with the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) to optimize efficiency. Don’t be surprised.
  • The potential partner owns their own data center. Data centers are forever being updated and tested, which is a considerable cost that many outsource (Not necessarily a big issue). Also, don’t assume that personnel and systems are in geo-politically safe areas. Ask!
  • All MSPs can provide the full spectrum of services, from private, public and hybrid clouds to co-location. Most say they can, but dig to ensure it is more than lip service.

What have been your experiences with a Managed Service Provider?

What do’s and don’ts are missing from our list?

Follow Me on Twitter @Pat_Patterson_V

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Five Things Every CMO Wants Their CIO to Know

This article first appeared in CIOReview, May 2017.

The reality of today’s digital, customer-centric world is clearer than ever, and it is significantly affecting the CIO and CMO. CIOs are now emerging as collaborative business partners with more customer-facing priorities; meanwhile, CMOs must now balance customer engagement with technology and analytics to deliver contextually-rich experiences. Together, these two key players must work in unison to amplify the customer communications experience.

I explored this dynamic further in a recent blog, where it was concluded that CMOs should operate as major influencers of IT spend, with CIOs working alongside them. Now, just one question remains: how? How can CIOs support CMOs to make their best marketing technology investments? How can they empower CMOs to operate at maximum potential each day?

There are seemingly endless ways that marketing can work with IT to reimagine business and customer outcomes, but the right support is needed to make this happen. To this end, here are five things CMOs want CIOs to know to help marketing teams do what they do best:

  1. Speed Matters
    The world has sped up in a very short amount of time. Consider technologies like web chat, social media and mobile apps: once non-existent for customer service, we now see hundreds of thousands of customers engaging with these platforms every minute. To be competitive, you must move quickly. You must be able to move at the speed of the consumer, and flexibly respond to digital change.

     

    Marketing organizations must have the freedom to instantaneously deploy new solutions and test new campaigns to limitlessly innovate and improve. Continuous change is at the heart of marketing; CMOs must be in control of the pace and nature of this change, while CIOs must support them to flexibly do so. Considering the average IT team takes up to six months to develop and deploy a new application, this is a major problem today. The traditional IT development/deployment cycle must be put to an end.

  2. Solutions Do Not Always Need To Be Built
    That same research shows that 85 percent of organizations demand faster development and deployment cycles from their IT teams. One way to significantly shorten this cycle is to eliminate the development phase altogether. In other words, solutions and applications do not always need to be internally built. There are many great off-the-shelf applications available that can be instantly cloud-deployed, and marketing needs IT to connect them quickly and securely for immediate use. In this way, CIOs can help CMOs reduce deployment time from months to days.
  3. Understand That We Live for the CX
    CIOs are notorious for having an internal perspective; meanwhile, CMOs thrive on their ability to look outward at the customer experience. For CMOs to operate at maximum potential, CIOs must understand how marketing is working to create a better experience for external customers.

     

    This means focusing less on why certain actions are being taken and more on how those actions will affect the end customer. Consider Daniel Bergan, Omni-Channel Transformation at Westpac, one of Australia’s most prominent financial institutions. In taking the initiative to better serve the bank’s customers, Daniel and the team created an end-to-end technology environment that transforms parts of the organization from the outside in. Most recently, for instance, the company announced that it would be making banking features available via social media messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter and Snapchat.

     

    Forrester puts it best in a recent report: “CIOs (must) move beyond IT’s traditional focus on technology assets and expand their role as leader of a customer-facing function: responsible for creating superior customer experiences across channels and delivering digital business innovation.”

  4. We Need the Right Infrastructure and Tools
    Marketing teams need to be as productive as possible. They must be able to seamlessly communicate and collaborate, both internally and externally. They need insight into customer data across multiple teams, processes and customer touch points. Our level of efficiency is dependent on whether we have the right infrastructure and tools, supported by the CIO.

     

    Understand that we know you cannot eliminate bandwidth issues entirely, but we would appreciate if you did all you could to make them as minimal as possible. We know you cannot completely eradicate security threats, but we trust you are working overtime to ensure we can work as securely as possible. Just as we work to deliver on the promise of amazing experiences for our customers, we need you to deliver on the promise of this experience for us internally.

  5. Be a True Business Partner
    What more can I say? Get in the game with us. Dust off your other strategic hats and start wearing them. Start thinking outside of the box to drive the best possible business outcomes and customer experiences. The fact is that, today, the CIO is no longer concerned with simply keeping the network running and phones on. Like it or not, today’s CIO has stepped out of the data center and is actively working alongside key areas of business like marketing, sales, R&D and HR. They are now operating as a revenue-generating entity. They are responsible for driving efficiency across the entire organization.

     

    Today’s smart, digital world has assured that marketing and IT will remain interdependent. The good news is that CMOs and CIOs are increasingly seeing eye to eye, reflecting a willingness of both to prioritize the business over individual goals and objectives. As with all things, though, there is room to do better, there are opportunities to deepen collaboration between these two essential players and across IT and Marketing teams. I just outlined five key areas where I believe CMOs and CIOs can achieve the level of intimacy needed to really thrive and succeed.

Wrangling the IoT: The Next-Gen Architecture We’ve All Been Waiting For

Technologies like AI, the IoT, virtual reality and data analytics are no longer enterprise luxuries, but means of survival in an era of rapid digital disruption. They’re transforming traditional processes, redefining roles and responsibilities, and reimaging the customer/brand relationship. Consider that five years from now, more than one-third of skills needed in today’s workforce will look different because of technological advancement. Three years from now, 100 million consumers are expected to be shopping in virtual reality. Data algorithms are now being used to positively alter the behavior of workers.

These technologies are no longer the basis for science-fiction movies like “The Terminator” or “The Matrix.” They’re here and now. Today, millions of people can watch chatbots argue with each other for entertainment. People are spending days in virtual reality, essentially living in an alternate universe.

Who’s to say that far-reaching movie plots like “Her” and “I, Robot” won’t become reality 30 years from now? We can’t say for sure, however, one thing we do know is that businesses must transition from legacy, hierarchal architecture to a next-generation platform so they can flexibly respond at today’s speed of digital change.

In a recent blog, I explored five key areas of this next-generation platform that every business must consider: next-gen IT, the IoT, AI/automation, an open ecosystem, and the customer/citizens experience. I tackled the first of these five areas: next-gen IT. Now, let’s explore what businesses should know about a next-generation platform in terms of the IoT.

The Only Way to Bring Legacy into Today’s Next-Gen World of IoT

Capitalizing on the IoT is an exponential challenge when core systems and applications are still running in a legacy-dependent environment. To succeed, companies must bring legacy into today’s next-generation world of IoT—a process with its own set of unique challenges.

For starters, the IoT is a vast and loosely defined concept. Some define the IoT simply as sensorous technology. Others, the interworking of various embedded devices that can collect and exchange data. The way I see it, anything that can connect to either a network or provide any sort of service (not just data collection and exchange) should be considered part of the IoT. Because virtually anything can be considered part of the IoT, it becomes difficult to implement one single solution designed to target all IoT requirements. Because of this, we see many IoT solutions on the market today (i.e., Bluetooth, WiFi, ZigBee, LPWAN) that support a range of different requirements.

These solutions also typically don’t use IP protocols, making them impractical in today’s world of any-to-any communication. With billions of connected devices in use today, companies must migrate away from non-IP technologies towards converged architecture to begin building process workflow automation based on IoT analytics. For example, consider a utility company that can automatically notify customers of the impact of an impending weather storm based on predictive analytics from sensors deployed throughout its power lines. The provider can then increase the reliability of their services while keeping customers informed on the severity of the storm using real-time data. As you can see, breaking the silos between various “data sets” (Big Data) is the key to building workflows that are impactful to customers and/or citizens.

The end goal of the IoT is to create automated (and in many cases data-driven) processes that generate the exact business or customers/citizens outcome you’re looking for. The right technology foundation is essential for turning this goal into a practical reality.

So, what’s the answer? An open, software-enabled, meshed architecture platform. This next-generation platform makes it easy to migrate from legacy architecture to begin securely deploying IoT devices that drive higher levels of efficiency:

  • Open, SDN architecture supports unmatched levels of IoT intelligence. The platform continuously learns and changes conditions as needed via constantly updated traffic flows. Consider, for example, asset utilization reports that detail up-to-the-minute operational activity, enabling decision makers to change course as needed for continual improvement and cost savings. Meanwhile, an open-sourced ecosystem offers programmable APIs that allow companies to customize their IoT services and applications to meet their exact needs.
  • End-to-end network segmentation delivers built-in, point-to-point security for up to 168,000 devices that can run on any vendor’s network. This is achieved through three core components—hyper-segmentation, native stealth and automated elasticity—that work in unison to effectively isolate and filter traffic from IoT device to destination. End-to-end network segmentation is inherently designed to secure the IoT ecosystem, and yet only 23% of companies currently have such a solution deployed.
  • An SDN-based IoT controller seamlessly manages the integrated IoT environment. Based on a multi-protocol controller that manages all service modules within the framework, the IoT controller can assign service profiles to open networking adaptors, manage interfaces into SDN program environments, expose north and southbound APIs, and more.

The fact is this: the IoT is a reality that’s only going to substantially accelerate. Three years from now, it’s expected that companies will be spending up to $2 trillion on IoT devices. Five years from now, analysts predict that the IoT will save consumers and businesses $1 trillion per year. In this same period, though, it’s expected that more than 25% of identified enterprise attacks will involve the IoT. During this time, many businesses will continue to struggle with IoT security and management.

We’re only seeing the beginning of what can be achieved with the IoT, but these possibilities are limited without the right technology foundation. The last three decades have seen humans manually providing input to generate desired outcomes, whereas digital enterprises are now using sensors as the input mechanism, combined with sophisticated automated workflows. Scary one may say, but nonetheless our reality.

Think about it: does a self-driving car need any input from humans? Not if the vehicle knows the driver’s calendar, destination and location of people you may need to pick up. It will automatically take the preferred route to keep you on time, find the closest parking space (smart parking), and even, if required, let people know you’ve arrived. At this point, humans are simply going for the ride! This is exactly why the right IoT foundation is so critical to digital transformation. It’s imperative that businesses invest in a next-generation platform that can deliver the simplicity needed to connect, secure and manage the ever-growing number of IoT devices. At the end of the day, a meshed architecture platform represents the best—and arguably the only—way to effectively reduce IoT breaches, rapidly innovate, and improve IT staff efficiency. The possibilities of IoT are seemingly endless for businesses with this foundation.

Up next, we’ll be tackling the third key area of a next-generation platform: artificial intelligence/automation. Be sure to check back soon!

The 2020 Network Is Here: Stop Visualizing and Start Deploying

At this point, it’s safe to say you’ve heard of digital transformation and the radical changes it’s driving within the enterprise as we approach the 2020 network. For example, up to 45% of activities that employees are paid to perform can now be automated. Companies are working overtime to identify security solutions that defend against vulnerabilities found in 70% of IoT devices today. The average business now offers customers up to nine engagement channels to be used across a vast array of devices.

Organizational boundaries are blurring. The speed of change has become relentless. Networking as we know it has been redefined. All of this, of course, has significantly changed the role of IT within the modern-day enterprise.

The days of troubleshooting computers and running phone lines are dead and gone. Today, IT represents the foundation for numerous key areas of business, many that far surpass the norm. CIOs are emerging as leaders of customer-facing functions, responsible for driving digital user experiences organization-wide. Business owners are strategically using IT to accelerate their core revenue-generating activities. Half are now collecting ideas through business unit workshops facilitated by IT. Driven by digital transformation, IT has changed to the point of no return.

Digital transformation, however, is far from over. Research makes it clear we’re only getting started. Consider the vast changes expected to occur over the next three years alone. Gartner predicts that by 2020:

  • 100 million consumers will shop in virtual reality
  • 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen
  • Algorithms will positively alter the behavior of billions of global workers

By 2021, 20% of all activities will involve at least one of seven digital giants like Amazon, Facebook, or Apple. By 2022, a blockchain-based business will be worth an estimated $10 billion. It’s clear the potential of trends like the IoT, cloud, big data analytics, and robotics is far from fulfilled and will only accelerate substantially as we move forward.

This all leads to one very important question: what will the network of 2020 look like? This massive, continued change will surely place unprecedented demand on IT infrastructure looking ahead.

Almost a year ago, Principal Analyst at ZK Research, Zeus Kerravala, aimed to answer this question via an article published to Network World. In it, he outlined key challenges that lie ahead for companies looking to capitalize on digital transformation (i.e., lack of automation, nodal configuration, multicast deployments), as well as what the network of 2020 will look like. Terms like simplified, mobile-centric, enhanced for contextualized customer experiences, and hyper-converged rounded out a comprehensive list of components, all which are just as valid today as they were this time last year.

Over the last year, however, Avaya has worked to streamline the 2020 network by condensing the technology into five key areas that businesses across every industry must consider: deep and wide automation, improved scalability, built-in security, mesh architecture, and an open network ecosystem.

Five Key Areas of the 2020 Network Every Business Must Know

  1. Deep and wide automation:

    As enterprises start aligning IT around their core business priorities, they must work to support two levels of automation: the first for automating the network architecture itself, and the second for automating various business workflows. The first involves eliminating complex, nodal configurations (traditionally required for service deployment) in order to easily add capacity and scaling capabilities. The second involves adopting a powerful, open workflow engine to increase productivity and overall efficiency. Network and workflow automation are essential for achieving the utmost business success.

  2. Scalability:

    Traditionally, scaling your architecture required that you replace your existing nodes with faster ones. In today’s smart, digital world, however, companies must evolve traditional scalability from legacy hierarchal architecture to fabric-based architecture. This move will enable them to add capacity at will and simulate nodal configuration, much like VMWare did with the introduction of server virtualization. The industry needs an end-to-end simplified virtualized network.

  3. Built-in security:

    The static configuration of legacy architecture will never offer the right level of network security needed today, nor will it support the future of the CX. As such, companies must work to eliminate legacy downfall when deploying next-generation architecture. This means sharpening the blurry, gray areas of network security—for example, when employees’ devices begin fading in and out of Wi-Fi when roaming in the parking lot. With more connected devices and more ways than ever to compromise them, it’s imperative that the 2020 network deliver any-to-any, end-to-end, built-in security. In other words, end-to-end network segmentation complemented by sophisticated authentication, encryption where needed, and real-time threat protection.

  4. Meshed architecture:

    The 2020 network epitomizes freedom of deployment. It means companies can move away from traditional hierarchal deployment and finally mesh their architecture. No more linearly connecting parts. No more limitations of Ethernet loops. A natively meshed architecture will empower organizations with unparalleled resiliency and scalability end to end (not just within the data center). At universities, for example, this means hyper-segmented, end-to-end connection across multiple campuses. At a bank, this kind of connectivity can be deployed between branch sites taking full advantage of cloud-based services. The user possibilities and business outcomes are seemingly endless.

  5. Open ecosystem:

    We live in a world of software-defined everything: SD-WAN SD-storage, SD-data center. The fact is that we’re rapidly and inevitably moving towards an open-sourced ecosystem. To prepare for this reality, businesses must ensure those vendors they invest in offer open APIs. This enables them to truly customize solution features and capabilities to meet their exact business needs. The 2020 network will no longer just endorse proprietary systems—but businesses need to continue to be cautious about how to take full advantage of open-source code without increasing business risks through vulnerabilities.

It’s imperative that organizations educate themselves on the 2020 network, not only visualizing it but taking the necessary steps for deployment. The future of networking is here, and it’s going to influence and shape your business. To learn more about these five key areas of the 2020 network, read IDC’s all-new Networks 2020 preparedness report, sponsored by Avaya.