Advanced IT monitoring and management are the future instead of outsourcing.
You used to have two options: hand the management of your network over to someone else or do it in-house. Now there is another option: collaborative working and joint development.
Outsourcing has its merits but many companies need the strategic advantage of controlling their own IT. At the same time, they realise they do not have the skills and resources to manage and maintain their own complex infrastructure.
IT directors seeking the elusive middle road can retain control of operations in-house and take advantage of expertise from outside by collaborating with a management and monitoring company.
Ideally, most IT departments would prefer to keep operations fully in-house. It is now easier to hire skilled staff than it was, but the continuing overhead of training staff to make proper use of complicated management tools is high and may have to be compromised due to restricted budgets. As a result, some staff are having real difficulty operating the new generation of management tools.
Also, as voice and data converge, it is becoming necessary to monitor and manage more critical devices attached to the network, including applications and processes from a wide assortment of suppliers. This means only the largest organisations will be able to afford to support a mission-critical infrastructure with in-house resources.
The good news is that new applications and tools appearing on the market facilitate joint working and knowledge sharing, and a cost-effective service can now be tailored to an organisation's needs.
The web and new monitoring tools allow both the user company and an external specialist to view what is happening with the firm's infrastructure together in real time. They get visibility of performance and availability data such as network utilisation and server loads.
If something unusual happens, both teams can react and address the issue quickly, before it affects users. Also, they can both see status of events, progress of fault calls and online service level agreements, maintenance schedules and documentation.
Some data needs in-depth technical knowledge to interpret - for example, availability analysis and network latency. With knowledge sharing, specialists at the external company can see exactly what the in-house support staff are seeing and discuss any issues with the data in front of them both.
Bringing all this information together and presenting it in a useful way enables two massive changes in the way an IT infrastructure is managed.
The first change is organisational. Instead of facing a stark choice between outsourcing or using in-house staff, there is now a new spectrum of arrangements falling somewhere in-between.
For example, in-house staff can run their own infrastructure except for occasional tasks that require specialised attention, perhaps handing these over to the supporting company at the close of business each day.
Alternatively, the outside specialist IT company might provide a complete service, including routine updating of asset registers, configuration files, software revisions and changes.
In either case, the client company controls its own infrastructure and gains the business advantages of combining in-house skills and industry knowledge with expertise and tools from outside.
The second change is a marked improvement in service level performance resulting from harnessing information and presenting it more clearly to the staff who need it.
Issues can be investigated faster, documentation can be found sooner and it is much easier to locate a device for maintenance work or repair. Massive improvements in response times become possible.
This is the future of advanced IT monitoring and management. Companies that take advantage of these new tools and techniques to facilitate this kind of knowledge sharing build a much a better understanding between their in-house support staff and their external consultants, while keeping costs at a realistic level.
The main reason why this has not been done before is that the tools to make it possible did not exist and a it took a fair amount of development work to build a suitable information portal. But now, with both of these in place, we have the basis for many new, helpful working relationships.
Stuart Muirhead is sales and marketing director at Trend Communications Network Services
- Companies increasingly lack the skills and infrastructure to maintain complex networks and IT systems
- Outsourcing can mean the user loses control of its systems.
- New web-based collaborative management tools allow both the user company's IT department and an external specialist to view the status of systems in real time
- The two parties can work together to solve a problem via internet links
- Complex tasks can be managed by the external provider, perhaps being downloaded at the end of the working day, while the in-house IT team oversee the general running of the network and systems.