Any IT manager who’s had to select provider for Managed Services can attest to the importance of diligence, especially when there’s a long-term contract involved. This article looks at five key questions to ask the bidding service providers during the selection process:
What vendor gear will be deployed as part of the service? The old saying “nobody ever got fired for buying Cisco or IBM” may still hold true. However, there is no shortage of ambitious vendors that offer nimble, feature-rich solutions, at a fraction of the cost. It’s worth checking their long-term viability on the IT equipment market by comparing them to competitors. If there’s any doubt about the future of the equipment vendor, inquire whether the service provider offers vendor alternatives for the same solutions tier.
How would the planning, deployment/cutover and support be handled? Even prior to closing the sale, the service provider should be able to produce a high-level project plan that showcases different phases of the service turn-up, related risks and mitigation plan—which you can leverage in identifying possible pitfalls to hedge against. For instance, the night of the service cutover may last three to six hours, with the possibility of the new fiber circuit failing to activate and requiring escalation to yet another service provider. Your risk hedging strategy may involve having a scalable broadband connection on standby for your users to get by. Also, test the support mechanism by calling and navigating the provider’s IVR system until you get appropriate response to the service level you intend to subscribe to.
What service guaranties does the provider offer (SLAs and SLOs)? Practical benchmarks would be the Service Level Agreement (SLA), or its improved version, the Service Level Objective (SLO) document. Though both are generally described as a “collection of promises,” they include Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that somewhat detail and quantify such promises.
How often are service performance reviews held, and what’s assessed? Performance degradations hardly look alike. Some creep in slowly, over time; others are more noticeable. Periodic metrics documentation and historical benchmarking of key metrics are two approaches to objective tracking. Graphs usually show trends, which tell a story. Keep in mind that performance may also be the result of poor maintenance from the provider. Spare no boundaries.
Does the provider offer a technology refresh? At the rate technology moves these days, most midsize IT gear installed today is likely to be outdated within five years. Experienced providers would be able to share the plan for supporting you through the transition to newer and better-performing alternatives, be that a partial upgrade, or even a complete overhaul of the solution. Note that the life expectancy of the solution could be extended considerably with software upgrades and virtualization technologies. We’ll discuss the latter further in future articles.
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Managed Services providers have come a long way in anticipating and being forthcoming with responses to the questions above, so beyond just asking the questions, you must also pay attention to the details of the responses. Because Managed Services involve moving pieces from many players, finger-pointing is a common pitfall. Seasoned IT service providers display service terms that suggest full ownership of the service issues, regardless of whose fault it is.
Asking service providers the five questions above sets the tone for your expectations on the service. By securing the answers, you have the levers and strings you need—just in case you ever need to push or pull—to get results. Plus, you will have something to show for your detailed vetting process.
Eyabane Patasse leads cross-functional teams in defining requirements and developing technical and operational solutions for Managed Services. He’s played a pivotal role in pilot programs that have shaped how markets are defined within Spectrum Enterprise's sales organization.