The general market for managed IT services has grown enormously in the last couple of years. There are also signs of maturity in the continually developing range of outsourced ITservices for Irish business.
Total outsourcing of IT functionality is an option, which has been made all the more respectable by Bank of Ireland’s contract with Hewlett- Packard. Microsoft pioneered the concept in Ireland, handing its entire print and output function over to Ergo over 10 years ago.
Smaller organisations today are choosing from a fully managed solution, effectively an ‘external IT department’, and variations all the way across a spectrum to supply-and-support contracts for their network and server. The traditional model of support now comes with service level agreements and other added value features.
‘‘What the client gets from outsourcing IT is really in two broad areas,’’ said Steve Blanche, network services manager of Ergo. ‘‘Top of the list is often peace of mind for managers faced with the increased complexity of internet and remote access and the many security threats. But generally the major benefit is that they can focus on their core business without diverting scarce resources, notably executive time, to IT areas that the professionals can deal with better.’’
Because all business today depends so much on its ITsystems, keeping them up and running properly at all times is essential. ‘‘If the systems are partially or even completely unavailable, that is going to be a problem or even a crisis for the business,’’ Blanche said. ‘‘But there is still something of a lack of awareness that today’s servers, networks and applications are all dynamic solutions that need to be systematically monitored, updated and upgraded. Even when properly installed they cannot just be left to run on indefinitely.
‘‘We have certainly seen a fairly rapid growth in awareness of managed IT services by SMEs in recent years.When they encounter problems with viruses or backups, situations that they know could be real threats to the business, they realise that without inhouse expertise they need much more than simple maintenance contracts or warranties.’’
The increasing availability of broadband is also enabling and encouraging small business to grasp the idea that remote monitoring of their systems by the experts is effective, safe and secure.
‘‘Unfortunately, that awareness is often triggered by some emergency or bad experience rather than forward business planning,’’ Blanche said. ‘‘It may not be as dramatic as server failure or a bad virus attack. If your e-mail is down for hours or even days, you soon realise how vital it is to everyday business.’’
However, once a company starts looking at the managed services options, Blanche believes that they really do grasp the potential value of passing on the responsibility and the headaches.
‘‘It is now really no more complex than a range of purchasing options that the smaller firm can choose from to suit its own needs or budget, from a simple remote monitoring service all the way up to a fully managed situation,’’ he said. Many clients of managed services will point to that control of their costs as an important benefit.
‘‘They can predict their costs for IT almost down to the last euro,’’ Blanche said. ‘‘I would compare it in that respect to deliveries and logistics. Like many companies, we have not done it ourselves for years. We let the specialists look after it all and have fixed costs per item that we can easily factor in. It can be just the same with outsourced IT.’’
In the same way, the individual users in the business are given a better service level to support them in their work and enable efficiencies so that the company can do more with less. In turn, the business can deliver a better standard of service to its customers and clients.
‘‘In fact, one of the major benefits of well managed IT systems really kicks in when the business needs to expand quickly or react to a new situation or opportunity, such as a merger or takeover,’’ Blanche said.
‘‘Because there is a sound infrastructure and everything is under control it becomes easy to scale up quickly, add users, branches or new services. The business actually has that famous ‘agility’ that the pundits like to talk about.’’
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