By Gary O’Neil, Director Systal.
Network operations form the skeleton that supports your entire business infrastructure. They govern your organisation’s internal and external communications, the applications you need to produce and promote goods or services, and the management of your staff. In the digital era, keeping network operations running smoothly and reliably is a key element in business continuity.
Little wonder, then, that many organisations turn to specialised managed services providers to deliver this continuity for them. In fact, there are so many businesses operating in this space, and so many different levels of service available, that it can be difficult to know how best to go about selecting a managed network operations provider. However, with an organised approach, there are five key factors that can make the decision-making process as efficient as possible.
1. Community and culture
Your managed network operations provider will ultimately be responsible for your business staying online and operational; as such, you ideally want it to work not just as a short-term supplier, but as a long-term partner. Often this depends on the provider’s business culture being well-aligned with yours, and its community being committed to forming long-term relationships.
2. Technology and skills
Ultimately, your managed network operations are an extension of your in-house technology function. This means that the engineering skillsets and experience, and the technology expertise available, will have a direct and significant impact on the usefulness of your provider. A good managed network service provider should be agile across different technologies and able to adapt to what their customers are already using.
You must also evaluate their customer service skills, and whether they will build good relationships with your staff. Customer satisfaction is about more than metrics, and the importance of having the softer skills and ability to stay calm and put their customers at ease when there is a problem, cannot be understated.
3. KPIs and SLAs
This is all about measurements. How does your potential provider track its performance over time, ensure it is keeping its promises to you, and deliver, as far as possible, continual improvement? It needs to have transparent systems in place to record its performance, report it back to you, and benchmark that performance against pre-agreed parameters.
With highly qualified engineers and a good working atmosphere, there is no reason why you should not be able to set and achieve ambitious targets for your SLAs and KPIs.
4. Approach to change management
The holy grail here is a collaborative, agile approach. Being able to smoothly and comprehensively facilitate changes as, for example, new users and applications are added to your network, is a crucial capability for an effective managed network operations provider. Fortunately, this is an easy factor to test. There are a range of official change management frameworks available, so asking your provider which one(s) they work with should result in a detailed explanation of which they have chosen, why, and how it works in practice.
A managed network operations provider that sits twiddling its thumbs until a call comes in is a waste of your time and money.
Look for managed network services providers who have the tools and technology available to proactively highlight infrastructure faults and capacity issues, and for the ability to deliver historical analysis of performance trends across LANs, WANs, servers, websites, applications and more, so that you can draw intelligent conclusions from past performance and use them to make network enhancements.
By selecting a managed network services provider who ticks all of these boxes, you can be confident of working with a truly long-term partner, who can make a tangible positive impact on your business bottom line. Sure, your provider can just be a safety net for issues as they occur – but why settle for that when true business optimisation is possible?
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