By David White, Enterprise Evangelist at Compucom
You must put the underlying infrastructure and the necessary human resources and processes in place. Surprisingly, the initial stages might be characterized as the easy part. A bigger challenge lies ahead—scaling managed service delivery while maintaining profitability and quality.
Here are several best practices that have served our organization well in helping others scale their technical services practices over the past decade.
Correctly Estimate Future Needs
Many organizations are guilty of underestimating what they need to accommodate growth. The error is viewing things with an eye on today instead of looking ahead and predicting your expected size in one year or even five years from now. The goal is to be able to provide the services needed as the organization grows. Imagine building an infrastructure for 500 users and being faced with 1,500 by the end of the year.
The worst thing that can happen is to fall behind in dealing with the current traffic volume. Backlogs create additional work and detract from your ability to scale rapidly. For example, let’s say you’ve established the support services needed for 100 users, which will generate approximately 20 calls a month. Only one technical support person would be needed for that traffic volume, and that person could effectively manage up to 30 tickets. If the volume suddenly surges to 300 users and 60 calls a month, at least 30 tickets per month are backlogging. You must quickly hire another technical support person and assume that those two can now manage the traffic. However, there’s still a backlog. Instead of 60 tickets, they have 90 to deal with, and they never catch up.
The lesson here is that backlogs hinder your progress because you’re always behind. Therefore, hire when you’re ahead rather than when you’re behind.
Listen to the Business
The best way to accurately hire ahead is to listen carefully to the business. Learn what managers expect regarding future growth and understand the returns they anticipate from planned campaigns. Learning the inside track on expansion helps you get ahead of the curve and avoid hiring in arrears. It takes time and effort to understand ongoing business goals and strategic objectives.
Understand Your Role
Back in the 1990s, IT had elite status as the computing provider for the business. As a result, the business sometimes felt beholden to IT. Processes were often adjusted dramatically to suit IT but those days are gone. It’s time to eliminate any last vestige of that viewpoint.
IT managed services facilitate the business and accommodate growth. If technical support adopts the mindset of serving the business, it becomes far easier to capture the vital information necessary to estimate future infrastructure and personnel needs. That may mean sitting with C-level executives to comprehend strategy, with marketing to come to grips with current and future campaigns, and with line of business leaders to see what they’re intending. Once they realize that IT wants to enable their vision, they’ll be more cooperative and communicate more freely.
Setting thresholds is a good way to avoid surprises or hiring in arrears. Today’s expected traffic volume should be well known. It’s the maximum number of tickets or traffic. Once you reach about 75% consistently, it’s time to bring in another person for support. By the time that person is onboarded and trained, you’re likely to be knocking on the door of 100%.
To support the business well, you must be funded appropriately. Request the funds you need and gain support by aligning purchase orders to strategic goals, business objectives, and expansion plans. Further, manage IT spending, as a whole, purchasing the IT needs for all lines of business, as opposed to them buying their own computers or signing up for software as a service (SaaS) applications and other services, ensuring that software follows all security and usability requirements. That’s your job. Failure to corral such activities makes overall IT spending difficult to track and results in budgeting and support surprises.
By all means, obtain a good estimate of future needs. But don’t be fooled by sudden peaks. Business tends to ebb and flow at different times during the year. This might be based on sales or productivity cycles or seasonal surges. Retail sales are higher in November and December and lower in January. Every industry has peaks and valleys over the year. Understand such cycles and consider them in assessments of future needs. Otherwise, you may accidentally overgrow the IT infrastructure or support personnel roster. In some cases, it may be better to hire external contractors to address seasonal peaks rather than hire permanent staff.
SLAs vs. User Experience
Service-level agreements (SLAs) have their place. But they can inhibit service quality if they’re rigidly adhered to. The main failing of SLAs is that they’re generic. The SLA may lay out that users are supposed to receive a certain amount of performance and availability. That’s fine as a measure for the entire organization, but it fails to consider certain needs that will be in evidence in parts of the organization.
A better way to manage is by user experience. Find a way to understand each user’s or each group’s IT requirements. Power users and graphic designers, for example, need more computing power and bigger screens than regular administrative personnel. Give them the horsepower they need. This enables IT to provide a minimum device standard for everyone and adjust it upward for those who require more. Result: Avoidance of overspending and underspending. The bigger benefit of XLIs is that they provide insight into performance indicators that impact the business rather than just IT metrics.
The need for security underpins everything. Particularly in this era of the hybrid workforce, service providers must support users wherever they may be. Each must be a secured island with access to the data required to perform their jobs while restricting access to anything else. It is important to understand how to secure users, not just from where they are connecting, but how they are connecting. With the rise of BYOD devices, security planning has to consider how to protect systems adjacent to your infrastructure and not a part of it. Using newer modern management technologies, such as Internet provisioning and the ability to containerize and protect data on both corporate and BYOD devices, limits the risk to both the user and the company. Using geofencing and connection types to determine access to data and the ability to interact with data is also pertinent.
David White has architected thousands of support solutions for enterprise customers ranging from 500 end users to over 100,000+ in all industries. He’s an enterprise evangelist at Compucom, a company that supports more than 9 million devices globally for more than 300 enterprise-managed service clients with 85% first-contact resolution.