Does Managed Services Still deliver 2023?

In the first part of this article, we took a deep dive on the managed services landscape and tried answering the following questions.

  1. What have been the promises of Traditional Managed Services?
  2. What has changed over the past decade?
  3. What has not changed?

In this article, we go ahead to analyse what are the new demands in this landscape and how MSPs and clients should gear up to meet these.

Blog 04 Does Managed Services Still deliver Part 2

1. What are the new requirements in today's Managed Services Contracts?

  • Manage Cloud-Native Everything

 

With business applications as well as IT infrastructure becoming cloud-native, managed services are meaningless if they serve only on-premises systems. They have to be geared up to managing everything on the cloud. A deep understanding of public cloud systems, their optimization, management and tuning becomes a very basic essential in many managed services requirements.

The concept of Cloud Managed Services is fast becoming common-place. This includes setting up everything on cloud from start, configuring them to scale as per needs, setting up the best thresholds that suit the client’s needs and monitoring the control parameters regularly. The age-old mechanisms of change control and availability management are fast giving their place to cloud management practices.

 

  • Manage Hyper-Converged Infrastructure

 

During the first decade of this century, the large web companies of the world had carried out a lot of in-house innovation to manage scalability, reliability and operational efficiency in their hardware layers by bring components closer and closer and building intelligence in them. During the period from 2009 to 2011, these large web companies realized that this new generation of hardware, which was later termed Hyper Converged Infrastructure, HCI for short, is itself a great offering for the market.

Today, every hardware manufacturer worth their salt has something to offer in the HCI range of systems. And again, the managed services provider (MSP) is called upon to manage this new world of products. Managing HCI requires a different set of skills, experience and expertise. While every HCI manufacturer has their own software suite for management of HCI, managed services providers (MSPs) have to know how best to use these to bring the best results for the client community. Learning, unlearning and relearning is part of the DNA of these services.

 

  • Managed DevOps

 

DevOps practices have become commonplace in almost every decent sized software development team. DevOps is a work culture that has evolved over the last couple of decades in response to the adaptive nature of software development projects, the agility demanded by product owners and users and the speed to market demanded by businesses.

Managed Services providers are called upon to manage the CI/CD pipelines. They also have to be part of projects setting up new CI/CD pipelines when implementing DevOps for new projects. An in-depth knowledge of the various product suites in the DevOps world is essential to carry out this work. Clients also come up with their own preferences of DevOps tools suite. Making it all work in various cloud environments is a constant exploratory and innovative work which managed services providers have to be ready for as well as good at.

  • More Adaptive, Less Predictive

 

As companies continue to adopt agile methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban and XP, managed services providers are also expected to know their environment closely. Managing IT Infrastructure in a predictive and planned world was arguably fairly easy. As everything from requirement articulation, project planning, tools used, and release planning starts to become dynamic, the underlying infrastructure is not spared at all.

The IT infrastructure management teams of today have to use every available ounce of creativity to make sure they are well-aware of all the buttons and controls for managing the agility, scalability, reliability, security and availability of systems they are in charge of.

 

  • Adopt, Adapt and keep pace with IaaC, IoT, Blockchain, SRE and more

 

Technologies such as Internet of Things, Blockchain etc. have made their entry into so many industries today that managed services providers can no longer ignore them. Infrastructure as a Code (IaaC) and Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) is fast becoming well-known and high-in-demand. MSPs have to not only gain experience in these technologies and methodologies, but today for their own survival have to innovate in providing differentiated and unique services offerings using these as the base.

 

  • Secure Everything Approach

 

Cybersecurity is today part of every discussion. Whether building a new website, new mobile application, new business application or procurement of a new server, security is taken as a necessary component. MSPs have to be keen aware of options available in this space so that they can offer the best set of services to their clientele. Security is no longer about setting up devices. It has to be engrained in the processes, procedures, applications and monitoring just as any other service component.

As the impact of technology deepens, newer vulnerabilities are exposed every day and counter-measure are made available constantly. MSPs cannot be lax in this matter. It can spell doom to their very existence. More and more MSPs are developing their own methods and processes for deployment and monitoring of Cybersecurity systems and provide innovative solutions for troubleshooting and preventing cybersecurity attacks. All this is part of a good day’s work in the life of a decent MSP.

2. What is required in your Managed Services Contract to stay relevant?

  • MSP Service Goals should be in perfect alignment to IT Goals which in turn should be aligned to Business Goals

 

This is probably too obvious a starting point and may even sound bland as a stated requirement. But, time and again, we have been appalled at the absence of such an alignment, even in well-established organizations. When organizations grow in an unplanned and organic manner, most of the leadership team is way too busy driving sales, profitability or product quality or similar targets, that growth or streamlining of IT systems is probably last on their minds. With time, we find that IT systems including applications as well as underlying infrastructure are no longer serving the best interests of the business.

This is typically where the business decides to bring in an MSP who will “fix-it-all” as if with the swish of a magic wand. Sadly, this is far from the truth. The MSP would have to start from the very basics if they want to do a good job and provide sustainable results.

We have seen that in some cases, this alignment of goals from top to bottom can be achieved through a series of short-term projects of upgrades, updates or a few build or buy decisions. But in some other cases, it is a long-winding journey through the school of hard knocks.

However, unless this alignment is put in place no MSP can do a decent daily job, deliver any benefits, short-term or long-term or create a sustainable services model for the client.

  • Ensuring that the IT Infrastructure Architecture has a deep relevance to Systems Architecture which must in turn be aligned to the Business Architecture

 

This is in fact a continuation of the previous point. Once the goals are aligned, the next logical downstream work is to align architecture and technology stacks and choices of tools and business applications. This is also, most surprisingly, done correctly in very few places. Yes, this is true. It sounds like a perfectly simple and obvious thing that architectural alignment would be present or technological interoperability would be taken into account, but it is not so. Especially in large organizations, where shadow IT has deployed systems over time and business processes are already baked solid around those heterogenous software, that they find it easier to live with these discrepancies than go through a systems and processes transplant surgery.

Yet again, if the MSP is called in manage a disintegrated IT Infrastructure environment and is expected to deliver, it can be a bull-uphill task. Therefore, ensuring this end-to-end alignment becomes a preliminary requirement for a good job done in day-today maintenance and services. Both MSPs as well as receiving organizations have the shared responsibility to make sure that this alignment is brought about first.

  • The most appropriate technologies and toolsets are chosen

 

In the earlier part of this article, we spoke about many new technologies and their impact and contribution to today’s businesses. Here, I will take a step back and say that we must not choose latest technologies just because they are the latest. We have to assess their appropriateness in our specific context.

A good MSP would help in ensuring that the most suitable technologies and tools are chosen for the very specific needs of the client’s environment and requirement. The solution plan and run and maintenance plan should answer to the specific challenges faced by the client.

A Managed Services Contract should certainly include the basic aspects such as comprehensive coverage and equipment services to ensure the continued relevance of the contract. This coverage should include a comprehensive analysis of the user’s system, hardware and software capabilities, as well as the development of a detailed response and resolution process.

  • The most appropriate processes are in place

 

There are many “best practices” guidelines available in the market. There are frameworks and standards and BoK (Bodies of Knowledge) of collective intelligence available in the market. But they are there for reference and education. The real guiding factors in developing the most appropriate policies, processes and procedures are the culture of the end-user organization, the risk-appetite, the resource constraints specific to that environment and finally the goals and milestones set by the client for themselves.

The MSP should think through these and suggest and most appropriate policies, processes and procedures.

The response and resolution process should be designed to enable the user to quickly address any issues or problems that may arise with their system and hardware. This process should be documented in the contract, and should include specific instructions on how to respond to the issue and how resolution should be achieved. Furthermore, the contract should also provide for periodic reviews of the user’s system and hardware to ensure the system is up-to-date, secure and functioning in an optimal fashion.

  • KPIs chosen should reflect real-world needs and must not be theoretical

 

Continuing the same line of thought from above, though a lot has evolved out there in terms of technologies and standards, the real and on-the-ground needs of every client is different from the other. Therefore, the Key Performance Indicators for the services being delivered by the MSP should be chosen on the basis of this analysis. Of course, there are the usual ones, the regular ones and the most favourite ones. But please always ask the question, does it serve the purpose of real benefits.  

  • Cost reduction and continuous service improvement will always remain necessary

 

Finally, in Managed Services contracts the fundamentals have remained the same. The fundamentals being cost reduction and continuous services improvement. Yes, the “how”  has changed a lot. The ways and means of achieving the end results have changed. But the end objective will remain the same for the foreseeable future.

Conclusion

You may have noticed that the last part of the article brings us back to the idea that though a lot has changed over the past few years in terms of technology adoption, general evolution of process guidelines, the client requirements have by and large remained the same.

The ways and means of achieving the client objectives have changed. Every MSP should gear themselves up to gaining the knowledge and expertise about the new technologies and methods. There is certainly no excuse for not doing this.

The environment has also changed thanks to rampant cloud adoption and related evolution and progress. This is also a key consideration that both clientele as well as MPSs should take care of.

In conclusion, Managed Services still deliver value for businesses looking for cost-effective solutions and continued improvements. With the right Managed Services provider, businesses can have peace of mind knowing their IT is in good hands.

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