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Three Things You Should Know About Managed Services

Brian Robins on July 3, 2014 - in Column, Corporate, Maintenance

Brian RobinsThe simplicity of the user experience that we have grown accustomed to with our smartphones and tablets is in stark contrast to the growing complexity of the cloud computing technology that makes it possible.  Enterprise information technology has experienced a series of disruptions and an increasing rate of change over the last ten years that indicate we have entered into a whole new era of computing.  Small wonder then that the IT shop in the typical architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firm is struggling to keep up – let alone add value.  Ensuring the desktop is properly configured and serves up a consistent user experience with secure access to reliable data has become a major headache and time sink.  Executives must be questioning whether IT is a core competence and asking themselves could they outsource more aspects of it.  After all, for the typical AEC firm, competitive advantage and key differentiators lie in design and engineering skills not in IT skills.

3_things_green_MANAGEservicesSuch is the context for the recent growth of managed services.  We define managed services as the practice of outsourcing day-to-day management responsibility of a function or set of functions that a company would normally perform themselves, as a strategic method for improving operations.  In the IT sphere this means delegating operational responsibility for the provisioning and operating of software to a best-in-class managed services provider.  Sounds straightforward, right?  But there is a lot more to managed services than that.  How do you decide if managed services are right for you?

Here are three things you should know about managed services:

#1. Security, Data Governance and Compliance

A major feature of the cloud is that it doesn’t matter where your family’s photos or cat videos are stored and we put up with the ever-changing privacy policies of Facebook with hardly a second thought.  But when it comes to business-confidential information, possibly intellectual property, or even information that is critical to national security, you need to know exactly where that information is, who has access to it, and will it be available the next time you need it.  Clearly, a lot of organizations, including government agencies, regulated industries and their engineering, procurement and construction partners, need more than a multi-tenant software-as-a-service solution.  They typically need secure, single-tenant solutions which enable them to pinpoint the rack and the server where their data physically resides.  They need to be able to control their workflows and business processes so they can comply with regulations that require data “not to leave the country.”

At Bentley, we are committed to security, data privacy and compliance.  We operate our services in certified Microsoft Azure data centers that are SOC-2 certified and FISMA/FedRAMP compliant for federal agencies.  Our information security management policies adhere to ISO-27001 standards and we follow Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) best practices for IT services management.  We can also provide enhanced services for the nuclear industry that are NERC-CIP compliant.  For all our users, data is fully backed up and recoverable.  We can tailor a solution to meet specific recovery point objectives (RPO) and recovery time objectives (RTO).  We can bulk load/extract your data so you can “get in / get out” painlessly.   Generally, we offer secure single tenant instances of ProjectWise so your data is not mixed in with other users’ data and there is no danger that other users have access whether accidental or intended.  The key takeaway is: Don’t take security for granted.  Ask: Where is your data physically stored? Are there any legal or regulatory limitations on the storage and transmission of data?   What level of data access and auditing is required?   What form of data handover is required upon completion of the project?

#2. Operate / Optimize

Managed services come in many different flavors, ranging from “manage it for me,” and “make me more efficient” to “take responsibility for my outcomes.”  They might include the hosting of technology infrastructure and management software applications or perhaps the responsibility for business processes that ensure data quality.  Some managed services providers even offer document controllers or work packagers, in particular to support projects in regions or countries where skills are in short supply.   But broadly speaking, managed services fall under two headings: operate and optimize.  While “operate” is self-explanatory, many organizations only see the tip of the iceberg and they fail to appreciate that there are many activities involved in application management to ensure that software is available and operating to its full capabilities.  For many IT shops, software upgrades are a particular burden and source of costs and user dissatisfaction.  With managed services, you never again have to worry about upgrades.  You should ask your software vendor or managed services provider: How frequently are new releases rolled out? Is the upgrade process under your control or automatic, seamless and transparent?  What about compatibility with previous versions or reference data standards?

“Optimize” includes improving upon your existing functions.  Managed services are a strategic route to higher availability, better data back-up /recovery and data loss prevention.  A managed services provider has the scale and specialist experts to achieve a higher level of performance.  In addition, managed services providers focus not just on whether the software is available and the data properly managed, but also whether individuals are actually using the software.  Sometimes embedded into service level agreements are goals to achieve certain adoption and utilization rates.
The important thing to be clear about is framing your managed services agreement and setting expectations appropriately: Are you paying to operate or paying to optimize?

#3. Operational Readiness and Organizational Agility

The third thing you should consider is the value that you are hoping to drive.  Lower total cost of ownership, labor cost arbitrage and 24/7, “follow-the-sun” global operations were big factors behind the trend to offshore and outsource in the 90’s and 00’s.  But there is only so much you can squeeze out of wage differentials nowadays.  It is much more important to focus on winning and executing work.  Increasingly megaprojects are popping up globally, but while we take a “hyper-connected,” “flat world” for granted, starting up a project in a remote location requires levels of organizational agility and operational readiness which are beyond the reach of all but the largest engineering, procurement and construction companies.  In one situation which we are familiar with, a firm entered into a joint venture in Latin America and needed to stand up a project information management system at short notice.  During the course of a call with the chief information officer, the project executive outlined his expectations: It’s just a case of going to Best Buy with your credit card and carrying a couple of servers down on the next flight, right?  Well, not quite.  First there was the company formation and business permit, then there were the banking relationships and bank accounts to set up, then there was the local data center to run through their paces and do a deep dive of their information security.  Adding it all up, accelerating the tasks and doing as much as possible in parallel, they were still looking at 15-20 weeks before they could start up.  That meant 20 weeks of time to value or time to revenue.  In other words, organizational agility is a key dimension of success.  Here’s where managed services comes into its own.  Partnering with a managed services provider can give you that agility and mitigate your risk in a cost effective-manner.  The scalability and elasticity offered by managed services can enhance and augment your project execution capabilities and help you on your journey to project excellence.

Final Thoughts

Major capital projects continue to present serious challenges involving collaboration and communication on a global scale, around the clock, and throughout an extended ecosystem of sub-contractors, vendors and fabricators.  Get it wrong and the results are unplanned downtime, cost overruns and schedule delays, missed milestones and payouts, and unfortunately disputes and litigation.  Managed services are a way to de-risk project execution and decouple project cycles from procurement cycles.   In fact, behind the scenes and invisible to the end-user, managed services are a strategic approach to achieving consistent global roll out and that simplicity of user experience.

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