If you’re going to outsource your IT landscape via a Managed Service Provider, you should outsource to a single provider. This way, you have one throat to choke when things go wrong, similar to building a house. If you’re building a house, the last thing you want when something goes wrong is the finger-pointing never-ending blame game between suppliers – where the builder blames the plumber who blames the electrician who blames the carpenter who blames the project manager…which is you. You want one company and it’s their problem to solve.
Now it sounds right, doesn’t it? It feels right. It feels like this should be a solid principle for deciding on your Managed Services Provider (MSP) strategy. Find a Provider who can show capability in a crisis with a breadth of capability and go with them. It is interesting how often I am often presented with the one-throat-to-choke/ building-a-house analogy when discussing Managed Services options with customers. That, somehow, just having one throat to choke when things go wrong is the optimal outcome the customer is after. Just because it sounds and feels right does not mean that it is. It is worth asking what, exactly, is the optimal outcome you’re after? What is even the point of an IT Solution in the first place? Hint – it’s got nothing to do with throats.
The optimal outcome for an IT solution maximises the return on the investment required to build and run the IT solution. Why else implement a solution in the first place if it does not yield a return. Now, the return may – but does not necessarily – equate directly to company revenues. How you measure the return may vary. Capgemini recently published a multi-part eBook series on building a business case for Managed Services, with a key focus on the return of investment for IT solutions, you can download the eBook here.
If the optimal outcome for organisations is to find a provider who can maximise the return on the investment required to build and run the IT solution – what is the right approach for deciding on the right Managed Services Provider who can best ensure that outcome? What principles should you use to determine your Managed Services Provider strategy?
Well let’s start with what are the principles to avoid. The “one throat to choke” principle is first and foremost on this list. It is a terrible principle to apply if you’re looking to achieve the optimal outcome. Think about it. You’re basing your success strategy on what will happen on the occasion when things go wrong. The optimal result is achieved by making things go right! The whole point is to do everything possible to avoid the “when things go wrong” scenario from occurring in the first place. Mitigate the risk. One throat to choke does not matter if things go right. Starting from this principle means you are going to lose, not planning to win.
Interestingly, when this point comes up in discussion, people will often revert to “well that’s not the only factor in deciding our strategy.” And that may be true. However, it shouldn’t be a factor at all. The “one throat to choke” saying should be removed from the IT lexicon. It is as useless as the analogy at the start of the article.
What should be the deciding factors in determining the right MSP for your business? Let us come back to optimal outcome delivered – you want to select MSPs that will make things go right. This will allow your organisation to achieve that return on investment made and deliver to your business outcomes.
Some of the criteria for consideration are:
- Can they demonstrate for Technical Excellence in their people?
Whether you’re looking for a Managed Services Provider for one technology or multiple technologies – this should be the first assessment. People matter. Process and Tools help minimise the risk of failure, but People ensure success.
Your goal is to understand which people will be delivering services from the Provider. Where they are on the bell curve for the technology/technologies to be supported and the culture under which they operate?
There are some basics to check off – as an organisation, can they demonstrate that they have a certified team in the Technologies they support? How many certifications does their organisation hold? How many people are certified? Have they won Partner awards for Technical delivery? Are they referenced as a Partner organisation by the product companies? Do any of their team members present in the Partner community? These are all good indicators of a good Partner. These indicators talk to your Provider’s culture and whether the technologies to be supported are a key part of it. Lots of certifications, but no Partner awards? They must churn and burn their resources, so quality may be an issue. No participation in the Partner community? They are not a leader in the technology space as they aren’t demonstrating thought leadership.
Then look closely at the team who will be supporting you – are they all Technology specialists, IT generalists or a mix? How many team members are providing the service specifically? Smaller team size numbers mean less involvement of senior team members – those who are further up the bell curve. The involvement of senior team members is an important factor in success. For example, a team of 2 dedicated resources providing 24×7 support via rostered shifts + on-call may struggle to have the experience necessary to deliver higher quality outcomes. It would be better to look for a Provider who can champion a team-based approach that will ensure involvement from senior team members.
Finally, what can you gather about the culture that surrounds the team who will be delivering the project? Organisations with a great culture typically have great people. A good Managed Service relies on true teamwork, an ownership mindset, and a continual service improvement approach. Seek out evidence of this in your assessment.
Managed Services is a people business. Assessing Providers on this capability is critical. Managed Services providers who provide the right people is more important to your success than having one throat to choke.
- Can they demonstrate Technical Excellence in Tools and Process?
Success is achieved by the People delivering the service. Without the right Tools and Processes within the service, the risk of failure is significantly higher for the service. For Managed Services, the right tools provide capabilities that can help minimise impacts to the technology under management. This includes tooling to quickly detect solution behaviour outside of the standard profile, minimising the impact of releases to Production, increasing the quality and quantity of output with automation replacing repetitive manual tasks.
When assessing a Provider, you need validation that they can demonstrate technical thought leadership and proficiency in tooling relevant to the support of your solutions – log aggregation solutions, telemetry solutions, CICD solutions, Source code solutions, Operational Management solutions, Paging and Escalation solutions. Whether yours or theirs, proficiency with these tools will become critical to the delivery of specific service levels in any Managed Services contract. Make sure they have a strong answer for how they will deploy and utilise each one to meet the service outcomes.
In addition to demonstrating they have the right People and the right Tools, establishing the right processes will help give confidence that there will be a consistency in the quality of service delivered. To be fair, process is where most Managed Services Providers do excel. However, ensure that they have an ITIL-aligned capability for processes for confidence in consistency.
- How well do they play with others?
It is often ironic that leading with the “one throat to choke” strategy is nearly impossible to achieve in IT. When you look across the technology stack required to deliver a single solution in an organisation, there is always a component that sits outside the management of a single provider. Commonly these areas are customised-customer-specific components such as internal networking, perimeter networking and Standard Operating Environment. In short, for a Priority 1 Incident, you’ll seldom have the scenario of having one throat to choke.
Therefore, it is more important to assess how well a Provider plays with other Providers – be it internal teams or other Providers. You can assess this by throwing several scenarios at a potential Provider to understand how they would manage the interactions.
For example, how would they manage an Incident that is assigned to their team, but likely has a root cause in a system managed by another Provider? Will they need you, as the customer, to act as the go-between? Or are they prepared to engage directly on your behalf and work collaboratively to solve the problem. What evidence would they collect to support the Provider to identify where the issue is? Would they arrange collaborative troubleshooting and what mode of communication would they use?
These answers will allow you to assess the Vendor Management overhead. The desire to minimise this activity seems to drive the “one throat to choke” position. But, if you’re using the right criteria to pick your providers, your Vendor Management overheads will be minimal as you’ll be getting the outcome you want – whether you have one or many providers supplying a Managed Service.
- Will they do what they say?
Ask yourself does your Managed Services Provider have skin in the game? A good provider will have reasons on why they would deliver more than what is defined in the contract.
How can you tell if they do? Understand what would happen if they lost your business. What’s the impact on their company? What about the reputational impact? Are they making a dedicated push in this technology area? Those that are will value each relationship more heavily and will excel to retain the business. The more of an impact, the more they’ll have invested in making sure the service is successful.
- Do they believe in their service?
Services (in general) is a straightforward business model. You pay your people salaries, which forms majority of the cost base. You add on incidental costs required to run the business (office space, laptops etc) plus specific costs for the contract (software, travel etc) and you have the cost to deliver the service.
With this simple model, the relationship between the contract price and cost-base is very direct. In negotiations, customers who drive hard on price are also driving hard on costs to deliver the service. A Provider cutting costs to win the business will lead you further away from the optimal outcome when the service is delivered.
As the customer, you have defined outcomes to achieve and now knowing the relationship between cost-base and price for the service, if your provider is open to substantially discounting their service, then they don’t really believe in the value of their service. Look for a provider who is open to negotiate during the process but remain steadfast on the value of their service. This let’s you know that they are confident on the outcome you have asked can be achieved.
- Who is leading the way for the Managed Service vision?
As per point 1, above all, people matter the most. And Leaders matter. Leaders often define success. The Leader sets the vision on the quality of service that should be delivered and ensures that it is delivered to customers. If the Leader can articulate a vision that matches your goals, that is a good start.
Ensure that you know who will be ultimately responsible for the delivery of the service. Is it a Director? Practice Lead? VP?
Find the Leader and make sure they align on your vision AND can talk in detail to every one of the points above. What is their strategy for keeping their People technically brilliant? What tooling do they recommend and why? When do their processes fail and how do they handle it? How are they going to play well with others? Get them to prove why they will do what they say? Are they genuine in the value of their service? If you find this person and believe what they say – congratulations, you’ve just found your Managed Services Provider.
With years of experience working on MuleSoft implementations, Capgemini has the experience to accelerate business outcomes for our customers. Contact us to find out more.
Jeff Nowland is Director of MuleSoft Managed Services at Capgemini and has 10 years’ experience in Managed Services.