A cloud computing service or platform is typically provided by either Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services or Google Compute. A Cloud Solutions Provider (or CSP) is an IT support provider that specialises in cloud solutions, such as Microsoft Cloud Solutions through Office 365, and provides Managed IT services that help you operate and build a cloud platform for your business. This post will help to explain how to choose a Cloud Solutions Provider and will assume that you have decided that you wish to operate the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. The reason for this assumption is that most businesses rely upon Microsoft Office as their business productivity suite and therefore will be moving to Microsoft Office 365 at some point in the near future. Also, depending on the role you perform within your business, you will have a specific set of criteria to satisfy when choosing a cloud solutions provider. For example:
Finance: A Finance Director or similar will know that maintenance costs rise with complexity and that maintenance agreements become vehicles for manufacturer lock in. Subsequently, as complexity rises contractors with specialist skills are brought into the business at mercenary rates with no loyalty whatsoever to the company. As the complexity rises further and the contracting team have no real desire to pass on their knowledge, it can be very difficult to train internal team members with the limited remaining budget available.
Procurement: As Head of Procurement or similar, you will be all too familiar with multiple prime suppliers and unsynchronised support contracts occurring. The effort required to maintain continuous cover with suppliers who refuse to take responsibility when things go wrong is common, often preferring to blame each other. As individuals pass through the business and appoint their own preferred contractors a legacy of disparate systems emerge that take more and more efforts and resources to manage.
Technical: A Technical Manager or similar will typically experience multiple contracts which require inconsistent support lines tied to hard to track serial numbers. The support experience degrades due to outsourcing and other cost reduction measures, cross vendor support results in solutions taking longer to find. When simply trying to keep the lights on the last thing a technical manager needs is more complexity and administration.
We’ll come back to how the requirements of each role need to be satisfied entirely and simultaneously in a Digitally mature organisation.
So what’s the solution?
As an ex-Microsoft employee, and one of the very few to have actually toured a Microsoft Azure Data Centre with its Architect, and one of even fewer who has also watched Mark Russinovich (Microsoft Azure, Chief Technology Officer) explain the Microsoft Azure architecture and strategy in person, I can help provide some valuable insight. Also, having walked the corridors of a Microsoft Azure Data Centre (or cloud) and physically seen what the next industrial revolution looks like I can tell you with confidence that most if not all businesses will consume some kind of cloud service either now or in the future. And before anybody from the legal sector disagrees for data protection purposes, you are probably already using a cloud service to filter your antivirus or Email services or will be using a cloud service of some description without even knowing it. Or even worse, your employees are using Dropbox or similar to get around your Email filtering services in order to work on larger files.
But before we get to the good stuff about helping fuel innovation and driving growth, let’s agree that when implemented incorrectly, cloud solutions are a liability that can rapidly drain resources from a business. When implemented correctly, cloud solutions are a strategic asset that enable your business to operate from a solid base, better serve customers, make better data driven decisions and realise desired business goals.
What do Cloud Solutions Provider’s do?
A Cloud Solutions Provider (or CSP) is simply an IT support services provider that specialises in cloud technology solutions (obvious right?) but let’s agree a very important distinction. Most cloud technology support providers will support your Information Technology ‘to the gateway’ which means up until the router which links your business to the cloud. Once beyond the gateway (which you can think of as your businesses front door to the Internet) the CSP will generally absolve themselves of all responsibility and back the call off to Microsoft, or Amazon or [INSERT CLOUD PROVIDER HERE]. For the privilege of being able to absolve themselves of all responsibility, the CSP will typically wish to perform an introductory audit. The purpose of which is to assess what your Information Technology estate consists of, and is sometimes referred to as customer premise equipment (CPE) or before the gateway. The CSP will be responsible for supporting your Information Technology, service levels are agreed such as availability, call response times, hours of operation, etc. and a contract is drawn up, typically for a twelve-month duration, that locks the two businesses into paying for IT support services and delivering those IT support services as agreed. The CSP will then also provide a strategy and IT support services to migrate your business to the cloud.
Cloud Solutions Provider vendor selection criteria.
Information Technology breaks, that’s just a simple fact of life. Usually this is because it isn’t operated or maintained correctly or simply because it’s incredibly complex. Just like modern cars, as their design and capabilities have evolved, so have IT support services and maintenance requirements. The cloud is no different and has a whole new unseen set of requirements for traditional businesses to manage. So, how do you choose a cloud solutions provider? That of course depends on your information technology needs, the complexity and size of your information technology estate and the number of employees within your business. However, there are some general guidelines which may be followed to ensure that the IT support services partner you choose is a good fit for your business. Here are several considerations to bear in mind when selecting a Cloud Solutions Provider:
- Bigger is not better. Most of the larger Cloud Solutions Providers, such as Direct Microsoft Cloud Solutions Providers (IBM, HP, Cap Gemini,etc.) traditionally have a Microsoft Premier Services Agreement. This enables them to simply transfer support requests to Microsoft at no extra cost which means although you are paying them for support, they’re not really providing it. This extra layer of bureaucracy presents opportunity for ‘finger pointing’ to occur and simply allows the Cloud Solutions Provider to blame Microsoft for lack of response rather than actually solving your problems. Try looking for smaller or hungrier Microsoft Cloud Solutions Providers that will actually fight for your business and provide a degree of agility and service. Please bear in mind that the smaller or hungrier Cloud Solutions Providers have the same access to the same engineers and resources within Microsoft if they know how to properly navigate the Microsoft machine.
- Maximise value. Don’t spend money when you don’t have to. I have personally seen brass necked Microsoft Partners (yes, the larger ones) charge businesses like yours for services that Microsoft would have provided directly to your business for free. The reason for this is Microsoft wish to capture market share of cloud consumption services such as Email from Google and Amazon (consumption is the new currency within Microsoft these days) and have set aside huge pots of money with which to on board customers using the Fast Track Centre based in Romania. This removes a huge barrier for businesses of all sizes wishing to migrate their business IT support services, such as Email, Lync, SharePoint, etc. to the cloud. Microsoft will do it for free – and yes, Microsoft will physically perform the migration for you. Only not all Microsoft Partners will tell you this so when choosing a Cloud Solutions Provider ask them to explain to you how they navigate the Microsoft machine and how thay can maximise the resources available to you for free as a Microsoft customer. If they can't tell you how to leverage the resources of Microsoft effectively then move on. And we're always here to keep our competitors on their toes!
- Leverage your existing investment. The chances are that your business has already invested in Microsoft technology and solutions. Especially amongst medium sized enterprises, the most cost effective way to purchase software from Microsoft is via an Enterprise Agreement. When doing so, your company has access to a great deal of benefits known as Software Assurance Benefits. These can include using Delivery Planning Services which may be exchanged for Microsoft Consulting Services who will send the most qualified and capable consultants within Microsoft to plan and manage your migration to the cloud at zero cost. When used in conjunction with the services that the Fast Track Centre offers, the value is compounded and a great deal of work can be achieved by Microsoft directly without incurring any costs, other than those already spent.
- Choose a managed IT support services provider with a Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider competency. Once your traditional business has been migrated to the cloud and has a stable platform from which to conduct business, a managed IT support services provider will reduce your business IT support costs. Also, a managed IT support services provider will improve levels of IT operational maturity throughout your business. This means less money is spent on fixing workloads that have been migrated to the Cloud Service Provider (i.e. Microsoft) who now have responsibility to ensure availability. This in turn means those savings can be invested in technology that helps fuel innovation and drive business growth such as a Digital marketing agency or Digital transformation consulting. And this is really why the cloud exists. Unlock big data and analytics, Artificial Intelligence and the power of Digtal marketing through cloud based CRM solutions. Host your website in Azure to enable almost infinite scaling and track every touchpoint in your buyer’s journey. A managed IT support services provider should manage not just your on premise technology but your cloud based solutions too. This is a great strategy to avoid vendor conflict, complexity, multiple prime contractors and the requirement for mercenary contractor’s too.
Why Cloud Solution Providers are a win/win proposition.
Cloud Solution Providers put your business needs first, enable cost transparency and allow the Financial Director or Head of Procurement to budget for IT support services spending. Also, Cloud Solution Providers eliminate or dramatically reduce technology failures. By implementing a well-developed and effective IT support services strategy, technology budgets can become predictable. Failures are eliminated by Cloud Service Providers and this leaves more money within the business to deliver new cloud based products and services or implement new capabilities such as Digital marketing that drives business growth.
What about those roles we discussed earlier?
A good IT support services provider will understand your role and be able to talk to you in a language you understand using business terms that resonate. For example…
Finance: Reduce complexity and costs by consuming cloud based services. You no longer care what technology you use – just what it does. This avoids manufacturer lock in and provides cost transparency - per user, per workload (i.e. email), per month. Business units can be charged on a utilisation basis via a Service Catalogue. Cloud based offerings no longer require contractors to operate, manage and support as the Cloud Solution Provider does this for you.
Procurement: Consolidate contracts and vendors with a single managed IT support services provider whose responsibility is to manage the complexity, such as a Cloud Solutions Provider. This ensures no ‘finger pointing’ can occur. A single provider avoids multiple start/finish dates and the service provider maintains the technology. However, ensure they don’t lock you into a contract which may simply transfer the problem to the Finance team. The cloud represents agility so make sure your strategy harnesses this aspect.
Technical: By consolidating support to a single IT support services provider with a combined 24/7/365 network operations centre (NOC) and helpdesk including both your on premise and cloud based business technology estate, consistency is achieved. Ensure the IT support services provider maintains highly effective and qualified people and processes with tools including an integrated Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) solution which automatically tracks serial numbers. As before, ensure the provider is willing to lock you in with performance, not a contract.
In conclusion, technology should help fuel innovation and drive business growth – not hinder it. The right IT support services provider should provide you with a IT support services strategy that captures what you want to achieve from your information technology, provide a vision for your desired business outcomes, and most of all an IT support services provider should transform your IT support services from a liability into a strategic asset.