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Issue Date: April 2007

One throat to choke

April 2007

Handling multiple IT vendors can be a daunting task, especially when something goes wrong and they all start playing the blame game. Perhaps business needs to insist on one external point of contact for all IT requirements.

CIOs and their internal technical support teams will not be surprised to learn that they are heavily outnumbered by their vendors, but nonetheless the figures are startling. An HP-sponsored IDC global market intelligence whitepaper titled: 'Reducing complexity and cost while maintaining control: HP integrated support management' found that, based on size, an organisation may have from 12 to several hundred individual contracts with each vendor.
And according to the same whitepaper, half of all organisations manage support contracts with more than 10 vendors and a quarter of large organisations (with more than 25 000 employees) manage support contracts with more than 100 vendors.
Oliver Fortuin, head of Services, Hewlett-Packard South Africa
Oliver Fortuin, head of Services, Hewlett-Packard South Africa
The scope and scale of such contracts create a range of serious problems for CIOs and their teams, including:
* A drain on time and resources by negotiating, procuring, administering and managing multiple support contracts.

* Inconsistent service levels and incompatible or no service-level reporting.

* Multiple support interfaces, which result in time wasted in 'blame' scenarios.

* Spiralling IT support costs.

* The lack of accountability from service providers.

* Introducing additional complexity when IT is already struggling to keep ahead of the changes in multitechnology environments.
These problems have resulted in a new breed of technology support, one where providers offer to move accountability from inside the enterprise to a single point of external contact. The value proposition of having a single service provider in a complex environment - 'one throat to choke' so to speak - lies in the fact that internal resources are free to focus on other, revenue-generating activities.
Notwithstanding the attractiveness of this proposition, organisations need to carefully evaluate their options. Streamlined support management is important, however, it needs to be coupled with service level agreements that ensure higher levels of accountability.
Outlined below are five common concerns associated with moving support management outside the enterprise, as well as advice on how to select an outsourcing partner as a single point of contact.
Concern #1: I cannot have vendor accountability in a multivendor environment
Technology deployments from multiple vendors can result in finger pointing between vendors when things go awry. Migration to a single vendor environment, however, is not necessarily the answer. It is possible to consolidate responsibility for all vendor management and service delivery with an outsourcing partner that has expertise across a wide range of hardware, software and applications. Be sure to ask this question - and demand a detailed answer. Ask the service provider precisely how it plans to ensure that your organisation will have world-class IT from multiple vendors without compromising on service levels.
Concern #2: If I use a single vendor to manage my multivendor environment, I will lose control over budget, resources, vendor selection and technology utilisation (in other words all the critical components of IT operations)
Consolidated support management can actually provide greater control of the IT environment and deliver tangible and measurable business benefits. Have an open and honest discussion with your outsourcing partner about their commitments to reduce commercial risk, cut operational involvement and contract administration, provide consistent service levels for the entire IT environment and ensure rapid change management. Your outsourcing provider should be able to provide references, cite anticipated cost savings and define exactly how and when you and your team have the final decision-making role.
Concern #3: In order to avoid the headache of multivendor management, I will need to outsource my entire IT environment - but I am not ready for that
For some CIOs complete outsourcing is the right answer. For CIOs who want to maintain any level of control while still needing to manage multiple vendors, using an outsourcing partner for support management can free them to focus on their internal environment. An outsourcing partner with expertise in multivendor management can act as your organisation's primary service partner, consolidating support contracts from different vendors and managing entire heterogeneous environments at strict service levels under one service agreement. This provides one point of accountability for IT support, but is not the same thing as total IT outsourcing.
Concern #4: Our business and IT needs change constantly – it is so volatile, I cannot decide what to outsource and what to keep in-house
You need an outsourcing partner that can adapt as your environment - and your needs - change. Question your outsourcing partner on this: do you offer a support management continuum? Ensure that a complete spectrum of support management is offered to provide you with the required flexibility. You cannot predict what the future will bring, so you need to be certain that your outsourcing partner will be able to assist you in any eventuality.
Concern #5: Adding one more vendor to the mix will just be an additional strain on my IT budget
Some of the key reasons for using an outsourcing partner for support management include reduced demand on in-house resources, lower support costs, less downtime, reduced risk of failure, higher end-user satisfaction, better visibility, control of support quality and the flexibility to deploy resources wherever needed. In this way, outsourcing the management of multiple vendors will actually reduce costs and increase the value that IT brings to the business. Ask your outsourcing partner how they plan to achieve greater alignment between service levels and business needs. Also question them closely about the role they plan to play in measuring and reporting on service level agreements to ensure that all service providers are performing on target.
IT heterogeneity is a reality today and as CIOs seek ways to manage it successfully, consolidating support management with an outsourcing partner is a powerful approach to save time, costs and achieve accountability.
An outsourcing partner can reduce IT workload and costs and raise productivity by freeing internal resources for core business activities. In the due diligence process of finding the right outsourcing partner, demand detailed questions to answers about measuring and reporting service level agreements, involving your team in strategic decision-making and supporting a growing range of vendors and IT capabilities as your business continues to grow.

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