Let’s start at the top: choosing a managed cloud service provider is complicated.
The essential list of considerations – and variables you will want to measure – is long to begin with – and each and every IT buyer also needs to think about the nature of the potential fit with a would-be service provider. Will the provider’s team take the time to really get under the skin of your business? Will they be on hand to attend to issues quickly when they arise? Will the key people, in short, quickly feel like they are also your key people?
You can pin down aspects of any service-based relationship in a contract, but many would still argue that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In other words, you’ll only find out to your satisfaction if you picked a winner through trial and error.
But there has to be a better way – and the question lingers: what can you extract from a beauty parade of managed cloud service providers that will help you choose? What questions should you be asking yourself (and them) to be confident in the process and in your ultimate pick?
One obvious benefit of buying in outsourced IT services is that you specify just what you need and then sit back and expect delivery, safe in the knowledge that the buck now stops elsewhere.
That’s fine up to a point. But as a business grows it changes. What are the chances of your managed cloud service provider growing with you, and genuinely flexing to your evolving needs? It’s something you should explore in detail up front and try to interrogate. Who are their current clients? Where did they start with a support proposition and what do they do now?
The sum of any business is its people – that’s especially true of service companies but really it applies across the board. Next to this, every company occupies a particular niche that it is the job of its staff to inhabit and understand.
When you outsource functions to service providers, by definition you involve outsiders – and those outsiders quickly need to integrate and behave like they are staffers. It’s not just a question of them playing a role effectively, but getting involved enough to gain a deep understanding of what your customers expect and how the business delivers on its promises.
How quickly a managed service provider and its representatives integrate will partly be down to a company’s training culture and the support provided, but it also reflects a willingness to engage and learn and to become part of the team – alongside the all-important technical knowhow.
Managed cloud service providers are responsible for supporting and maintaining business-critical data,and that means being available when needed, day or night. When it comes to managing risks, every business needs to feel confident that potential data dramas and cyber issues are immediately in hand, whether the problem lands on a Wednesday morning in February or on Christmas Day.
Not every problem needs individual intervention, of course. Effective monitoring of systems and networks means most potential problems or red flags can be dealt with before a problem escalates. So it’s worth checking out availability and smart automation from all sides before signing up.
Part of the picture here, it’s worth adding, is how well a managed cloud service provider takes control on behalf of a client and its systems. Is data back-up automated and consistent and to a remote server for safety? Is the network secure from cyber-criminals and hackers, with regular security testing alongside monitoring for attacks? Are technology updates routine and regular, to head off problems before they arise? These kinds of upgrades on current piecemeal practices are part of what a company is paying for when they sign up with a managed cloud services provider.
It’s been touched on already, but any managed cloud service provider of record has a history and a client base and shouldn’t be afraid of putting forward several of them to give the inside track.
It’s also easy enough to research these things without going through the official channels to potentially gain a less sanitised version – so dig out a reference client to talk to and pick up the phone. It could be one of the best calls you’ve ever made.
Lots of managed cloud service providers can point to impressive uptime statistics, but is that 99.9999% figure all that it seems? There’s a big difference between uptime or availability figures captured from a single location compared with a service that takes in multiple datacentres in different parts of the world.
So check the detail. What are you getting exactly – and where do the great numbers that are probably being paraded come from?
Technology is here to stay, and plenty of managed cloud service providers have a long history now. A mature marketplace is good at first glance, but if the landscape is constantly changing – and it is – you need to be sure that a service provider is on the right side of history and developing a future-minded proposition. What is the provider doing now that is cutting edge? What’s in the pipeline? Even if the offer doesn’t include serverless or managed microservices just yet, is it on the immediate horizon?
One of the reasons for picking a managed cloud service provider is because the IT infrastructure that’s needed for today’s globalised, agile digital businesses is changing rapidly. So it follows that a provider really needs to be able to demonstrate the extent of its current expertise.
Take-up of microservices and containers, for example, has been dramatically fast in the past two years, because the conditions are right. Corporates already understand the benefits of virtualisation and open source, and cloud applications are firmly in the mix. So the leap to containers is a natural one in which most will instinctively have confidence, but some will turn to a managed cloud service provider as a first step and a way in.
A good managed cloud services provider will sit down with a would-be client and work in the round on technology planning for the future. It might well be something that happens once a year, and it is definitely part of the toolkit for any company looking to grow to the next level. So pin it down from the off: will the service provider support planning and on what terms? And is this included in their basic offer or an expensive add-on?
If we step away from some of the detail, there’s a bigger picture here that needs to be understood. A relationship with the right managed cloud service provider should quickly evolve into a trusted partnership that then keeps on developing.
Many companies reach out for support in the first instance because they have a complex technical challenge to solve that needs to happen fast. Many will have tried to tackle a problem but not quite solved it, for example. There could be good reasons for coming up short, naturally – maybe it is a complex deployment in new country, and there is just too much at stake to learn on the job. Or maybe it is a situation where a company cannot quickly use public cloud in a particular jurisdiction, so a private-cloud alternative that’s robust and compliant and ready to go is essential.
Whatever the scenario, the point is that an arm’s length relationship with the delivery partner isn’t enough. From the off, there needs to be that sense of working together on shared challenges for a mutual long-term goal that everyone grasps.
If that sounds like idealism, it shouldn’t. If you set the bar high to begin with, the kind of long-term partnership you need is all the more achievable.