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The Challenges of Supporting a Complex IT Infrastructure

With each passing year, the IT infrastructure that supports businesses both large and small has expanded and evolved along with the costs and challenges. Manufacturers increase maintenance costs 10–15% annually and discontinue support to incentivize customers to buy new systems rather than maintaining the existing systems, in some cases tripling the price and limiting options of maintenance. And even when companies want to maintain their existing systems, they face a host of contracting, technical and financial obstacles.

By Joel Nimar

After all, most companies use many different technologies from multiple vendors. Each of these different pieces of equipment has its own warranty-expiration date; some may even be post-warranty, end-of-life or end-of-service-life. Managing these different contracts is a time-consuming task, and a simple lapse in organization can prove costly in both productivity and cost.

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The fact is that the most well-run IT departments can still experience significant delays when it comes to support and repairs, because service quality changes on the basis of both product and geographic location. Many organizations in the field have begun to outsource critical elements of their support mechanism—from call centers to field service to parts management—to different providers, making the quality of service that they provide inconsistent, and their bureaucracy difficult to navigate.

For companies with a global presence, the expense and effort involved only grows, because they must negotiate contracts, issue purchase orders to international vendors and conduct transactions in multiple currencies. In short, when companies attempt to maintain their IT systems, they often face logistical challenges and inconsistent coverage when they should be encountering service that is quick, reliable, effective and cost cutting across their national or global locations.

A Simple Solution: ISOs

In the face of widespread decentralization and uneven service coverage, independent service organizations (ISOs) can take on such challenges by providing powerful tools and resources to manage these issues and regain the increased productivity that technology promises. ISOs provide a single point of contact for all IT maintenance needs globally, while promising consistently reasonable pricing. Further, ISOs advise companies on how best to reorganize their IT infrastructures to bring them to maximum efficiency levels. The combination of lower fees and increased effectiveness allows companies that employ ISOs to remain competitive in a fast-paced, technological world.

Is an ISO Right for You?

An ISO can give you a single point of contact for all of your IT maintenance needs, and it can cover all of your equipment including staffing, routers, switches, servers and storage. For global organizations that require widespread and consistent hardware maintenance, employing an ISO can be a game changer. It’s important, though, to understand that not all ISOs are the same; and before selecting a vendor, it’s important to consider the following requirements:

1. Multi-vendor service capability: Does your ISO have the skills to support the manufacturers you either own or are considering buying?

2. Custom service levels: You should pay only for the maintenance services and levels you need; for instance, your vendor should not charge you for 24x7x4 service if you require next-business-day service. Nor should a vendor charge for a two-hour response time if in fact it can only offer a four-hour response. Will your vendor customize a plan for you, or can you buy only the plans that it offers?

3. Operating-system and server-virtualization solutions: Vendors should offer these services as part of either a maintenance contract or a standalone service. Many issues often relate to the operating system or VMware, and a support engineer trained in both hardware and software can save you valuable time and money.

4. Legacy-systems support: Many proprietary applications still run on older systems. Your ISO must have experience maintaining these legacy systems and extending the life of your legacy applications even when the manufacturer will no longer support the system.

5. Geographic coverage: Does your ISO possess the resources to support all of your locations? Can it meet its SLAs? Does it have national and international geographic reach for your specific equipment?

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6. Spare-parts availability: Does the ISO engineer arrive equipped with the parts needed to fix the problem? Does the ISO stock parts locally, or will it potentially need to order replacement parts? Also assess the length of time the ISO requires to send emergency parts, and whether it will guarantee this time period in writing.

7. Critical-response time: You should expect your ISO to offer you telephone response times of 30 minutes to an hour, followed by onsite service within four hours if necessary. For more economical service, you should require a next-day response.

8. Single point of contact/call escalation: Will the ISO designate one individual to be responsible for your agreement? If your company runs a program that one person cannot address to your satisfaction, is there an established escalation process?

9. Ticketing system/quality control: Does your vendor offer a convenient and navigable system via phone, e-mail and portal to open a trouble ticket? Does the vendor follow up after a service call to make sure your issue is resolved? Your ISO should offer IT lifecycle-management services from start to finish, including asset procurement, logistics, receiving, integration, imaging, deployment, data destruction, secure decommissioning, off-line IT asset management and auditable recycling services.

Including these criteria in your evaluation of any ISO will ensure that you select the company most qualified to meet your requirements in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Real-World Benefits of an ISO

Companies have improved response time while reducing costs up to 60% by employing an ISO. Here are some examples:

  • Semiconductor Manufacturer: A semiconductor manufacturer needed support for legacy IT servers operating in a production environment. The original manufacturer had discontinued support of these products and offered no alternative besides a costly hardware and software upgrade. The company’s new ISO not only possessed the resources to support this equipment, but also improved SLA time to meet its customer’s round-the-clock requirement. The company also received operating-system support as part of a package that included on-site engineering, unlimited parts replacement and help-desk support.

  • Oil-Pipeline Company: A large oil pipeline company needed maintenance services for one of its facilities that operates 7×24 in a remote area of the country. The OEM the customer employed could only provide coverage from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. In addition, the customer would wait on hold for up to an hour when placing a service call. If the call were placed on Monday after 5pm, the OEM would not provide service until Wednesday—less than ideal for a company with a twenty-four-hour operation. The customer’s new ISO consolidated multiple OEM contracts into a unified contract with a single expiration date, and it allowed the customer to generate a trouble ticket via online portal, email or phone. The four-hour on-site response seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day empowered the company to improve operations and increase profits.

  • Government: A government organization required trustworthy engineers who would be approved by their security department to service their storage arrays in a cost-effective fashion. The organization turned to an ISO for specially certified engineers to work on its equipment, and it found a provider whose employees had the technical skills to solve its problems while meeting strict background and security requirements.

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Conclusions

A maintenance contract with a quality ISO allows your company to take an aggressive approach to IT management, empowering you to customize a technological solution that fits your specific needs. Instead of dealing with multiple decentralized vendors, you can choose just one, while also opting out of manufacturers’ escalating maintenance fees. In short, you cannot rely solely on manufacturers to support your IT infrastructure. Savvy CFOs and IT managers know that employing an ISO can improve service while cutting costs, giving twenty-first-century companies the support they need in a globalized world.