Professional Services – is it worth it?

Posted on January 3, 2020

Passing on services is an easy mistake to make. When presented with the real, hard costs of doing business, oftentimes IT leadership is forced to make some tough decisions and cut where they can find room in their shrinking budgets.

Buying those hard or soft infrastructure components to expand capacity or refresh aging assets? The 5-10% of cost in bundled services is easy to target for cost optimization. “Can we do this internally?” is often asked, and the answer is generally a “yeah, but …” – except the “but” is rarely factored into the conversation:

  • But the team is already swamped
  • But this is a first-time experience with a technology
  • But not all the tools are readily available to streamline the process

What are the ramifications of this cost cutting? It often plays out in many ways. Picture the following:

  • Phantom Downtime: Your internal or external clients are suffering through routine interruptions of their service due to hard-to-track-down failures within a converged infrastructure stack.
  • Migration Pains: You have new assets online and not serving their full intended use, depreciating six figures a month or more while production services are still running on out-of-support infrastructure.
  • Operational Complexity: Your business is suffering from a reduction in agility in developing and deploying new software solutions, slowing your time to market, while your personnel and infrastructure costs are skyrocketing.

Chances are, there were services available to help avoid all these problems, but when most are faced with the option of extended integration, Technical Account Manager (TAM), turnkey migrations or proactive assessments, they’re the first on the financial chopping block.

I’m here to tell you to do the opposite: buy the services. In fact, be frank about the challenges your team experiences and ask what else you should be considering. You’ll be saving money, time and frustration overall if you’re leveraging expert services where and when it makes sense. Going back to the opening examples, let’s review how services could have prevented them.

Phantom Downtime

Highly integrated and interdependent services can be tricky to deploy and maintain. Oftentimes above and beyond basic implementation services, vendors and partners have a variety of services that get you implemented/integrated right the first time, prevent drift and correct things faster when they happen. Here are some examples:

Advanced Integration Services

  • Deployment and integration above and beyond immediate scope. Implementing a new array, hypervisor or software solution that has lots of interdependencies? Have the rest of the environment in scope of compatibility evaluation, configuration audit and upgrade/integration.

Technical Account Manager (TAM)

  • Invaluable for large organizations managing complex hardware and software lifecycles, especially in headcount-light teams. A TAM may look pricey on paper, but their direct access to support and engineering on the back-end and their constant physical and virtual presence in your account and work with your teams can ensure you stay on the forefront of relevant information and ensure you’re staying proactive versus chasing outages.

Periodic Health Checks

  • Where a constant ongoing presence isn’t relevant or appropriate, perhaps annual, quarterly, or even monthly health checks will close a proactivity gap. These can be delivered as part of a managed service or in other manners—define your KPI’s and your critical service metrics and make sure you’re always on pace to deliver them through custom analysis and reporting tailored to your business.

Advanced Support Entitlements

  • At the end of the day, when things break, you need people around to fix them. It should go without saying that 9x5xNBD service is inappropriate for revenue impacting production services, but did you know there are often tiers above and beyond 24×7? Consider X-hour CTR (Call To Repair), onsite support or the ability to make straight-to-L2/L3. It’s all too common to have an elevated expectation of a support organization – but only test it once something critical is broken. Understand and select appropriate service entitlements and SLAs for your business functions before things go down.

Migration Pains

Most enterprise systems migrations are planned with well-intentioned timelines, but take much longer in actual execution. Oftentimes complexity around interoperability matrixes, outlier configurations, custom hacks or just plain complicated technologies can dramatically delay last mile efforts on migrations—which coincidentally tend to be some of the most critical systems in the enterprise. Even with the right tools and planning, a simple lack of personnel can completely derail timelines. The net effect of this is increased risk to the organization, the opportunity cost of not taking advantage of your latest capabilities or increased spend extending legacy asset support to buy time to complete.

Migration services are some of the easiest-to-quantify value centers, as long as you’re looking at it properly. The less you have overlapping support contracts, the more money you have to save. Reinvest that to ensure a tight, successful migration timeline with minimal disruptions or risk of delay.

Operational Complexity

Ever hear the phrase “Can’t see the forest for the trees?” I see this all too often in complex, fast-paced operational environments. Engineers, managers and executives move from one problem to the next, fixing them with the tools they know of, and how to use. With a long-term team at the helm, they may be unaware of what’s out there to solve problems. With enough turnover in an environment, the “fixer” toolset is constantly improving, but also changing and being lost. Any gains by fresh perspectives is lost with disarray and lack of follow-through. With a seemingly endless stream of issues, focus devolves into mitigation versus root cause resolution. It’s time to step back and reassess.

Embracing outside assessment can be valuable in resetting your perspective. Whether it be people, process, technology, or a combination of all three (most likely!) that’s causing you pain, there are numerous insights available from those that have “been there, done that” that can dramatically reduce your frustration and help get your organization pointed in the right direction.

Whether you seek an executive-level strategy or an engineering-centric technical engagement, a fresh set of eyes and ears helps. Here are a few tips for where and how to engage:

  • While you can always engage in the big four, consider services from qualified smaller organizations that come strongly referred and offer a healthy body of historical work. You may find their engagements more intimate in nature, personalized in scope, and more immediately actionable.
  • Get in the habit of approaching your partners with the originating problem statement versus a request for a bill of materials. Be open to starting with the problem/objective and having your current mode of operation challenged, and you may find you’re opening the door to valuable insights and novel solutions.
  • If you have a strong relationship and partnership with a large vendor, don’t be afraid to bite on their topical advisory services. Oftentimes these can be light lift and offered for free. Yes, they’ll be slanted towards their portfolio, but may oftentimes provide valuable insight and lead you to solutions you would have considered anyways.
  • Consider the ROI of a successful engagement when making the internal decision or providing justification for approval—a modest 5% capital savings, efficiency or effectiveness gain could be dramatic for your business and exponentially offset any investment.
  • Every organization has different needs, and by no means do you need to accept what’s initially proposed at face value. Make sure you understand your needs, the value of the proposed services, and keep your partners accountable to deliver on agreed-upon and well-defined success criteria.

I often speak of an experience where one of my previous organizations passed on a $70,000 proactive consulting engagement at the beginning of an explosive growth curve, and lost millions as a result. While the resulting experience I acquired through those growing pains was invaluable, it also cost the organization money, my family time and me a good chunk of my sanity. In hindsight, there were numerous critical points in our company’s growth we should have reached out for help with.

Where do you need help?


Author: Keith