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Author: Francis Miers

When and How to Implement Managed Services in Your Organisation

What are Managed Services?

Managed services are the process of outsourcing some or all of your day-to-day IT operations to an outside provider. Most organisations do it already. If you have Office 365 or G-Suite, you have software as a service, which is a form of managed service. The days of the organisation that runs all of its IT from its own data centres, managed by a team of in-house staff, are all but over. The question of when and how to implement managed services applies better to separate services than to the whole organisation.

Do I Need to Outsource?

So, when should you outsource a service, which is an IT system used by your organisation’s staff or its customers, such as email, CRM or online services for customers? A key factor is often whether the service is specific to your organisation or not. If it is, it may well be rare or unique, perhaps the website that provides a differentiated service to your customers. Such a service may require to be managed by in-house staff trained in its particularities. If the service is more off-the-shelf, however, such as email or CRM, even if it is strategic, managing it with your in-house staff could distract them from more value-added work that only they can do. This is where it makes sense to consider managed services. Your organisation and its staff should focus on its core competencies, not on standard activities which can be done just as well by others.

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In fact, standard activities can often be done more cheaply by others.

 What are the Benefits of Using Managed Services?

Managed Service Providers (MSPs) will be able to spread the cost of the staff required to do these activities over many customers, and so can deliver the service less expensively than in-house teams at all but the largest organisations. The economies of scale can also deliver benefits in other areas. The MSP may well be better equipped to keep your organisation compliant with regulations such as GDPR, and they may provide stronger security against malware and accidental data loss. When you engage an MSP, you can negotiate contractually binding service level agreements (SLAs) with them. The SLAs provide clarity about the level of service expected, which may be better than the best efforts of an in-house team.

Other reasons to adopt Managed Services include increased efficiency – MSPs can implement best practices and industry standards, as well as help you with planning, procurement, and governance. Of course, you may be able to do this in house, but to do so as cost-effectively as an MSP requires a large scale.

An increasingly strong reason to use an MSP is that it can enhance security. You can write it into your SLAs that the MSP must keep your software updated, something which can drop down the priority list when IT is kept in house. This can affect even the largest organisations. One of our customers, a large logistics firm, suffered a major financial loss caused by malware which exploited a vulnerability in its operating systems, a loss which could have been avoided if those systems had been kept up to date.

It is important to keep the services you delegate to MSPs and those you keep in-house under review. The technology is changing rapidly, and more and more services are reaching the point at which it is better to outsource them than keep them in-house.

How to Implement Managed Services

Once you have identified a service which could probably be outsourced to an MSP, how should you go about it? Even if you have a trusted supplier in mind, it is normally worth evaluating proposals from several others, if only to keep up with current pricing, and what new services might have emerged in the market. Write up a set of requirements and send them to each prospective supplier. This, of course, is normal procurement best practice, but, aside from competitive pricing, what should one look for in an MSP?

Key Factors to Consider

A good MSP will always have strong technical skills. Ask to see whether they are accredited as a company with important software and other IT vendors. For example, if you are implementing a managed service for your Windows desktops, is the MSP accredited with Microsoft? What qualifications are held by their staff? Do they follow ITIL principles? Ask them for reviews by their customers. Unless you are looking for help with a specific technology, it is good for MSP to have broad-based technical skills, rather than skills focused on a single vendor. That way, they can better advise on procurement decisions and will be able to recommend solutions that are best for you, rather than those which fit their skill set. For example, if you host or are looking to host systems in the cloud, an MSP with experience of multicloud may be a better partner than one with experience of only one cloud provider.

Incident Management with Managed Services

Closely related to technical competence is organisational competence. A good MSP will minimise emergencies; well-maintained systems should only go wrong rarely, but if something does go wrong, how good is their incident management? What system do they use to track incidents? It should be based on a helpdesk system such as ServiceNow or Jira Service Management, but for mission-critical systems, it should include incident management such as xMatters or PagerDuty. How good is their monitoring and alerting? Important systems should be monitored, and any anomalies should be flagged as alerts. The best monitoring and alerting systems now have built-in machine learning to help interpret monitoring data from individual devices and determine whether particular readings give cause for concern and if so, provide diagnostic information.

Good technical and organisational skills in an MSP are reflected in the provider’s certification in industry standards such as ISO 27001 (information security) and ISO 27018 (cloud services security), as well as quality standards such as ISO 9001. Check which accreditations are held by your prospective MSP. ISO 27001 is particularly important if you are considering entrusting the MSP with your data. It ensures that the MSP’s own systems and processes adhere to minimum standards of security.

Organisational and technical competence must be complemented by the provider’s ability to meet your desired SLAs. If you need 24/7 support, they must be able to provide it and meet all your other requirements concerning response times, resolution times and dedicated support channels. For example, can you call them for a high-priority incident as opposed to logging a ticket?

Of course, IT moves fast, and competence with current technologies should be backed up by an ability to be aware of and adopt emerging standards and technologies. A good MSP will have a wide range of customers and partnerships and will be able to draw on its network and relationships to offer you the best of what is up and coming. At its best, this can give you a competitive edge in your business by allowing it to benefit from the latest technologies before your competitors do.

Finally, it is important that your MSP is sound financially and reputationally. Find out how long it has been in business and ask to see its recent financial information. Research any news appearance to check there is nothing untoward.

Improve your Business Strategy now

In summary, implementing managed services should be done primarily to allow your organisation to focus on what it does best. Managed services can also reduce your costs, improve security, and introduce the latest techniques to your organisation. Implement managed services on the parts of your IT which are not unique to your organisation and keep the scope of managed services under review. In choosing an MSP, evaluate several, and check their technical skills, organisation skills, standards compliance, ability to innovate and financial stability. If implemented well, managed services can improve your competitive edge and contribute to the overall success of your business. Looking for more information on Atlassian Managed Services? Read this essential guide here at Automation Consultants.

How to stay on top of multiple software projects

Programme and portfolio managers are under increased pressure to make sure that a growing number of large software projects –

that, in large organisations, can involve thousands of team members – are delivered on time. It’s incredibly challenging and has become even more common in recent times, largely because more organisations are now attempting to handle these projects in-house.

A bank, for example, may have thousands of developers and testers, working on various projects for various departments. Linking their activities to the overall goals of the bank is not straightforward.

Suppose the senior management team has set a goal of attracting more customers who open current accounts. What IT investments will result in more current accounts being opened? Should the focus be on better marketing, more efficient back-office processing or improved user features such as debit card freezing?

A portfolio manager may make intelligent guesses as to what investments will be most effective in producing the desired result, but until there is some evidence to support one option or another, they are just guesses. At this very macro level, tracking a mass of project data, such as releases or story points, will not easily yield much guidance on how to achieve the goal of increasing the number of current accounts opened. Instead, one has to try out different hypotheses (e.g. more efficient back-office, more user features etc.) and, in turn, check whether or not there is a corresponding increase in the number of current accounts opened.

This exercise should help managers understand which areas of IT to invest in to have the best chance of achieving the organisation’s strategic goals. The next task is to work out at a lower level how best to maximise investment efficiency, maximise completed useful projects per month, and pound spend.

Balancing creativity with consistency

In managing multiple software and IT projects, how should one assess the investment of money and resources against the benefits for the business? Even when working at the division or business unit level, rather than that of the whole enterprise, scale can still be a major challenge. Each project will have its own manager, sub-team managers and team members – and each team will have its own way of working – but to enable meaningful reporting, there needs to be a degree of consistency throughout the organisation, especially in the ways in which progress is documented.

Inconsistent reporting across teams will occur unless a degree of standardisation is agreed between them. Without standardisation, each team may use different metrics for measuring progress, and have different definitions of similar metrics. For example, two different teams may have completely different norms for the amount of progress represented by a story point.

It is easy to see how this could create a major problem for senior management. A degree of standardisation is essential for consistent reporting, but too much standardisation can stifle initiative and creativity within the teams. A balance must be struck between ensuring enough standardisation to permit consistent reporting and freedom for the project teams to customise their working methods – to promote initiative and creativity and maximise efficiency.

Portfolio management

Various tools exist to permit the management of a portfolio or collection of projects. These tools enable releases to be co-ordinated across projects, and resources to be allocated to different projects to enable cross-project releases to be made. For example, if one project in a portfolio is forecast to finish after a planned release date, the tools can model resource allocation to find a solution (if such a solution exists) such that resources are reallocated to the lagging project without delaying other projects beyond the release date. An example of such a tool is Portfolio Management for Jira, which can manage a portfolio of Jira projects.

Portfolio for Jira is effective up to about 150 projects. Above this number, it is better to rely on a standard reporting framework which also permits customisation at project level. One way of doing this is to impose standard reporting requirements at the upper levels of the agile hierarchy (e.g. epics, releases and groups of releases), but permit customisations at the lower levels (e.g. sprints and stories). This approach not only permits standardised reporting, but prevents wasteful creation of reports in many different formats, or reporting of data generated by a project management tool like Jira in another tool like Excel or PowerPoint.

If a consistent approach to reporting is adopted through the organisation, it is possible to secure cultural adoption of the standard, and promote efficiency in the generation of management information, and effectiveness in its use by management.

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Managing pressures on IT infrastructure

Project management tools like Atlassian’s Jira Software are highly configurable. This helps it to fit a wide range of business processes and project management styles, and makes it popular with project teams. The downside is that if every project has its own configurations, the performance of the project management tool can be adversely affected. Again, a balance must be struck between allowing projects the freedom to innovate, while preventing the creation of a mass of customisations which slows the system down. Typical configurations include custom fields, workflows and issue types.

Rather than allowing teams to create customisations at will or completely banning them, processing requests through a helpdesk can be a worthwhile compromise. For a given customisation request, the helpdesk can tell if a similar customisation already exists and can be used by the requestor; it can take a view on the likely performance impact versus the benefit of the customisation; and it can advise on the most efficient way for the requestor to achieve the result they want. Beyond this, the helpdesk can maintain Jira and regularly remove obsolete configurations, thus keeping performance acceptable.

With Jira, it may also be necessary to consider software deployment options. As the number of users and issues grow, the demand may become too much for a single server to manage. The potential cost of downtime can reach the point where it makes financial sense to move to a clustered architecture, which requires the ‘Data Center’ edition of Jira. Data Center costs more, but permits high availability, greater resilience and zero downtime upgrades. From about 2,000 users or more, these benefits start to become worth the additional cost.


The effective management of many software projects relies even more on the human element than on the processes and tools. It is essential to have suitably qualified people in the right positions – this not only means experienced project managers, but also people you can train as ‘power users’ of your project management tools and the other vital software options.

These ‘power users’ are crucial in overcoming most the challenges mentioned: they can help establish consistency for how the tools are used, address IT issues, instruct other users on best practices, encourage creativity, and ensure that project goals are met on time.

Spending the time and money to train project managers, power users and senior managers is an essential investment. Training should include instruction not only in standard agile at scale methodologies such as SAFe and DAD, and the organisation’s project and portfolio management tools, but also in the unique standards the organisation adopts for reporting.