No matter what size, nearly all businesses rely on sophisticated IT systems for every aspect of their enterprise. Many, especially SMBs (small to medium-sized businesses) find themselves caught in the squeeze of keeping data current and secure. And most of them understand the best way to do that responsibly and affordably is through outsourcing.
Consider the story of Eskanos & Adler, a commercial law firm in Concord, California, on San Francisco’s South Bay, which employs over 200 people. The firm recovers delinquent retail and commercial accounts for clients such as American Express and Sears, among others. A series of events that began with a security breach in 2002 finally led the firm a couple of years later to accept the fact an experienced provider was the only one to solve the rigorous demands of its IT obligations.
“IT is under intense pressure from business units to deliver applications that provide new ways to look at old processes and data,” said Perry Donham, Aberdeen’s director for Enterprise Integration Research.
And Aberdeen’s Carol Baroudi, research director, IT Security Practice, notes the other half of the SMB IT challenge. “Many organizations are still unable to get support and funding to do what they know needs to be done. They often feel like there’s little they can do until some large-scale misfortune happens.”
When an e-mail virus crippled Eskanos & Adler’s network for several days in 2002, Paul Hicks, the firm’s director of IT, decided to turn to external resources, although his first steps turned out to be little more than Band-aids.
But once his outsourcing solution reached full flower, Hicks discovered that the right engagement paid for itself within the first year. It also produced further savings when the provider, AccessFlow, of Sacramento, California, improved the firm’s IT-managed telephone service and cut that expenditure by about $1,000 a month.
A piecemeal solution that ‘kind of’ worked–for a while
Hicks began his journey by hiring a systems engineer as a consultant to prevent future downtime. The engineer implemented a firewall and multiple VLANs (virtual local area networks). It seemed like a good idea at first, but the growing law firm soon discovered that the VLAN structure was too complex and made expanding that structure a giant headache.
“Other than the engineer, nobody on the IT team really understood how the network worked or was configured,” Hicks says.
Things got even more complicated in 2003 when the law firm added a second California office with its own telephone system. It added more VLANs to an already inefficiently structured network.
“By the end of 2004, our extremely complicated network was causing serious problems,” Hicks said. “The network engineer was the only one who understood the system. Plus there were unexplained network delays and dropouts,” he concludes.
So the firm hired two more consultants to analyze the network. They, too, were confused by its intricacy.
This instability compromised the firm’s disaster-recovery capacity, impacting the law firm’s ability to perform for its big financial customers. Hicks knew the situation was approaching critical mass.
“We had gotten to the point where our network had become so segmented and complex that our IT staff was having difficulties performing such simple tasks as adding a computer to the network,” said Hicks.
Hicks and his associates had seen enough. They needed to rebuild their network from the ground up. Consultants managing internal IT personnel would not do. They needed a full-blown outsourcing provider, immediately.
New foundation and strategic additions put new power into network
After a brief engagement, Hicks chose AccessFlow as his partner. The provider quickly assessed the firm’s needs and drew up a plan.
“We liked them because they were the one provider that championed the importance of a suitable “ground-up” network configuration as the key to successful virtual server implementation,” Hicks says.
AccessFlow discovered Hicks’ multiple layered VLANs were independent logical networks rather than part of a greater one. The technology was not the problem, but rather, how it was implemented, according to Steve Kaplan, President of AccessFlow.
“Eskanos & Adler’s virtual server manager — VMware — is very powerful and scalable,” Kaplan says. “What was missing was the proper planning and underlying infrastructure to make it all happen.”
The supplier designed a new network around virtualization, a process making both hardware and software more efficient, as it allows all servers to share their processing power. It has a secure outer shell protecting a simple-to-use core. “We liked the design because it would enable us to reuse many of our existing components,” Hicks said.
The supplier quickly reconfigured the old network, which by this time had become a bowl of task-redundant virtual “spaghetti.” This move allowed the supplier to reconnect 15 servers directly. Then four T-1 lines (two for voice, two for data) linked the firm’s main office to its branch office, where the supplier installed a second voice system.
Hicks notes that the telephone systems had always been a headache, even before opening their satellite office. The solution corrected all the firm’s voice communications problems at both locations.
A migration well planned and well executed — quickly
The work began in February 2006; the supplier worked over a month of weekends since it was too much to accomplish all at once with the business running at full capacity during the week, according to Hicks.
Hicks says, overall, the new network has brought nothing but benefits. He adds that the relationship with AccessFlow continues because he has learned the lesson that the changing parameters of IT management necessitate it.
“SMBs have two ways to go,” says Donham. “They can keep up piecemeal and react to events, or they can engage a provider to help them anticipate future needs and develop solutions together as necessary.”
“What this relationship does for Eskanos & Adler is teach the firm new ways of solving problems,” Kaplan says. “But in doing so they understand the engagement’s upside: greater flexibility, scalability, and cost savings.”
Hicks and his associates couldn’t agree more.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- SMBs stand to greatly benefit from IT outsourcing providers, as they offer not only solutions that produce efficient, easy-to-manage networks and best-practices, but also an ongoing partnership to help them anticipate and implement solutions to their future needs.
- Some SMBs will attempt to find IT solutions by retaining a consultant only. But they run the risk of the consultant being the only one who understands their network, which hobbles the buyer’s knowledge base and cripples the ability to solve current problems or anticipate new challenges.
- When speed to implementation is key, an outsourcing provider can execute IT solutions quickly, in conjunction with the buyer’s in-house specialists, thereby sharing knowledge of the new structure with the buyer’s IT staff and creating a more capable partner in the development of new solutions at a later time.