When the Grass is Literally Greener on the Other Side

Transitioning away from Managed Services.
SaaS, cloud computing and hosted solutions are all really great options for a number of reasons in a variety of situations. These days it is not uncommon for a technology service to be offered that is exponentially sleeker and more cost-effective that what can be built, managed and maintained in-house. Portals, public-facing websites, and distance learning platforms are just a few examples of viable options out there. But what happens when, for whatever reason, leadership decided years ago to outsource everything. Was it convenience? Was it a weak candidate pool? Was it frustration? Today leadership puts a pen to the cost and finds the dollar figure jarring. Leadership then polls the faculty, staff and students for satisfaction levels and the numbers are less than stellar. Now what?
Transitioning away from a large-scale managed services situation is a bit like putting together a puzzle. What at first appears to be a simple, 12-piece children’s floor puzzle evolves quickly into a 1,000-piece weekend puzzle. After the puzzle is started, it is important to start questioning what the end result should look like while never forgetting that these puzzle pieces are oftentimes dedicated, valued employees. When all the right pieces appear to be there, finding the correct placement is integral. And by the way, the structure needs to be defined prior to shuffling the pieces around. Seems easy enough.

Most managed services agreements require a certain time frame of notice once the decision has been made to not continue services at contract end. The very next day action needs to be taken to map out how the transition will take place internally. Although the following five steps are in order, know that as you embark on this journey many steps will start and never end. You will forever be referring to your org chart and strategic plan to mull over the structure and its alignment with the support needs. These steps can work really well in transitions big and small:

  1. Actively seek feedback from your campus on what’s working for them from a technology service standpoint. Get in front of everyone from department chairs to residence life assistants. What ideas, concerns, significant issues and needs do they have?
  2. Assess your current organizational chart. List out current in-house talent (maybe even managed services talent), compare and talk-through your vision and structure with peer institutions, industry and check your local community college structure. Community colleges are sometimes a step ahead in efficient operations because they’re likely doing more with fewer resources.
  3. Now’s the time to focus on your plans. Typically a managed agreement notes a transition plan in the contract. You should not rely on that to be your plan; instead allow it to complement your bevy of in-house plans. You’ll need a project plan for molding your team, a comprehensive technology strategic plan and a clear department vision statement that supports the institutions vision and thus move away from managed services.
  4. After consternation, vet your ideas through university leadership. Next step, department leaders. Finally, your department. By now you should have a treasure map that will lead to an optimum organization structure to provide excellent service, numbers and stats from peers supporting your path all tying in to a strong strategic plan.
  5. Now’s the time to sweat the small stuff. The software/tools needed to support the service in-house, rolling in change control, cross-training, signage, business cards, etc.

Throughout the transition discussions and deliberations, communication, transparency and support are crucial. And although a big driver to transition away from a managed services situation might be cost savings, your selling point needs to be improved service. Why? Yes, evaluations can and likely should be run making a case for continuous IT savings; however technology will always be a budget-dependent operation. The largest savings are often indirect by automation of processes, green efficiencies, less time spent on repetitive tasks.

Managed services arrangements for significant technology buckets (enterprise network services, ERP support, etc.) can be a great stopgap option for unexpected high turnover in a poor candidate pool environment. In addition, for many institutions it might be ‘easier’ to scrape together operational funds versus headcount and/or payroll.  Not unlike soda machines and restaurants, with managed services you are paying for convenience. And when it comes to major systems support convenience, the markup can easily be in the several hundred percent range. Aside from the possible cost-factor, you are paying for a team dedicated to the provider, not you or your customers, end-users, although the sales team will sell the exact opposite of that.

Technology promises to play an active role in higher education for the unforeseeable future in areas of, but not limited to, streamlining efficiencies, automating processes, empowering data-driven decisions, providing students with the learning environment they seek, supporting the teaching environment professors need to ‘teach more, administrate less’, and providing the veritable backbone for every department serving the institution. While many outlying services and softwares may reside quite comfortably in the cloud, every college needs a strong, cohesive, dedicated core team to best serve their end-users who are, in this day and age, everyone.

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