How to make professional services work for you

professional servicesIn his classic book “Flawless Consulting,” Peter Block lays out the three ways that a consultant interacts with clients: as an expert, a pair of hands, or a collaborator. As Block points out, when a consultant is the expert, all the responsibility rests on his shoulders, and when it’s just a pair of hands, it’s of little value to the customer. But if the consultant and client collaborate to solve a problem, everyone gets the best outcome and the most value.

Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in IT. Companies approach professional services organizations (PSOs) when they face an IT problem they can’t fix on their own, whether because they don’t have the skill set internally, can’t spend the time, or don’t have the resources needed to solve the problem. The best of these relationships are true collaborations. The customer has a clearly defined problem and the PSO helps the customer develop and implement a clearly defined solution.

But too often organizations approach professional services with only a vague sense of the problem, like the need to “configure hardware” or “fix a performance issue.” The timeline is hazy, the goals uncertain, and the outcome poor. These projects often take longer and cost more than if the organization brought specific needs to the table from the start. It impacts the effort required on the part of the consultant, and even how the professional services are purchased.

Here’s how to ensure a strong collaboration with a PSO and get the job done on time and on budget. (more…)

The 3-step approach to improving IT security

IT securityEvery year we regularly schedule physicals, oil changes, car inspections, and other appointments in order to keep the systems that we depend on running at peak operational efficiency. There might not be anything noticeably wrong to necessitate one of these checkups, but that’s not really the point. The purpose is to take a proactive approach to system maintenance in order to catch any coughs or hiccups that might later call for an expensive fix.

SHI recommends a similar preventative approach to IT security. Organizations need to regularly assess their security programs to pinpoint small issues that could later turn into devastating security leaks. They can do this internally or hire a professional security services team.

To help our customers confirm that they deployed their security controls properly and identify any security gaps that might exist, SHI developed the Security Posture Review (SPR). The SPR is an assessment designed to evaluate various technical and operational security controls within an organization’s IT environment, which will help maximize security spend.

Our SPR consists of three phases: (more…)

Leasing vs. financing: What’s the difference?

SHI blog post imagePurchasing new hardware or software can be a costly and burdensome investment for even the most profitable organizations. But purchasing outright isn’t a company’s only option. Organizations can lease hardware and finance software and maintenance to ease upfront costs and increase IT flexibility. So before you sign that check for your next big order of desktops, servers, or software, see if any of these options are right for you.

The two types of hardware leasing

Leasing is the most common way to acquire IT equipment without paying for it up front. There are two main types of leases: the fair market value (FMV) lease and the $1 buyout lease.

FMV lease

The most common type of hardware lease is the FMV. It’s similar to a car lease, in that you don’t own the product at the end of the term, which is typically two to three years. In an industry known for a 36-month product lifecycle, this is a compelling benefit. The greatest part of IT is that the power keeps going up and the price keeps going down. FMV leases offer the lowest payment option since you’re only paying for the use of the product, not the purchase price. Payments are usually referred to as rent. (more…)

Mastering SMARTnet renewals in 4 easy steps

Cisco SMARTnet Cisco’s SMARTnet technical support service is renowned for its hotline of Cisco engineers ready to help troubleshoot. After all, even IT teams have to call tech support every once in a while, especially when those teams protect complex and critical systems. And the award-winning service lives up to its reputation for slashing downtime.

But to maintain service for all Cisco equipment in use, organizations need to keep a close eye on their contracts and upcoming renewals to ensure there are no gaps in coverage. And too often, renewals become a challenge for many organizations. Many companies hold between 10 and 15 SMARTnet contracts for various Cisco devices. And with so many contracts, businesses struggle to keep track of important expiration dates, terms, and conditions.

No IT team wants to find out their SMARTnet contract has unexpectedly lapsed while on the phone with Cisco to get a system back up. But due to lack of contract visibility, organizations sometimes falsely assume their business-critical devices are secured by SMARTnet. Due to unpaid renewals or missing agreements, devices can slip through the cracks, risking downtime and other damaging network issues.

Just as harmful, many organizations continue to pay SMARTnet subscriptions for out-of-date or unused devices due to knee-jerk renewals on forgotten contracts. And as organizations grow and add more Cisco services and devices, the complexities associated with managing new subscriptions will only escalate.

For organizations seeking greater visibility into their SMARTnet services, here are four easy tips to regain control over contracts. (more…)

Microsoft’s volume licensing transformation: Here’s everything you need to know about MPSA

Late last year, Richard Smith, GM at Microsoft Worldwide Licensing & Pricing, revealed it would be introducing a “next-generation approach to commercial licensing” to provide customers a more flexible and simplified purchasing experience across all solutions. Dubbed by Microsoft as Next Generation of Volume Licensing (NGVL) or transformation of volume licensing, the initiative takes a multi-phased approach, which began and will continue to be driven by feedback from the different licensing communities–partners, customers, and Microsoft field.

NGVL then entered the pilot phase, for which SHI was proud to be one of the handful of participating partners across the globe. On Dec. 1, 2013 the initiative reached its current phase, a controlled, but broader, launch. This current phase is not the final product. We will likely see the transformation continue for some time to come.

Today’s offering, the Microsoft Products and Services Agreement (MPSA), is simple but clearly displays the three primary tenets of the transformation. (more…)

3 tech megatrends that will redefine business in 2014

Gartner identified 10 strategic technology trends for 2014 at a symposium last fall, including mobile, the Internet of Everything, and cloud technology. As we enter 2014, several megatrends stand out from the rest, shaping the way we do business and accelerating the transformation of IT. It’s important to understand these trends beyond the buzzwords and marketing lingo. The key to preparing for tech’s imminent shift is recognizing the business drivers behind these changes and acknowledging their impact on the future of business.

Here are the megatrends that should be top of mind for IT departments and business owners alike:

Software-defined anything (SDx)

The traditional datacenter landscape has changed forever, leaving infrastructure abstracted and virtualized, delivered as a service. We’re seeing virtualization extend well beyond just computing, with storage and network virtualization quickly becoming the norm for most organizations.

This model holds true regardless of whether the infrastructure resides internally or in the cloud. Dependency on physical hardware is being eliminated as software manages everything, increasing flexibility and agility. As infrastructure becomes highly virtualized and moves toward the private cloud, traditional IT resources need to evolve or risk becoming irrelevant.

As businesses begin to consume infrastructure as a service, the skills required to architect and support these environments must evolve as well. Once infrastructure is fully abstracted and optimized, organizations can shift their focus to developing applications to support business outcomes. (more…)

Putting the value in value added reseller: Why both manufacturers and customers rely on VARs

Many organizations struggle to keep tabs on their IT assets. The number of products, manufacturers, and licensing agreements is enough to make any person’s head spin. That’s why most companies use some sort of IT asset management (ITAM) to keep track of the various renewal dates and understand what licenses they have on hand. But even then they have little strategic direction for their licensing.

Software manufacturers too have their work cut out for them. They can’t afford to spend the time and money to find every potential customer for their software. In order to earn a reasonable profit on their products, they need a base of customers and a dedicated sales force.

To make the landscape more manageable for both the manufacturers and their ultimate customers, value-added resellers (VARs) serve as a liaison, helping manufacturers get their software in users’ hands while offering customers a range of manufacturer and software options that best fit their business objectives.

It’s too difficult for one customer to attain knowledge about every manufacturer, product, and licensing option on the market, just as it’s nearly impossible for manufacturers to gain clear insight into customer markets and needs. Since both spheres are so vast, VARs meet in the middle to fill the gap.

Value add for customers

No organization looking to license software or hardware has the time or resources to research every potential manufacturer’s products and compare the costs and benefits. VARs, on the other hand, have staffs devoted to staying up to date on the products available, as well as the nuances of every agreement. When customers work with VARs, they receive advice on which manufacturers and products can best support their goals, as well as guidance on manufacturer pricing. (more…)

3 reasons external software asset management services prevail over in-house solutions

There’s no denying that software asset management (SAM) is important. It prevents overspending and compliance breaches, and helps organizations anticipate IT needs. But how to actually handle SAM is a different story. Should an organization build an in-house software asset management (SAM) solution or outsource those services?

I recently received an email from a customer asking me just that. I should say up front that as an employee of a company that offers outsourced SAM services, I might be a little biased, but after ruminating on the question, I can only conclude that outsourced SAM services are the way to go for most organizations.

Granted, customers that opt for a tool-based, in-house SAM solution do gain greater control and retain privacy over their assets, but the costs quickly outweigh the benefits. These solutions take up the valuable time of existing IT workers and are difficult to manage without the right training and expertise. The only organizations capable of balancing these tasks are ones large enough to sustain and balance a licensing team, and not all companies have that luxury.

The instant a customer purchases a piece of hardware or software title, it’s bombarded by additional support needs, including:

  • Solution software (the direct cost of the software)
  • Deployments for production, test, backup, and other uses
  • Hardware dependencies
  • Supporting software (operating systems, virtual machine licenses, database licenses, etc.)
  • Software maintenance (for solution and supporting software)
  • Implementation (consulting support for installation, customization, integration, and training)
  • System administrators (primary and backup administrators, training, turnover, etc.)

To save the headache, customers can opt for an outsourced and integrated SAM solution that manages all of their critical software assets without wasting valuable time and resources. Here are three reasons why it’s well worth a customer’s time and money to choose an SAM service to manage its software assets: (more…)

How to get your maintenance renewals under control

If your organization always wants the latest and greatest products and most up-to-date support, chances are you buy your software and hardware maintenance from various manufacturers. The question is: How do you manage all of your purchases while ensuring you’re not overspending?

Renewal management can be complicated, involving a kaleidoscope of factors that can turn a simple process into a field full of potential land mines, including overspending and non-compliance. Here are some of the challenges IT organizations face while managing renewals and how to solve them.

1. Myriad buying programs. Every business unit has its own unique mix of hardware and software needs. When it comes to licensing Microsoft products, for example, some organizations excel with an Enterprise Agreement (EA) to license a particular number of seats at any time for any product. Other organizations utilize a Select Agreement to buy what they need when they need it. With other publishers, some parts of your organization might still rely on perpetual licenses while others need options like the subscription-based Adobe Creative Cloud. The range of potential ongoing agreements in any company is vast, and renewal dates are unlikely to align, creating the potential for under-licensing or budgetary “gotchas” if the various renewal dates aren’t closely tracked.

2. Multiple employees managing buying programs. Larger organizations have licenses with more manufacturers and for more products than any one person can manage alone. Of course splitting the workload, whether by division or manufacturer, reduces visibility into organization-wide renewal dates. Having employees manage licensing in a silo also limits potential cost-savings and cost-avoidance advantages for future licensing, as employees might not be aware that their combined purchases qualify them for the next level (price break) of cost-savings. (more…)

Recommended Reading: Cloud services help SHI redefine the buyer-seller dynamic for huge efficiency gains

Earlier this summer at the Ariba Live Conference in Washington, D.C., SHI’s John D’Aquila met with Dana Gardner, analyst at Interarbor Solutions, to talk about how the cloud, BYOD, and other technology trends are changing IT asset management and how SHI is utilizing e-commerce to help customers simplify and streamline the process.

John shared the example of SHI customer AGCO, an American agricultural equipment manufacturer. SHI developed a customized online catalog of the products and solutions that meet AGCO’s IT requirements in order to give end users plenty of approved tech options that they can obtain with a simple click while centralizing procurement and creating a more transparent process for easy reporting and oversight.

Dana’s complete Q&A with John is published on ZDNet in “Cloud services help SHI redefine the buyer-seller dynamic for huge efficiency gains.” I encourage you to read through it to learn more about how SHI’s e-commerce offering can streamline your IT product discovery and purchasing processes.

ZDNet Cloud Services SHI