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Monitoring your outsourcing relationship

Jun 09, 20043 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Technology to help determine whether outsourcing providers are meeting SLAs

Recent news of outsourcing wins by IBM and CSC shows that it continues to be attractive for organizations to outsource IT to specialists. IBM’s recent wins include deals with Australian airline Qantas, Shell Oil, and Morgan Stanley. CSC sealed a relationship with Sears, Roebuck and Co., to manage the company’s IT tasks so that Sears can devote its internal IT resources to strategic technology for retail.

But as companies offload day-to-day IT operations to service providers, challenges are introduced in monitoring and managing the information infrastructure. This is especially tricky when the infrastructure is managed by a separate entity. It still falls on the customer to monitor the service provider to ensure that the promised service levels are met.

Historically, outsourcing has focused on network and systems management instead of the applications or delivery of services (perhaps a remnant of the origin of systems as engineering tools to manage the network components and systems). But modern management systems are now expanding into the management of applications and service levels, allowing outsourcing customers to view how their service providers are managing their IT operations and whether service levels are being met.

Service-level management (SLM) applications, such as Managed Objects’ recently announced Business Service Level Management (BSLM) 2.0, focus on the higher-level perspectives of business services: the services’ objectives and how those services are being delivered. Interestingly, BSLM 2.0 provides visualization of compliance in a graduated way.

Recognizing that compliance isn’t simply a binary question, Managed Objects uses both numeric and graduated colors to show the magnitude of compliance or non-compliance. This at-a-glance visualization gives the service provider’s management and operations staff a clear understanding of the most effective places to apply resources. It also provides customers with near real-time input on the current status of all of the services that they buy from their providers.

Another interesting management system emerging in this space is Roving Planet’s Central Site Director (CSD). Focused on the security and scalability of wireless networks, Roving Planet’s products provide users with an application view of managing the infrastructure. This makes the tools seem much more like SLM products than typical wireless security devices.

For example, by focusing on users, CSD allows a network manager at a service provider or a member of the customer’s IT management team to understand how the wireless infrastructure is being used, how and where guests are using it and what bandwidth is being devoted to which applications. CSD even can dynamically manage the available bandwidth based on users, groups, applications, and their relationship to other users of that same bandwidth. This encouraging development in such an embryonic technology as wireless network management underscores the focus on the services that users require and how well they are managed.

Management of an outsourcing relationship should be aided by effective and comprehensive management systems. Using common systems across the boundary between the customer and service provider provides a common vocabulary, common data, and common taxonomy for discussion of the services, their delivery, and the objectives for service levels.