Enabling the 'signature user'
For many years, certain types of technology infrastructure were considered by companies to be mission-critical. This was typically the hardware that was vital to the continuance of the business, such as certain servers within the data centre. The trouble is, just like technology itself is continually evolving, so the term 'mission-critical' has come to mean something other than infrastructure in the modern business.
Today's mission-critical is people-critical. Business services that enable people is where the competitive edge of business is exposed. Any enterprise that says its integrated communications or mobility services are not mission-critical should reflect on the impact a failure of these systems would have on customers. Businesses simply cannot operate and employees cannot do their jobs without these services.
More crucially, these services today are taken for granted. It is highly unlikely any employees consider what goes into the back-end to make these services happen; they simply expect them to be available. Of course, when they are not, it has a major reputational impact, which only serves to highlight further how mission-critical such commoditised services have become.
A good example of this is the manner in which banks operate 24/7, thanks to their payment platforms. Being able to pay for a service, regardless of the time of day, is simply today's reality. It is a commodity! No one even considers having cash in their pocket as a backup when purchasing after office hours. If a bank can't compete, find another bank.
Stop for a moment and reflect on the impact of IT not providing key people with business-critical services, and then it becomes clear how mission-critical is now part of a commoditised service.
Companies face two realities. The first is: "Can I afford not to be mission-critical?" And the second is: "Can I afford to build mission-critical?"
If companies cannot afford to build it, but need it nonetheless, then they probably will buy it as a service. Of course, it is equally vital for the outsource service provider to be able to think out of the box in ensuring such services can be provided competitively.
These service providers could look to the consumer market and learn how the commoditisation of services works there. Can customers upgrade their home Internet bandwidth on demand for a period of a few hours, in order to stream a video in real-time? Why not? Is this not an example of innovation in a commoditised 'on-demand' services market?
Service providers, therefore, need to adopt this thinking in the way they provision mission-critical services to enterprises. It's about breaking the shackles of the traditional approaches and considering new models instead, ones that will help them to deliver this same type of service 'on demand' to businesses. It simply requires an innovative and futuristic vision - after all, yesterday's science fiction is tomorrow's history.
The signature user
It is posited that 20% of an enterprise's employees deliver around 80% of the business value to the company. These so-called 'signature users' become the most important recipients of mission-critical services. If one is able to deliver mission-critical services to them in a manner that enables them to be even more productive, it will set the scene for the next evolution in service delivery and organisational productivity.
The first step in such an evolution is for companies to stop throwing up the old excuse of governance and control, where the IT department decides what the user needs and when IT gives it to them. Instead, they should listen to what the user wants in order to do the job, and give them that instead. This is perhaps the most vital step in defining a new approach to the delivery of mission-critical services.
For the service provider, ensuring signature users have 24/7/365 access to the mission-critical services is not enough. These users need competent remote business support on demand, someone who can 'reach over the user's shoulder' to provide help when needed, even from the other side of the world.
This support is just another extension of the new way of thinking that service providers need to adopt. Consider a signature user on the other side of the world, who is in the process of concluding a strategic deal, but needs some form of technical support. Should this person log a service call with a run-of-the-mill contact centre agent, who will simply 'catch and dispatch' the call, and that, probably inside hours of service? That person should receive direct access to a subject matter aware, technically competent person. So why not give them what they need to do the job effectively?
Ultimately, this is the kind of offering that service providers need to be positioning themselves to deliver. It is about differentiating service by persona rather than against an infrastructure SLA. This is today's mission critical - making the signature users even more productive.
There is little doubt that people-critical service delivered to signature users does not come at bargain basement prices. However, the reality is that the real cost to business of not doing it is undoubtedly much greater.
Allan Wattrus holds an MSc in engineering and serves as programme director for Outsource Optimisation at Bytes Technology Group (BTG). This is a role that is focused on enhancing the value that an outsource contract delivers to BTGâs clients. Prior to joining BTG, he spent 25 years working for Unisys Africa, where he held a similar position, being responsible for service delivery and outsourcing in the Africa region, including the Indian Ocean islands. His vast experience in the field of outsourcing has left him with a unique insight into the challenges posed by a complex modern IT infrastructure, and means he is ideally positioned to elucidate on both the dangers and the benefits of outsourcing. When he is not deeply embedded in the outsource world, he enjoys woodwork, technology design and helping people to realise their greater potential.