The announcement in the 2012 Budget that, “further measures to deregulate and simplify the planning system [will be] introduced” was swiftly followed by the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which reduced more than 1,000 pages of planning guidance to around 50 pages.
The changes, which have been welcomed by the National Housing Federation, lead me to wonder whether the lesson of simplification could usefully be applied elsewhere, for example in housing providers’ IT operations. In this context, two questions immediately spring to mind:
- Why go to the hassle and cost of managing your IT operations in-house when you can offload these to a third party?
- Why not simplify the internal processes involved in outsourcing?
In this article, I am going to concentrate on the first question. Resolving the question of how to enable outsourcing and make it more straightforward to achieve is really something that lies within housing providers themselves. But, as an outside observer, it does seem that the process can sometimes be prohibitively complex and cumbersome.
Why use a third party?
There are two main reasons why using a managed service provider makes sense and makes life simpler than managing all your IT in-house. The first reason is that the complexity of ownership is removed, enabling you to concentrate on front-end IT activity that supports your core services such as looking after tenants, maintaining housing stock and collecting rent. The second is that the monthly pay-as-you-go model gives you great transparency of cost and budget predictability.
In addition to these top-level advantages, there are specific ways that individual areas of your IT can be made simpler.
With a cloud-based telephony system, there are many upfront advantages. For example, you have no physical infrastructure to maintain, software is regularly upgraded as part of the service with no disruption to your end-users, and the costs for the phones are easy to see, usually being charged on a per-user, per-month basis.
There are, in addition, many operational advantages. With traditional PABX-based phone systems, you need to have technical people on hand for programming any changes, such as moving someone’s extension from one area of an office to another, making changes to hunt group numbers, implementing call forward features and so on. These programmers have to have knowledge of specific models of phone systems in order to be able to effect the changes.
With a system hosted in the cloud, these day-to-day ‘adds, moves and changes’, including supporting home workers and adding or relocating offices, are much easier and can usually be accomplished via a request on a dedicated web portal. Additional applications and features, such as call-recording capabilities for legal and other purposes, are also easy to add and operate from a centralised cloud-based solution. So ironically, you actually get more control and power by outsourcing your IP telephony than you can achieve with an onsite PABX.
Simplifying data storage and management
If you keep all your data on-site, you not only have to create your own server and storage environment in the first place, but you also have to deal with day-to-day and routine maintenance and upgrades.
With a third party, even if you’re simply co-locating your own servers, you immediately remove the burden of controlling the environment, monitoring access and implementing physical security. By using hosted servers instead, you automatically also hand over responsibility for server maintenance.
A managed service provider can also provide a range of backup and archiving services so that increasingly large amounts of operational and legacy data are dealt with efficiently and without involving your own IT teams; these teams can then concentrate on front-end, business-critical activities.
Scaling up your managed data service can be as simple as logging into the service provider’s portal, clicking a button and selecting what you want to do such as adding an extra server; purchase, installation and configuration are all taken care of by the provider.
Simplifying network management
Two things make managing your own networks complicated:
Networks are inherently complex. They might look straightforward but standards are not necessarily ‘standard’. There is a lot of interpretation involved, so although two devices might ostensibly be built to the same standard, they can in fact often turn out to be incompatible, making successful network construction problematic and time-consuming.
The way of accessing the corporate network is changing fast and it can be hard to keep up with the technologies needed to meet the growing demands for access while keeping your systems secure. With the growing ‘bring your own device’ trend, there is an increasing number of employee-owned smart devices requiring round-the-clock access through a variety of connectivity options such as DLS lines, wi-fi and so on.
The big challenge for IT teams is keeping this extensive and ill-defined network secure and carrying out maintenance with access permanently required. For reasons of expediency, in-house solutions tend to stitch together various network services. On the other hand, with a reputable network provider you can expect a properly constructed network with full security and access control measures in place. You can then just buy the network service as a fully-functioning utility, again providing a simple resolution to a complex problem.
Outsourcing to the right service provider, covering the three key areas of networking, data management and telephony, will not only enable you to gain significant cost savings but will also help you achieve huge advantages from simplifying the administration and management of your IT operations.
Bryn Sage is chief operating officer of InTechnology.