It wasn’t long ago that service providers were expected to provide the pipe to move data from Point A to Point B. The customer explained how many lines they wanted and what locations needed connecting, and a service provider complied and fixed the connections when something went wrong.
Now that data connectivity has evolved from point-to-point services to complex IP networks, customers are looking at service providers more as service enablers. They come to the service provider and say, “I need all of my employees to collaborate,” or “I need to get data replication going.” They want to find a partner to set them up with the technologies that can maximize business benefits like productivity and cost savings.
My experience as a Technical Sales Manager with Allstream has taught me that, in order for this to happen, a customer has to treat their service provider as a trusted partner. How can you make that happen? I’ve provided some tips I hope you’ll find helpful.
Share your information
Service providers are increasingly called upon to assist with every layer of a customer’s communications infrastructure, from the hardware up to the applications level. You can’t expect your provider to do this properly and for your network to function at optimal levels if you’re unwilling to share your technical information. Ten years ago, when technologies were largely cut-and-paste and one frame circuit was basically the same as another, you could withhold information from a service provider. With today’s complex collaboration and UC applications and virtualized servers, every solution is unique and needs to be built from the foundation up. That means you need to provide them with the relevant information right from the start, as any lack of disclosure easily leads to miscommunication. Some customers have experienced accountability and reliability issues with providers in the past and may be reluctant to give up information, but the stronger the bond with your provider, the better your network solution will work.
Manage expectations – yours and everyone else’s
People have a tendency to hear about the latest virtualization or collaboration or security technologies and decide that they want them – right now. Or they find out that their competitor is big on social media and want to catch up overnight. Today’s IT solutions don’t work that way. You’re not going to arrive at full Facebook integration and desktop videoconferencing within a week. You need to understand how a product or services works and what steps you need to take to fit them into your network infrastructure. If you’re unsure about anything, talk to your provider.
Set realistic timelines
Too many managers also try to implement a solution within an unrealistic time frame. Don’t go to a provider and say, “I need a change tomorrow.” It’s better to define your goals and to work with your provider to build toward them from the bottom layer up. There’s no point having all the latest apps if you don’t have a strong foundation in place. You need the right protocols, the right equipment, the right platforms, server and hardware. That requires proper project management on both sides and sometimes working within extended timelines.
IT decision makers have to understand that their enthusiasm for the latest IP voice or collaboration technology may not be shared by the folks in finance. Business decision makers can often be resistant to changing legacy systems. They may like the current network set-up and how the phones work and don’t see the benefits of rolling out a long-term implementation plan. You have to try to get buy-in from decision makers by explaining the business and IT benefits of these necessary technological changes. Your service provider can be of great help here. They’re very experienced at this kind of thing.
Consider Managed Services
Many organizations have cut IT budgets to reduce overall costs, leaving IT teams without the expertise to architect, manage and monitor a complex infrastructure. In such a business environment, IT decision makers may be reluctant to move to a managed-services model for fear of further job loss. There are alternatives. You may want your service provider to manage your WAN infrastructure while your team looks after the phones, servers and core applications. Or maybe you want managed security. With your network exposed to hackers through cloud connections, mobile devices, laptops and customer-facing portals, you need to be constantly assessing the vulnerability of your information and applications. An experienced service provider can take that hassle off your hands so you can focus on what you do best.