Offshore Considerations for Infrastructure Management
Apart from traditional driving factors like cost savings and leveraging offshore so IT can focus on other strategic imperatives like planning and development, there are three major reasons for the increased trend of offshoring infrastructure management:
However there are certain aspects enterprises need to consider when contemplating the offshoring of their infrastructure management.
Choose the Right Partner
When you off-shore your infrastructure management, your IT infrastructure will be monitored and managed by engineers sitting tens of thousands of miles away. You have to be sure that you place your infrastructure in the right hands. Make sure that your partner has the capability and experience of managing complex, mission critical IT infrastructure.
Make sure they have enough case studies and references to demonstrate successful remote management of the entire IT infrastructure. Partners who have done production support will understand all the nuances of mission critical IT infrastructure management.
As infrastructure management offshoring is a reasonably new trend, there are some providers who have entered the fray recently. In order to avoid picking a partner without relevant experience and supporting infrastructure, make sure that they have invested in experienced and talented leadership, state-of-the-art voice infrastructure and network operations center. Make sure you ask for the bios of their leadership team and their three year roadmap for IT infrastructure services. It may be worth a trip to the offshore location to see their facilities.
infrastructure outsourcing is a long-term strategy. You have to make sure that your partner has a strategic interest in infrastructure management and has made the right investments to grow this practice.
Extensive Knowledge Acquisition
Once you have chosen the right partner, allow your partner to conduct an extensive knowledge acquisition. A common mistake many enterprises make is to hurry the knowledge acquisition and knowledge transition phase. This is the most important phase where your partner will understand your current operations, your business imperatives, your business objectives, business users and their demands. This will also allow your partner to assess the gaps and allow them time to plan the closure of the gaps when they start the offshore transition.
A typical knowledge acquisition phase is anywhere between two weeks to two months depending on the complexity and geographical spread of your IT infrastructure. During the KA/KT phase, your partner will interact with your business users, IT team and the leadership teams and the typical knowledge areas they acquire are:
Baseline Your Operations
It is important for both the enterprise and the partner to determine the baseline of the current operations. Baseline is a process where you benchmark or take a snapshot of your current operations, staffing, processes, SLOs, SLAs, metrics, etc. Many times, the enterprises either under-rate or over-rate their current operations. This will confuse the partner and they may start with a wrong expectation. Share as much data as possible and expose your partner to the current operations so that a proper baseline is done. This baseline can be used to monitor the progress periodically. Set Expectations
This is where many relationships and projects have failed. Do not buy into the pitch that there will be improvement in the efficiency or savings in the cost from day one. Typically, the efficiency and productivity in infrastructure management falls during the first three months of operation as compared to the baseline results. The offshore team is in the learning stage and needs time to get used to your environment.
After three months of slightly degraded performance, the efficiency and productivity should start increasing and will get back to baseline after another three months. Thus, it takes around six months to reach steady-state operations. Make sure you have contingency plan to handle this degrade either by retaining some of your senior talent or by setting expectations with the users. Once steady state is reached, set an achievable and progressively incremental productivity improvement target. Measure them rigorously.
The SLAs should be set based on the SLAs measured during the baseline. Do not press any SLA terms until you reach steady-state, as this will unnecessarily put additional burden on the partner and may take more time to reach the steady-state. If you are having a penalty clause in the agreement for failing to achieve SLAs, make sure to have a bonus clause if they exceed the SLAs.
Note that you are in win-win situation if more bonuses are given than penalties received. It is clear that invoking a penalty means you are in a bad situation. The failure of your partner to adhere to the SLAs has already caused a business loss. No penalty can compensate your productivity and business losses.
The Offshore Team is Your Team
Always consider the offshore team as your own extended team; else you are inviting disaster. In infrastructure management, you cannot toss a task over the wall and expect results. The onsite team and the offshore team have to work cohesively and as an extended team. The combined team is working on the same set of applications, infrastructure and the business users and probably with the same business challenges. Make sure the communication, information exchange, training, processes, allocation of work, and work culture are similar for both the onsite and offshore teams.
Communication gaps due to cultural differences are very common in offshore projects. One effective way to reduce these gaps is to have an interface manager who is of offshore origin. One of the key performance objectives of this manager should be to ensure a successful transition of the project.
Both the customer and the partner should establish communication at all levels from the initiation of the engagement. More importantly, all the team members of operations should have daily communications. Sometimes, due to cultural difference, the context of email may not be completely understood. Initially it is advisable to have frequent telephonic conversations along with emails. Over communication in the initial stage is advisable, providing ample opportunities for offshore team to understand the operations thoroughly. This will be useful during the knowledge acquisition and setup stages.
Run Book Approach
A run book is a live document which details the application architecture, IT environment supporting the applications, the technical details of the applications and the IT infrastructure, step-by-step instructions on configuration of applications and IT infrastructure. It also includes the trouble shooting tips, shift hand-holding details, report generation and escalation mechanism. This has how-to and what-to details for running a seamless operation.
It is important to establish a run book approach both onsite and offshore so the entire operation can be executed seamlessly. This approach will also help the operation to be more process-dependent than person-dependent. Since the procedures of daily operations and the knowledge base are embedded in the run book, the operations staff can overlap each others activities to some extent reducing dependency. It is important to keep the run book live and simple. Reviews and Reports
During the setup and pilot phases of infrastructure management at the offshore location, it is advised to have daily review at the operations level between the two shores. The daily issues, tickets, matrices, and other operational matters should be discussed. A weekly performance review should be conducted of the IT environment and the production staff. A monthly review should focus on project execution, SLOs and SLAs. Senior operations managers should be involved in monthly reviews. A quarterly business review at the management level to review the overall program, the business relationship and determine the future strategic directions is advised.
One of the key success factors for offshoring infrastructure services is periodic visits by onsite teams to the offshore location and vice versa. The visits should not be restricted only to the senior management, but should be extended to the operations folks as well.
When the offshore operations staff visits the onsite location, they will understand the business demands and the work culture. They have the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with the onsite staff. This helps immensely in bonding between the offshore and onsite staff. Similarly, a visit from onsite team will help the enterprise to understand the culture and work environment at the offshore location and most certainly will bridge several communication and cultural gaps.
Long Term Relationship
Both client and partner should understand that the infrastructure management is a long journey and continues for years. It is important for the enterprise to take the partner into confidence and consistently educate the partner on their business, its dynamics and challenges. The enterprise should also have patience as the partner has to learn initially.
An achievable target has to be set to consistently improve productivity and reviewed periodically. The partner should understand the business imperatives of the enterprise and strive to provide improvement in efficiency and productivity. They should make sure that the best practices which they have developed over a period of time should be applied at the clients environment. Ultimately it should be a win-win partnership.
You should see ROI after about six months of engagement. Initially, you should see a continuous increase in productivity and efficiency and you should need fewer resources to manage the same infrastructure within a year of engagement. The extra workforce can then be deployed to take care of the increased size of the infrastructure or can be deployed to automate monitoring and management activities, thereby increasing the efficiency further.
With 23 years of IT experience, Ram Mohan is vice president and the head of Infrastructure Management and Tech Support for MindTree Consulting, managing delivery of this practice across the globe.