May 10, 2001, 2:22 PM — Many management service providers have foundered because they have failed to recognize how the decision to outsource is made, especially in larger enterprises.
Rather than providing a full set of services for managing IT infrastructure, many MSPs offer a network management system in a box and rely on their customers to provide the critical expertise needed to ensure a true level of service to the end user. Typically, the services of an MSP are directly aimed at managing IT infrastructure. If you need help with applications or strategic IT planning, you generally are forced to look elsewhere.
On the other hand, outsourcing has been available for years and usually involves turning over the IT function to a third party. While outsourcing has managed to acquire a bad reputation with IT departments, where it is perceived as a club to be used by the enterprise to force change and cost reduction, it has nevertheless enjoyed continuing interest among executive management.
The stumbling block has been the all-or-nothing approach to outsourcing. It is very hard to justify turning over significant amounts of IT expertise to a third party. While many MSPs may do too little, outsourcers often try to do too much.
What has been missing is an in-between approach, where an outsourcer works with an enterprise to manage the delivery of networked services. This would be an MSP in the sense that it provides full management of networked infrastructure, and an outsourcer in the sense that it provides support for application delivery. However, it would not co-opt the entire IT process, deferring control of critical planning functions and applications to the IT organization.
Some MSPs are beginning to step up to this model and some outsourcing providers are increasing their flexibility. But I found the information presented at a recent Unisys analyst conference especially provocative. Unisys has articulated a vision for IT infrastructure management that comes very close to the idea of partnered outsourcing. Its approach, which it calls Managed Network Services, allows it to step into an enterprise, learn its objectives and then assist IT in articulating a plan that adds value to the business objectives of the firm.
One of Unisyss principal differentiators is the platform on which it has built its outsourcing plans. Where many consulting groups have used Unix and Oracle for applications development and support, Unisys has tossed its hat firmly into the Wintel/SQL2000 ring. Its new ES7000 server is basically an Intel box, albeit based on proprietary cellular multiprocessor technology. Unisys is betting that its solution will be more appealing to IT managers whose embedded infrastructure is probably Wintel-based already.