INTERNAUT—Commentary

Outsourced infrastructure management can control the sprawl and more

Here's a conundrum. Even as government information technology systems planners preach the value of system consolidation, the total IT infrastructure at most government agencies continues to grow. This happens as more applications and devices are connected to networks and then made available to employees.

So let's talk for a moment about dealing with IT systems sprawl and whether managed infrastructure services might be the best way to address that problem.

IT growth means that in-house infrastructure management can become increasingly complex and resource-intensive. I've found that government agencies recognize this issue but often resist the idea of externally managed infrastructure services. After all, it's their network, and they want to maintain control.

However, a key goal for many chief information officers is not to build yet another system that they must maintain and upgrade. Instead, many are focused on assessing organizational readiness for managed services and carefully choosing their investments across their networks.

Are the IT managers in the trenches ready for this change? In reality, most agencies have more flexibility than they realize for the overall structure of their systems. That's true whether they have a full service-oriented architecture in place or not. There is a good chance that most government agencies already have some level of managed services connected to their networks. From this starting point, agencies can not only control sprawl but also start migrating toward other competitively priced services.

For example, a managed IT service can be as basic as an outsourced help desk or as complex as remote network management and multiple software-as-a-service solutions. No matter what level of IT services an agency uses, IT infrastructure management is a logical follow-on for many agencies as they explore multiple IT services. Outsourcing infrastructure management not only helps control sprawl but also can help agencies move to an architecture that supports standardized services.

It also can help:

  • Optimize IT use and streamline service delivery.
  • Ease the way for future expansion.
  • Promote cost savings and a fast return on investment, which in turn enables clients to reinvest in other higher-value projects.
  • Help quickly address compliance issues and manage reporting requirements.
  • Increase the ability to audit IT and business processes and risk management.

Another benefit for agencies: Instead of spending the majority of their time managing a complex IT infrastructure and seeking ways to reduce costs, they can focus their cost/benefit analysis on multiple service providers to discover better price points and extended services. Their challenge isn't to continually upgrade existing systems. Instead, it's to discover the value that they can channel through existing systems while limiting dead-end systems and upgrades.

Of course, there are downsides to managed infrastructure services, including:

  • Uncertainty about the level of customization available.
  • Questions about budgetary problems and difficulties in justifying outside service procurement.
  • A general a lack of understanding about managed infrastructure services.
  • The capabilities of a services partner.

To deal with those concerns, government IT employees should ask detailed questions about service-level agreements when investigating managed infrastructure services, including specifics about uptime, security and performance.

If vendors can answer those questions, infrastructure management as a service can be a powerful tool that plugs several holes that could prevent agencies from fully investing in SOA for their full network. By letting infrastructure experts take care of broad agency system management, agencies can target their IT investments on long-term business goals rather than day-to-day system requirements.

The bottom line is that maintaining system sprawl is expensive and time consuming. Why take the focus off your agency's more pressing and strategic needs, especially when agencies are expected to move toward standardization and IT services? The trick will be to negotiate managed services in a way that has specific SLAs for system uptime, security and growth. With those in place, managed infrastructure services could be the break you need to get some real business done.

About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.

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