Outsourcing IT to a managed services provider (MSP) can have a huge impact on your business efficiency and costs, advises Sonu Kundi, commercial director of Cromwell Business Systems.
You don’t need to be told how tough it is to increase footfall, generate revenue and reduce costs. In this difficult environment, the last thing you need is to have to worry about IT – and that’s where outsourcing IT to a managed services provider (MSP) can have a huge impact on your business efficiency and costs.
A MSP delivers and manages applications and other services over a network, in Cromwell’s case a virtual private network or VPN (which is more secure and offers higher bandwidth than the public internet). So why might you consider handing over responsibility for your vital IT resources to a third party MSP, rather than running your own server from your own premises?
Well, the primary reason is that it really can be a cost saver. Modern retail technology is immensely complex and expensive, and to put together all the multivendor components yourself would be a challenge that most retailers are unlikely to want to face.
Under an outsourcing deal, it’s your IT provider, not you, that invests in skilled and specialist staff. It is very unlikely, for instance, that you will want to have your own dedicated IT staff on standby 24 hours a day – but an MSP can give you precisely that level of support via their Helpdesk without you needing to increase your own headcount.
Outsourcing also gives you access to far more sophisticated technology than you are likely to be able to afford if you have to purchase it yourself. That’s because it’s your MSP that bears the costs of investment in the fully-managed data centre, infrastructure, hardware, networks, software applications, security and disaster recovery capabilities that you and all their other customers need. It’s also the MSP that negotiates with the multiple providers and vendors to ensure you have access to the best possible combination of technologies. That all means, if you have spare funds, you can spend them on activities to improve business efficiency, make you more competitive, and enhance customer service.
There are also considerable efficiency gains from using MSP. IT infrastructure for any new store can be implemented within rapid timescales, and you can scale up quickly in terms of additional bandwidth and hardware capabilities whenever your business requires them.
Technical problems can also be readily resolved by a reputable MSP. Given how vital technology is to both your front and back office operations, any downtime is likely to give you considerable issues with sales, productivity and customer satisfaction. It’s not always obvious what is causing a problem with IT, so having a single IT supplier is vital if you are to have rapid response to any software or infrastructure problems.
If you have an e-commerce channel, MSP really is a no-brainer. Consumers are incredibly unforgiving of poorly performing websites. Going the MSP route will ensure that your website delivers consistent high performance and constant uptime and is protected from malicious virus and other malware attacks.
Of course, finding the right IT partner is crucial to the success of any outsourcing strategy. Above all, the MSP you select must have the scale to support you and all their other customers 24/7/365. They must also be able to demonstrate understanding of the demands of retail: overnight processing, out of hours system maintenance, and rapid response to any system downtime. A reputable outsourcing supplier will provide Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) giving guarantees on response times; issue regular patches and releases to their software; and upgrade the supporting IT infrastructure on a regular basis to ensure it remains fit for purpose, however the retail environment evolves in the future.
The last thing you need to be is an expert in IT as well as in retail. Opting for an outsourced approach to your IT needs will help you control operating costs and will free you and your staff to spend time on vital activities such as keeping customers satisfied. It will also enable you to access high-level technical skills at reasonable cost, thereby avoiding adding to your headcount. IT is critical to effective modern retail and, above all, outsourcing to a reputable MSP will keep that vital business tool fit for purpose in the years ahead. Of course, MSP doesn’t really stand for ‘Mightily Sensible Purchase’, but it really ought to. N