Don't Let The Complex Web Of Supply & Demand Cost You Customers

Originally published on Data Centre News magazine.

Cloud hosted Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions are set to continue dominating the IT industry, with global SaaS software sales set to reach $106bn this year, according to a study from Goldman Sachs. The firm also forecasts that spending on cloud infrastructure will increase by 30 per cent from 2013 to 2018 –compared to an increase of just five per cent for overall enterprise IT.

“Outages are a constant risk, and service providers must be ready to react and support customers”

However, success in the cloud is far from guaranteed, and service providers still face a range of challenges, not least of which is keeping their service available reliably. Cloud outages continue to be an issue for even the world’s largest providers, with Google Compute, Microsoft’s Outlook and Azure and Apple’s iCloud among the services that suffered disruptions last year.

The data centres hosting these services also continue to be at the mercy of the elements, with a Belgian Google data centre suffering an outage after a series of nearby lightning strikes in 2015, and Vodafone beginning the new year with outages caused by flooding in the UK.

Meeting Service Level Agreements

Outages are a constant risk, and service providers must be ready to react and support customers impacted by the issues whenever they occur, mitigating the impact on Service Level Agreements (SLAs) wherever possible. With everything from web hosting and email services to IT maintenance and disaster recovery now being outsourced to managed service providers, a huge variety of operations rely on the cloud. Whatever the cause, service providers that aren’t able to meet SLAs will quickly find themselves shedding customers.

Having a service management provision in place will make it easier to handle these issues. However, the landscape has become increasingly more complicated, with firms having to deal with multiple levels of third party suppliers to meet the SLAs of their customers. Take for example a case where an outage leads to a cloud hosted SaaS solution going down. Customers of the SaaS provider would get in touch and expect the issue to be resolved within eight hours, as outlined in their contract. However, the service provider has outsourced hosting to another supplier and they have agreed to fixing any issues within 24 hours. Immediately there is a conflict in resolution times. The supplier manages to fix the problem within 12 hours so they met the SLA they agreed upon with the service provider. However, the service provider has missed the SLA with what is now a very unhappy customer.

Trying to keep track of this diverse web of service contracts with complex customer hierarchies, billing structures and customer configured products can be a task as time consuming as providing the service in the first place. It can be very easy for firms to lose track of what level of support they owe each of their customers. This also means that when something inevitably goes wrong somewhere in the long IT supply chain all businesses rely on, they will have little visibility of how each of their customers will be affected.

Keeping track of demand

Many firms still rely on Excel or even physical workbooks to keep track of these relationships, a clunky process that can no longer keep up with the speed required by modern IT services. In order to provide a smooth, joined up service that meets customer demands, firms must be equipped with a central record of the web of relationships they have to navigate every day.

By equipping themselves with an infrastructure that provides a holistic view of the entire network of suppliers and customers, businesses are able to track how the performance of their outsourcing partners and third party suppliers relates back to their own customers. This will enable them to identify any issues that might impact their SLAs well in advance, and resolve them before their service suffers and they risk breaching contract.

One of the best places to turn for inspiration on achieving this is the internal IT departments of large corporations. These departments effectively operate as service providers to their own organisation, constantly dealing with large numbers of external suppliers to complex and varied demands across the business. Adopting the IT service management practices used by high powered IT departments will enable service providers to keep track of their obligations and ensure customer needs are always met, even when the worst happens and their service goes down.