The next great challenge in SAM: Managing your SAM Service Provider

Full-on SAM can be a hard-core engagement and perhaps one that demands too much of your staff or your budget to do well.  The great temptation might be to “kick it over the fence” and delegate SAM to a third party, while the operational and fiscal considerations could prove tempting, such an arrangement should be viewed as a new partnership rather than having made SAM “go away”.

Like any IT contract, a lifecycle should form the backbone of what’s being paid for.  Where are we now?  And where do we want to be?  Do we have suitable waypoints along the life of the contract that our SAM Service Provider should be reaching?

This ladies and gents, is strategy – this has nothing to do with what the SAM Service Provider brings to the table:  this is something you inform them of.

The Ying and Yang in this relationship needs to be respected; not least because the SAM Service Provider/ Managed Service Organisation(MSO) may be making suggested recommendations around the improvement of your IT estate, but this will largely be governance-based.  Unless, perhaps, the SAM Service is intertwined with an IT estate management package.  Ultimately though, the change management will rest back on your shoulders.

One statement I am constantly hearing in engagements is that “we are different” – the manner and means by which IT assets are managed is somehow singularly unique to a given organisation.  The common thread that binds most organisations who are struggling with SAM is that they are mired in bureaucracy and politics – and it’s largely a situation of their own making.  I’m reminded of a meme I saw on LinkedIn:

Leader:  What do we want?

Workforce:  Change!!

Leader:  When do we want it?

Workforce:  Now!!

Leader:  Who wants to drive change with me?

Workforce:  <tumbleweed>

The reason I mention this, is that IF your SAM program (and your SAM Service Provider) are to become agents of change then identifying KPIs that truly resonate with your company requires time and effort extending from the strategic direction you have road-mapped prior to engaging with a SAM Service Provider.

Goals/ KPIs should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attributable
  • Realistic
  • Time-based

Much has been written about SMART objectives in Operations Management; take a pinch of their chutzpa and apply to the creation of your SAM KPIs – now you are armed with a surgical roadmap that offers clarity for the SAM Service Provider and Senior Management.

Hopefully it should be clear now that SAM is strategic and requires planning.  Understand what your business requires from you and / or how SAM can support the business.

Does using a Big 4 Consultancy offer reduce risk of audit? Will using any MSO reduce your audit risk?

In the 1970s there was a saying along the lines of “you would never get sacked if you bought IBM”, back in the day this was mainframes.  With SAM in the 2020’s is using a Big 4 as a consultancy an element of arse-covering and a taunt to the software vendors? “C’mon then!  We have XYZ running our Audit SAM program now?”.

Does using a Big 4 reduce the threat of audit?   In my experience probably not, many organisations who have Big 4 SAM services contracted in, still have audits and if you are lucky enough to be presenting at Gartner, ITAM Review or ITAMOrg then this is your outlet to warn the software vendor that you have a Big 4 Consultancy running your SAM.  Many organisations will use one of the Big 4 because their own Senior Management know who they are and there is probably some sort of relationship with an individual working there.

Benefits of outsourcing generally?
  • Using an MSO can reduce the risk of audit – absolutely not guaranteed.
  • You have more flexibility around the cost aspect and you don’t have resources on the books and HR budgets.
  • You don’t need to have experts for every vendor in-house, the MSO will provide you with the necessary resources to meet the expectations of the contract
Negatives of outsourcing generally?
  • Outsourcing everything is unlikely to yield significant benefits to any organisation, the MSO is unlikely to know your vendor strategies and therefore probably won’t deliver much more than a compliance report every month or so, or, a few optimisation options for the first few months
  • Many MSO’s won’t utilise the SAM tools you have invested in, it’s easier for them to pull the raw data available and give it to cheaper resources to manipulate.  Or they will have their own toolsets.   If you have your own toolset then contract the MSO to deliver the results in your toolset. Or, don’t buy a toolset in the first place. If you already have one then consider if you need it.
  • If you outsource to get rid of the problem, then guess what?  It’s going to fail.
  • Most managed services take at least three months to get going for each vendor, so factor this in.  You need to have the bandwidth during each onboarding phase to chase down the answers from within your organisation, relay them to the MSO and make sure the results are correct
  • If you are the only SAM In-house person then it is quite possible that you will become overwhelmed with questions.
  • Outsourcing isn’t for everyone and it’s my opinion that every organisation should retain some in-house SAM resource just because internal staff respond better to colleagues’ questions rather than emails from external resources
Is there a right time or wrong time to outsource?
  • Pure outsourcing has its place, maybe you need the headcount that MSO’s can provide to perform a series of onboarding activities
  • Perhaps at the start of a project where you need a large amount of resource
  • Or at a point where the SAM team is onboarding a large number of vendors
  • Perhaps your organisation simply doesn’t want resources as full-time employees
Here are some more things to consider:
  • Many software products require you to know how you are licensing it, including which levels of subscription / support apply.
  • Determine what you are expecting your MSO to give you:  A compliance report isn’t useful unless it contains recommendations and they can only make constructive recommendations if they know your strategy.
  • Is the engagement going to be a strategic or a long term engagement?
  • Knowledge of services on offer beyond what you have signed up – audit support, licensing advice.
A successful Managed Service requires:
  • Good in-house resource and preferably a skeleton SAM team.  You will be the escalation point and communication conduit between the MSO and your company.  Ideally in the IT camp and procurement camp
  • Understand what the MSO is going to deliver.   Sounds obvious!
  • Sound understanding of what you are trying to achieve

Final thoughts: if you don’t think you can manage SAM as an internal function then there is a high chance that you won’t be able to manage it if it’s being run by an MSO.

And this is really the final thought.  If you are outsourcing to reduce audit risk, then there are easier solutions – Speak at the events that Gartner offer, or ITAMOrg, or ITAM Review; or consult with Veracity Cubed/ SAM Charter/ ITAM Intelligence(or others) to right-size your SAM solution.

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