Magazine Article | June 1, 2003

Simple Rules For A Strong Network Out-tasking Relationship

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

In today's economy, retailers must take a more cost-sensitive approach if they expect to fatten profit margins and increase sales.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, June 2003

Many retailers consider outsourcing parts of their network (i.e. out-tasking). This frees up the time your IT staff spends on ensuring network availability to focus on projects and applications to achieve your business goals, without surrendering control of the network. But, no matter how obvious and compelling the benefits are, you must consider several issues before placing your network - the lifeline of your business - in someone else's hands.

Consider A Specialized Provider
You have two major choices: the big carriers or specialized managed service providers. The first step is to analyze your potential vendors. Make sure their expertise matches your business goals and their service meets your price point. The best providers will work with you to cement the SLA (service level agreement), audit and assess your network's capabilities, and provide a transition plan to guarantee uninterrupted service.

Specialized network service providers take a customer-centric approach by:

  • Demonstrating a unique understanding of your retail business systems and applications.
  • Offering the highest quality of service necessary for meeting and even exceeding SLAs.
  • Possessing the technical and consulting expertise necessary for ensuring positive business results.
  • Having the ability to customize and tailor each service offering in a strategic manner.
  • Leveraging your existing infrastructure to avoid costly and time-consuming "clean the closet" approaches.
  • Playing the "middle man" with the product manufacturers and carriers that make up network architectures.
  • Becoming your single point of contact and taking responsibility for problem resolution.
  • Forming strong business partnerships with other retail service providers, like credit clearinghouses.

What More To Consider?
Other considerations include:

  • Network Assessment: Providing companies with an operational, tactical and strategic view of their network environment. This allows for quality recommendations to ensure network availability, reduction of total cost of ownership, optimization of network assets for meeting business needs, and support of future growth.
  • Strategy and Design: To effectively strategize and design custom out-tasking solutions, vendor engineers must partner with retailers to develop an infrastructure based on the results of the network assessment. This allows chain retailers to design a global managed service model based on their strategic business goals.
  • Implementation: Once the network has been designed, the time and process to fully implement can be long and arduous. Look for a vendor that offers a rapid roll out option, allowing you to take advantage of your new investments as quickly as possible. Success is then assured through experience, careful planning and testing, strategic partnerships, and effective management and training.
  • Network Operations Support: Operations services that are closely integrated with global support services can ensure networks receive unparalleled support to attain optimum network availability and performance. Every hour spent chasing the misreported daily comparables from the previous night's batch transaction dial system is an hour not used to develop new applications, attract new customers, or retain existing ones.
  • Global Support: For service providers to form strategic partnerships with their enterprise customers, a technical support center with a single point of responsibility must be in place. Your help desk should be receiving a proactive call from your service provider telling you about the outage that has already been corrected, before the store manager knows of the outage. Other service options to look for are 24/7 call center and Web-based service, providing easy access to a comprehensive knowledge base, diagnostic tools, software and system fixes.

Before You Sign On The Dotted Line
Make sure you have an ironclad SLA. This should include:

  • A world class global Network Operations Center (NOC) that performs 24/7 network coverage and "no excuses" problem resolution.
  • Rapid response and resolution through toll-free technical assistance and on-site support.
  • Network visibility through a web portal for real-time trouble ticket status and monthly performance reports.
  • Periodic on-site reviews and recommendations based on the customer's historical network trends - knowing that you're paying for an underutilized circuit on a shuttered store could save you thousands of dollars.