Alliances, the mark of progressive IT managed services

Despite an obvious lack of skills within the ICT managed services and outsourcing space – and an environment that is defined by constant change, the reality of the market today is that partnership with a reputable, capable and informed Managed Services Provider (MSP) is essential so as to allow business to take advantage of the unique opportunities presented by the rapidly changing technological landscape.

Those who focus their attention on this competitive area of the ICT sector believe the managed services segment is in a healthy state and are drawn to, amongst others, the largely untapped network security and Software as a Service (SaaS) spheres.

André Fourie, Operations Manager at Network Alliance, says this buoyancy in the market is fuelled by a desire by companies to capitalise on the benefits of outsourcing and managed services in general. “By partnering with a credible and experienced Managed Services Provider a company is able to focus on their core business in the knowledge that the execution of their ICT strategy and the management & support of their network infrastructure, communication facilities and data centre is in the hands of a reliable and knowledgeable partner with a proven track record of demonstrated delivery.”

“By appointing and working with an MSP who offers end-to-end management of virtually all elements of the network infrastructure, companies are able to leverage off the significant investments in systems, technology and people made by MSP’s, all of which are extensively utilised to pro-actively monitor network health, optimise infrastructure utilisation and ensure system and application availability. A stable and reliable network is conducive to a more productive environment, thus allowing decision makers to focus their energy on their core business,” Fourie continues.

Other advantages to those investing in the Managed Services Provider model are increased efficiencies brought about by the consolidation of disparate systems and technologies, a comprehensive value proposition as well as extensive experience and expertise.

Fourie also points out the fact that service providers make provision for uninterrupted service delivery in their resource and costing models, which, together with the extensive utilisation of IT automation frameworks, pave the way for comprehensive, measurable managed services at competitive price-points.

The point that Network Alliance continues to make is that the emerging managed services market represents a significant move away from the legacy ‘break fix’ approach to infrastructure management. A more pro-active approach allows MSP’s to anticipate problems and identify and resolve the root cause of problems faster and more cost-effectively, which results in both direct and indirect benefits to businesses.

Outsourcing productivity

According to Fourie and executive leadership at Network Alliance, those MSPs with a clearly defined strategy that have invested in IT Automation frameworks or similar systems and with suitably-skilled and knowledgeable technical resources, have a clear opportunity to differentiate themselves from competitors. “By competitors, we refer specifically to those who still rely on outdated approaches, systems and technology,” Fourie adds.

While this differentiation adds value by helping to establish and maintain service standards within the industry, it also means companies have to be highly vigilant as far as choice of potential partners is concerned.

ICT services experts emphasise the importance of vetting any MSP prior to entering into a contract. The vetting process covers aspects like a proven track record, evidence of long-standing associations with multiple customers of varying sizes, and verification of the administrative, technical and system-driven capabilities.

“Once satisfied with the MSP’s capabilities, prospective customers should contact between three and five of the MSP’s customers in order to ascertain levels of satisfaction with the MSP’s service delivery. Specific emphasis should be placed on the execution of IT strategy, the measurable outcome of recent projects completed, compliance with Services Agreement and other criteria,” says Fourie.

Network Alliance’s point of view is that, when considering appointing an MSP, due diligence is worth its weight and will in most cases prevent disappointment and frustration. This trend will escalate in importance and influence going forward.

Network Alliance helps fuel the Office365 revolution

Network Alliance, an established national ICT service provider, in association with its partner Microsoft South Africa, recently hosted an interactive session focused on the application of Microsoft Office365 to boost business operation on 04 June at Microsoft South Africa in Bryanston, Johannesburg.

Network Alliance was named Drive Control Corporation (DCC) and Dell SA’s Largest Enterprise Reseller for 2014. The Company has initiated an active marketing campaign to help businesses identify the business-building benefits of the Microsoft Office365 offering.

In early June the Company hosted an information session themed Office365 Revolution to provide business leaders with insight from seasoned ICT professionals on how this technology can transform processes and procedures that make up the modern-styled business operation.

Event organisers were careful to underline the fact that Microsoft Office365 is a brand that represents the software giant’s public cloud service that consists of six products, three hosted and three traditional cloud offerings. Microsoft Office365 is designed to address the way IT is acquired and used.

The availability of Microsoft Office365 across multiple devices, social integration, security, server environments and features like information rights management were also identified.

Nick Keene, Cloud Sales Manager at Microsoft SA, presented the topic The New Frontier for your Business, an overview of what Office365 means for your Business.

Keene explained the ‘New Office’concept and how Microsoft SA is optimising technology to accommodate new devices and how Office is being made available for a range of devices, including iPad and Android.

“The idea behind this session was to ‘immerse’ our audience in the benefits of Office365, to identify how features and value added offerings can be used to enhance operations and unlock new revenue opportunities,” explains Raymond Wright, MD at Network Alliance.

“We believe we achieved the objectives we set out and provided insight into how businesses can leverage off Microsoft infrastructure to enhance operations and strengthen operations,” he said.

Wright believes that offerings like Microsoft Office365 address the business need for collaborative technology and for the ability to take on hybrid cloud models, to strengthen the server environment, to safeguard security and licensing and much more.

Network Alliance’s assurance of guaranteed remote help to clients

Network Alliance, an established national ICT service provider with a track record of almost two decades of proactive, value-add service to the market, has reinforced its client support services capability with the positioning of its Network Assurance support centre.

The Centre offers the market the benefit of always-available remote support as well as the expertise of on-site technical services.

Network Alliance, recently named Drive Control Corporation (DCC) and Dell SA’s Largest Enterprise Reseller for 2014, places a premium on reliable support to clients to help them manage their environments.

The Network Assurance Support Centre is equipped to provide clients with remote support and the benefit of onsite visits by skilled engineers. It is targeted primarily at companies that accommodate between 50 and 100 users.

The resource includes service, updates, backups, Internet Connectivity and other services that are needed to effectively operate a business. It houses a three-tier support system including 1st line support, advanced support and specialist support.

At present the resource manages 80 servers and these are proactively checked on a daily basis.

Raymond Wright, Managing Director at Network Alliance, explains that the Company established the Centre to provide a more agile service to clients, to apply the necessary level of support for high-tech issues as well as the necessary remote, off-site support for small-to-mid tier issues.

The Centre has the resources and manpower to resolve problems remotely, which is ultimately more cost effective and expedient for the client.

“From an end-user perspective, it is difficult when a client phones in with a problem like ‘the printer doesn’t want to work’. As such the reason for bi-weekly visits is to make sure everything on site is working fine. The majority of problems can be solved remotely and only ten percent of issues have to be solved on site. These are issues with hardware that usually requires someone on site to lend their services,” says Wright.

The resource is operated by experienced staff who are trained and MCSA (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator) certified in line with the Company’s status as a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner.

Network Alliance is open weekly from 8am to 5am and on standby after hours. At present, the smallest user/client being serviced has 5 users and the largest has 250. In total, the Centre looks after approximately 800 users.

Network Alliance identified as Largest Enterprise Reseller for 2014

Network Alliance, an established national ICT service provider with a track record of almost two decades of proactive, value-add services to the market, has been named by Drive Control Corporation (DCC) and Dell SA as the Largest Enterprise Reseller for the 2014 financial year.

The Award was presented to Network Alliance which has continued to demonstrate and deliver reliable infrastructure products, adding value through understanding of a constantly evolving network infrastructure environment specifically focused towards data centre servers.

Executive leadership at the Company says the growing relevance of private cloud deployments, along with the increasing need for security and connectivity solutions, as well as collaboration and data, is driving demand for managed ICT services and infrastructure.

The introduction of this game-changing technology impacts operations for all companies, particularly within the enterprise.

Company owners and decision makers are looking to invest in technology that enhances processes and procedures that help them to achieve the objectives of their businesses in accordance with their budget.

“Businesses are more mindful of issues like collaboration, the cloud in particular private and public, the Internet and how mobility can enhance business productivity and collaboration. These are strong forces that definitely do impact on ICT infrastructure procurement and acquisition to support the evolution of the corporate communications environment,” says Raymond Wright, MD at Network Alliance.

Wright described the Award from DCC and DELL SA as a “significant achievement” for Network Alliance and one that underlines its value within an ever-competitive market segment.

“We are very proud of this award… it confirms our service proposition and model is working,” Wright adds.

Network Alliance adds technical muscle to Sparta’s operation

The Sparta Group, a leading supplier of beef and beef products in the Free State province, has partnered with national ICT services provider Network Alliance to strengthen its ICT capability and reinforce its technical direction by combining expertise.

Network Alliance has a track record of near two decades of proactive, value-add service to the market – focusing specifically on small-to-medium businesses.

The Sparta Group is a family-owned and operated business that comprises a cattle feedlot, farming concern, abattoir and meat processing plant.

It employs 1200 people and is the Marquard district’s largest employer and one of the largest in the Province.

The Company has grown to be one of the larger feedlot operations in South Africa. At any given time, it has between 48 000 and 50 000 head of cattle on feed and between 10 000 and 27 000 calves on the farms.

The size of the operation is extensive and required that the Group’s IT infrastructure be stabilised in terms of systems and utilise the benefits of a long-term partnership to strengthen ICT capability and improve service delivery to customers.

Executive management at Sparta identified Network Alliance as a prospective partner based on its technical expertise, exposure to cutting-edge technology and the service provider’s experience in serving the SME space.

Angus Hedges from the Sparta Group’s IT Department, explained that Network Alliance brings an extra level of support outside of the organisation’s IT team and a fresh perspective in terms of ICT strategy.

“The synergy between our companies is there because I have found NWA alliance to be on top of their game. They have our needs at heart, are very willing to listen and share ideas. Their staff are competent, friendly and helpful. This makes a difference when dealing with them,” says Hedges.

Raymond Wright, MD at Network Alliance, says their client has a sizeable operation that requires steady, effective ICT infrastructure and that Network Alliance was a good fit for the Project, with the necessary experience and skills to add the stability required.

“We are proud of our association with- and service to the Sparta Group. This partnership will ensure significant value going forward,” Wright added.

Why mobile strategies do actually work

In order to seriously compete in today’s commercial environment decision makers have to put into practice a carefully refined mobile strategy. Any credible strategy will inevitably cover cloud-based service delivery, most notably Microsoft’s Office365, which is an example of ‘Software as Service’ (SaaS).

This is the view of technical experts at Network Alliance, an established national ICT service provider with a track record of almost two decades of proactive, value-add service to the market.

The company believes Microsoft’s Office365 represents a seismic shift in how businesses acquire, deploy and use software. The value of this technology to a mobile strategy is summarised in three key points:

• Microsoft’s data centres are secure, highly-resilient and provide guaranteed uptime backed-up by a money-back guarantee. This is especially important to SMMEs, who typically do not have the in-house resources, skills or expertise to address hardware or system failure, and simply cannot afford the cost associated with downtime and lost productivity.

• End-users are empowered to access email and other business critical data from virtually any device with an internet connection, as such data is housed in the cloud. In the event of hardware/system failure, or disruption to fixed-line infrastructure, mobile and other users can thus either work from home (telecommute) or from locations equipped with WiFi, thus negating the impact of such disruptions.

• An Office 365 Subscription reduces software licensing cost, as, depending on the type of Office 365 subscription, users are allowed to install up to five copies of Office 365 ProPlus per user on multiple devices. Thus, one subscription allows the deployment on desktop workstations, laptop computers, Surface tablets and the like, thus facilitating productivity regardless of a user’s location or the device used.

The solution offers clear advantages to the both the consumer and the business user says André Fourie, Operations Manager at Network Alliance.

“Specific advantages to the enterprise include lower cost of ownership and compliance with corporate governance guidelines because data is stored in secure, highly-resilient data centres with guaranteed uptime. This mitigates risk associated with data loss, loss of productivity and downtime,” says Fourie.

When considering the potential adoption of cloud computing, CTO’s, IT Directors and IT Managers have to pay attention to the extent to which they want to (or are forced to, in many instances) exercise control over their environments. Thus, it is prudent to consider a hybrid model that includes both on-premise infrastructure and SaaS elements, as well as the ability to further reduce cost by subscribing to different product suites per end-user role/ function.

Taking it to the Cloud

Network Alliance endorses the message that cloud computing is complementary to any mobile strategy today.

“Until a couple of years ago, the vast majority of corporate computer users typically used desktop workstations and/or laptop computers, which typically featured both Windows and the Office productivity suite. However, the release of the iPad in April 2010, coupled with the emergence of BYOD revolutionised the IT landscape by significantly changing both consumer and enterprise behaviour; smartphones and/or tablets replaced pc’s and the era of standardisation effectively ended when network administrators started allowing devices running iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7/8 to connect to corporate networks. Corporate enterprises and IT departments have had no choice but to adapt to the demands of its end-users and the market direction” Fourie continues.

The Company’s message to the market is that cloud computing exists because of the need to facilitate ‘anywhere access’, while businesses adopt mobile strategies in order take advantage of the benefits – cost and otherwise – of cloud computing.

“While a well-designed on-premise or hosted data centre can facilitate so-called ‘in-house mobility – think of VPN and/or RDP access, Outlook Anywhere, Outlook Web Access and a published instance of SharePoint – these all require a high-level of technical expertise to implement/maintain and can be expensive. Cloud computing is here to stay and will no doubt become more ubiquitous once ‘Platform as a Service’ (“PaaS) and ‘Infrastructure as a Services’ (“IaaS”) become more mature and are embraced by more and more enterprises. However, I envisage that many corporate enterprise will be loath to cede all control to cloud service providers, and will thus defer to a hybrid solution that encompasses both cloud and on-premise solution elements,” Fourie adds.

2014, the year for growth within the SME

If predictions by industry analysts prove accurate, 2014 is set to be a bumper year for the small-to-medium sized enterprise.

Executive management at Network Alliance, an established national ICT service provider, say the growing relevance of the cloud, along with the increasing need for security and connectivity solutions, is driving demand for managed ICT services and infrastructure.

This is particularly true for the rapidly developing SME space says Raymond Wright, MD at Network Alliance.

The Company has a track record of almost two decades of proactive, value-add service to the market, focusing specifically on small-to-medium businesses (the SMME environment).

Wright says despite the challenges that exist in the market today, there is an increase in take-up of technology to ensure businesses remain competitive and relevant.

“The lack of skills in the technology sector is still a concern and the reality is that all software and hardware procurement is directly linked to Rate of Exchange, which is continuously rising. However, we are encouraged by the increasing levels of technology adoption and application within the SME space… it reflects a fast-maturing marketplace,” says Wright.

He refers to the adoption of cloud, the introduction of faster internet connectivity and availability of fibre technology as indicators that businesses are keeping up with innovation and advances in technology.

Wright also emphasises the need for partnerships and the value that lies in industry alliances to support, uphold and strengthen service delivery.

Network Alliance is a Microsoft Certified Gold Partner in a number of competencies, including Gold Midmarket Solution Provider and Gold Volume Licensing, and also has Silver partnership status in Hosting, Management and Virtualisation, as well as Devices and Deployment.

“If trends continue to deepen and the rate of adoption escalates to the extent we envisage, there is every reason to believe this year will be a solid one, specifically within the small-to-medium segment,” says Wright.