When we started to do IT outsourcing, we have acquired customers with various technologies (Vmware, Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer, MS Windows, Linux, AVG, ESET, Avast, WatchGuard, ZyWall, Cisco, HP, IBM, Lenovo, Dell …). The environment was very complicated, a lot of exceptions, incompatibilities, a lot of documentation, an overwhelming amount of knowledge that was necessary to possess … All this led to average services, longer delivery times, unnecessary downtime, an inefficient technology learning curve that only one customer uses. It was a hell I no longer want to experience.
Previously, I thought that companies that force the customer into a particular technology were expertly lagging or just selling what they were making the most out of. Now, I know how much I was wrong (oh the naive beginnings).
In the end, we have limited the number of technologies and selected one representative from each category. Now we work with Hyper-V virtualization, ESET antivirus, Dell servers, HPE switches, FortiGate routers… We have also created “best practices” for the technologies used. We have unified technology settings and standardized company processes. Thus, we can provide services that customers are happy with and with reasonable costs.
The main reason for standardization and limitation of technology? It is impossible to know in detail (let alone) all available technologies. Every single one of them has a lot of settings, different limits and their mysterious failures. However, a limited number of technologies can be learnt perfectly.
Customer benefits of standardization
- More reliable network: because we know where to reach and what to set up. We’re no longer experimenting with the settings, but we’re certain. We know what the technology likes and doesn´t. We avoid complications. If something goes wrong, we know why and how to remove it.
- More functionality: We know what technology can do and where are its limits. We can offer solutions on how to solve any request or wish immediately.
- Cheaper administration: By not having to experiment with the settings and the network running without interruption, it does not take much time to manage – that is, nor the customer´s money
Benefits of standardization for service providers (us)
- Faster colleague coaching: new colleagues do not have to learn a lot of technologies, rather just a few. That’s how we can teach them faster and better. The customer is always in the hands of capable technicians.
- Faster deployment of new technologies: when we come up with new technology (such as automatic detection of foreign machines on the network, security checks for servers and stations), it’s enough to set it up on a “development network” that is the same as the customers. We can deploy it to our customers immediately afterward and we are sure that everything will work. We do not need to match it to a myriad of HW and SW variants and to program lots of exceptions (which would only bring other errors).
- Customers are more satisfied: it all works (because it’s set up correctly). If something goes wrong or needs to be reset, we can do it quickly (because we know how). In addition, the colleagues whom the customer calls are nice and professional (because they do not have to learn “one million” technologies, so they are relaxed, and know the selected technologies in depth).
Standardization is a prerequisite for prevention
When a customer encounters a problem, we will fix it. At the same time, we try to figure out how to prevent the problem. Once we find the right “prevention” (setting), we can extend it to all of the customers within 15 minutes. Doing such a thing manually would take “ages”, and thanks to a human error, there could also be outages that would restrict users.
We have launched protection against WannaCry and the like, removing an unintentional keylogger from HP audio drivers, calling out file extensions on all Windows, banning dangerous services on Windows, removing Silverlight, turning off SMBv1, LM, and NTLMv1 in such way.
Standardization brings new possibilities
By using the same security routers for customers, we could invest in the purchase of FortiAnalyzer. It’s a relatively expensive device (350k+) that greatly contributes to network security, but because of the price, it is unprofitable for most customers. But we bought it for all of the customers and shared it equally. We have made our large-business security technology available to all of our customers (even the small ones).
Limiting the number of technologies u0sed to a minimum (one from each category – virtualization, mail server, antivirus, antispam …) has had a crucial impact. Without that, we could no longer do the networking. We have achieved: a more reliable IT environment, shorter downtime, faster training of new colleagues, deeper knowledge of the used technologies, higher income, more leisure time, but mainly greater customer satisfaction and rejoicing from work.
And one final conclusion. The customer does not care if you use XY or YZ technology. The customer is about the network (servers, computers …) working fast, without failures and allowing everything that needs to to work.