Providing managed services through operations center is key
Brian Gorman, vice president of MIS at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, based at the Meadowlands Complex in East Rutherford, got more than he bargained for when he hired Computer Network Solutions three years ago.
Back then, Gorman put out a bid for a company to provide consulting services, break-fix support, network infrastructure and LAN maintenance. The Authority's IT infrastructure,which includes ERP, a full suite of SAP applications, Cisco Systems gear and server farms,was growing too big and complex for Gorman's staff of six. Out of 12 solution providers, Gorman chose CNS, Plainview, N.Y., based on the company's superior and cost-effective products, Gorman said. "Our staff is small but talented. We needed someone to augment our resources," he said. "It doesn't pay for us to have someone who's specifically Cisco-certified."
>> FOCUS: Professional services, remote managed services
>> ANNUAL REVENUE: Private company, did not disclose revenue
>> PROBLEM and SOLUTION: The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority needed to streamline its IT infrastructure; CNS augmented the MIS department with on-site and remote services
>> PRODUCTS and SERVICES USED: CNS' NOC (with Compaq-Cisco backbone), CA's Unicenter TNG, Black Ice intrusion-detection software, Windows NT 2000 and Linux platform.
>> LESSONS LEARNED:
> Consider customer needs carefully when building a services portfolio.
> Offer proactive managed services, not just a breakdown-alert system.
> Make it your goal to achieve well-planned, calculated growth.
That still holds true today. But Gorman and other companies using CNS' traditional solutions received an extra boost in services when CNS began providing managed services through a network operations center (NOC) about 18 months ago. CNS now monitors much of the Authority's network and is authorized to remotely repair certain network components that crash.
The arrangement "works very well," Gorman said. But the return on investment provided by the NOC services is difficult to quantify because the Authority's back-end system doesn't generate revenue. "That's not the type of business we are," Gorman said. "It's not translatable to dollars; it's translatable to the success of the organization. Everything needs to be functioning in this organization for us to be successful. The IT department supported by CNS helps contribute to that success."
Other businesses feel the same way. CNS has grown its managed services business slowly, adding 14 clients over the past 18 months. The growth was calculated, as CNS crafted its service offerings and built out a system that would handle a large client base. The system and company are now ready to handle growing demand from many of CNS' 700 managed services customers.
"Our goal was to have every client as a referable client," said Jerry Cogen, executive vice president at CNS. "We didn't want to take on too much, but we also didn't want to be so slow that we would miss some big opportunities. We're now ready to make an assault on the marketplace."
About two years ago, CNS made a multimillion-dollar investment in building its NOC, based on Computer Associates International's Unicenter TNG network monitoring platform, on the gamble that more companies would prefer to outsource IT department jobs such as basic network monitoring and overall network health checks. "Companies are tightening their purse strings," said Al Cook, president of CNS. "They need to have the people they can afford to keep focused on their core competencies."
Cogen and Cook now expect that gamble to pay off. More customers are beginning to understand the concept of remote management and have increased their demand for services over the past six months. Security issues have helped drive that demand. "MIS departments are running around doing so many different things, so it's easy for them to slip," Cook said. "But when something slips, it costs big dollars for them to clean it up. We can be their eyes and ears to help them prevent those problems."
CNS is now generating incremental income by providing clients with monitoring reports for service-level agreements; capacity planning consulting, which can lead to the sale of additional hardware, software, bandwidth and professional services; asset management; and software usage and license monitoring.
"The idea was to move past the point where the only reason for monitoring the network was to tell the client when something broke. That doesn't give value; it doesn't make them want to renew their contract," Cogen said. "We want to be a strategic partner with the company. We want to show the client the value of tactical and strategic issues and to help them focus on where they want to be as a business."