Business conference organiser Richmond Events is one of a new breed of businesses that favours the cloud over conventional IT infrastructure.
The company hosts an increasing proportion of its IT infrastructure through cloud service providers. According to IT director Liam Quinn, the performance of cloud-based infrastructure is now at least as good as, and often superior to, on- premises IT systems.
But managing firstly a virtualised and secondly a cloud-based architecture demands a different set of skills and resources to those found in a small, in- house IT team. This has prompted Richmond Events to buy and manage a growing number of IT services through its main cloud IT provider, Star.
This approach was prompted by the need to use an intermediary that knows Richmond Events’ IT platforms, says Quinn. “We wanted an intermediary, or broker, that knows our system and understands it, and that comprehends what we do as a business,” he says.
“I want someone who can offer advice and enhance what we are already doing,” he says. “Consultants are fine for one-off projects with very specific deliverables. If what you want is, say, a new email platform, you can have someone come in and then leave the office with it all running smoothly.
“But the real world is not like that. Even an email platform is not a ring- fenced system –it has to link to an Access database or a corporate intranet, so it may need ongoing changes. Every time a consultant comes back, they have to re-learn your environment –and that costs money.”
Richmond Events does have its IT concentrated on a single, cloud-based environment; in some ways, this makes the intermediary or integrator’s task easier. “They can view everything we do and have a holistic view of the business,” Quinn says. “If they bring in a new service, they can ask us if it might solve a problem.”
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Even so, Quinn points out that there is a trade-off, from the IT director’s perspective, between using a service provider or broker that is large enough to offer economies of scale and to have specialist teams and resources, but which is also small enough to have a close relationship with its customers. “We want our broker to have lots of clients,” he says. “But to service those clients, it means that they must have distinct teams.”
When it comes to picking a company to act as a broker, customer references and recommendations are as important as formal accreditations, Quinn says. It is important, too, that the intermediary has a track record of delivering similar services for similar businesses, as well as offering a wide enough range of products to meet the IT department’s current and anticipated needs.
Although technical expertise, efficiency and response times are all important, Quinn says it is at least as crucial for the intermediary or broker to fit well with the customer’s business. A large system integrator or consultant might not be the right choice for an SME, he suggests.
“Always try to make sure that there is the right fit between your organisation and the organisation you are trying to do business with,” he says. “You never want to be the big fish in the small pond, but nor do you want to be the small fish in the big pond.
“You want an organisation that grows as you grow, and where you are important enough to them, for them to give you the service you require.”