Paula Vickers, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Director of Computing and Communications Systems Service at Middlesex University, discusses the pros and cons of outsourcing. 

At Middlesex we have embraced the selective outsourcing of IT systems, services and infrastructure as a way of meeting the increasing demand for functionality and availability, as staff and financial resources decline.

Selectively outsourcing various functions and services enables staff to be released to work on new developments rather than on more mundane, routine business, which do not require deep business knowledge for their success.

Outsourcing contracts we have established include:

  • network management for halls of residence
  • desktop managed services (image, installation to desk, maintenance, disposal)
  • first-line IT helpdesk
  • data centre and server managed services
  • applications as a service (Moodle, income management, video storage and portal, website)
  • third-line telephony support

The move to selective outsourcing has not been without issues but the benefits have made the effort worth it.

Many staff who were initially reluctant to see work out-tasked now realise the benefits and work with our suppliers to identify new tasks that could be included for outsourcing.  We have also seen suppliers improve their managed service offerings and lower their pricing to make adoption of these services easier and even more cost-effective.

In undertaking this work we have learnt:

  • the importance of both supplier and internal staff teams adopting ITIL service management processes
  • releasing internal staff to work with suppliers and backfilling staff roles with more junior internal staff helps to develop staff competence and drives positive changes in internal culture
  • supplier staff dedicated full time to our contracts are eligible under TUPE legislation to move to any new contract, not just internal staff
  • establishing a comprehensive statement of work to accompany any complex contract is essential.

We want to build on this experience – as in the retender of our data centre and server managed-service contract, where we are incorporating the latest best practice in Data Centre and Server Managed Services into the new tender document. This will allow us to move away from a hardware ownership model to one in which we:

  • call off elements of infrastructure, entire servers or add/remove cpu, memory, storage and network bandwidth as required using cloud-based technology, to enable a faster and more flexible response to changing demand, using orchestration and provisioning tools
  • call off test and development environments as required
  • establish geo-resilience and disaster recovery systems for our data centre environment to ensure the availability of systems in the event of a disaster
  • are able to access monitoring tools for: capacity, usage, SIEM and show back management
  • devolve to the supplier backup management and OS and Hypervisor patching
  • benefit from 24/7 monitoring of system and response to incidents and problems
  • retain control of application deployment and management as well as network and firewall configurations