Incoming: Make Sure 'As-A-Service' Initiatives Don't End Up 'As You Were'

June 1, 2020
By Maj. Gen. Jennifer Napper, USA (Ret.)

As the world becomes more complicated, everyone strives to find ways to simplify it. The retail industry’s big box chains demonstrate this by allowing customers to avoid going to multiple stores, while mail-order clothing services allow you to “try before you buy” in the comfort of your own home.

In the information technology (IT) industry, this streamlining takes the form of buying Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS). Using cloud-based tools and technologies not only assures users access from anywhere and on any device, but it also allows agencies to use fewer IT staff and procure pay-as-you-go, consumption-based services.

However, buyers and sellers of XaaS can have very different ideas about service offerings. Providers generally optimize business models to supply platforms—which include hardware and software together—but government buyers may only need end-user devices and network infrastructure. In these cases, buyers typically must deploy their own custom software but still want the other benefits that come with XaaS. So the question is, how can buyers avoid the situation of having procured new services with nothing changing?

The different opinions about how to approach the XaaS model are an indicator of the range of situations and environments found in federal agencies and military commands. Back-and-forth negotiations allow providers to work toward offering the appropriate level of service, and buyers gain a comfort level in knowing they are not consuming more or less than they need. This discovery process leads to a critical, mutual understanding of a service, which allows for maximum cost savings and efficiencies.

Discussion about service levels also must include requirements, roles and responsibilities for governance. What documentation or design plans must agencies have to ensure the reliability of the service? How many layers of security are included, and what are the options to add more? Who owns responsibility for compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)?

With all these questions on the table, how should organizations approach the as-a-service concept so it works for everyone?

Any definition of service starts with awareness that some control must be handed over to the provider. How much control—and over what—depends on what the customer needs. For example, if an agency requires the availability of a particular application or capability for a certain group in a specific location, it’s best to focus on that instead of the number of server racks or labor hours it would take to accomplish the task. Providers are there to handle the details of load-balancing, storage and other functions concerning how the service gets delivered.

Also, processes affect how service delivery is measured. This is another area that customers and providers need to discuss before implementation. On a help desk, for example, what is the process for problem resolution and escalation? Does it need to be tailored for the customer’s environment? Are the service levels appropriate for the number of calls expected?

A process discussion usually kicks off the realization that delivering information technology as a service—whether it’s for infrastructure, software or platform—requires strong communication to end users. People absorb information in different ways, so a successful rollout depends on a dedicated, multilayered communications effort. Users are less interested in the cost savings or other enterprise-wide benefits; they want to know what the changes are, when to expect them, what the initial disruption is, what specific steps they need to take and how this change improves their everyday performance.

Well-crafted emails, imagery, how-to videos, FAQs, presentations and step-by-step instructions will solidify users’ understanding of what to expect from a service and how to make the best use of it. For example, if help desk priorities are focused on service restoration, users may get less personalized service. In this case they can take advantage of provider-delivered, self-help tutorials instead.

Frequent outreach highlighting specific examples and benefits reinforces the understanding of a service, increases its acceptance and encourages users to make it a best practice.

Maj. Gen. Jennifer Napper, USA (Ret.), is a vice president in Perspecta Inc.’s defense group. She previously served as director of cybersecurity plans and policy for the U.S. Department of Defense Cyber Command, and she led the U.S. Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM). 

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