It may be time to finally face reality. If your company is an industry leader at what it provides to the market, can it also be an expert at implementing and maintaining IT initiatives? More importantly, is the day-to-day operation of IT strategic to your company's value to its customers or is it an enabler of what you do?

If the answer is 'no', then there are alternatives to bearing the brunt of new technologies in support of business process management (BPM). John Diamond, principal solutions architect, Entuity reports.

While technology is certainly an enabler of any BPM initiative today, the cost of implementing technology is not just in buying the software or hardware. There are also deployment and ramp up costs, infrastructure costs, and training for key personnel. Therefore managed IT services are an increasingly attractive means for enterprises.

With the ever changing landscape of new technologies, IT departments today are faced with keeping their infrastructures operating optimally while at the same time being charged with implementing BPM strategies to keep their company competitive. But is outsourcing IT services truly a viable way to strengthen BPM activities?

How can an enterprise interested in implementing BPM processes identify potential services to outsource and what can they expect or, better yet, demand from managed service providers (MSPs)? What should enterprises look for when evaluating MSPs who will ultimately be responsible for the management of their IT services?

With a simple extension to the traditional BPM process, BPM practitioners can identify the underlying services in their processes and differentiate strategic from supporting services. Those not of critical importance to the value or brand of the company can be outsourced to service providers, leaving the company more time and resources to focus on separating its product from the competition.

Once supporting services are identified, understanding the lifecycle process of a service and the critical requirements at each step can help make selecting the best MSP an easy and straightforward process.

Finding services in your business processes that can be outsourced to MSPs may seem counter intuitive, even for those seasoned in the process of BPM. The traditional steps of design, implement, operate, optimise and analyse don't necessarily lend themselves to the notion of services.

However, if you ask yourself what are the fundamental or enabling activities, tasks, or technologies at work in each one of those steps, you will begin to see where individual and separable services exist in the process.

Each closed loop business process that you are trying to manage and improve will encompass several steps - each with their underlying or enabling services. Some of these services will be strategic to your company - those that differentiate your product or service and add to its unique value proposition.

All others are supporting services and are not strategically important to the end value of the product. Funding an outside MSP for these supporting services could provide a sizable benefit operationally or financially.

The other categories to consider when identifying potential services to outsource are those that are highly specialised or require a high level of expertise for short periods of time. Many MSPs can deploy the appropriate subject matter experts for each phase of an IT initiative as needed - keeping implementations on time and within budget.

While the ultimate selection of an MSP will be highly subjective, there are guidelines that can help in your selection process. First, it is key to recognise that implementing and delivering a service is not a single event. Just as there are steps in the overall BPM process, there are steps in the service delivery lifecycle. Provisioning and delivering new services in support of BPM initiatives includes plan, deploy, operate, improve, and end of life steps.

Whether your business process calls for a new converged network for VoIP or a new data warehousing solution for your CRM system, the first step in deploying that new service is the planning phase. It's important to get a full understanding of where you are starting from. What do you currently have to work with? And what other business services might be sharing the same resources?

The concern is to adequately assess the infrastructure, to determine what you will inherit and form a cost-effective plan to move forward. The MSP should be able to provide you with details of the start-up time, costs and resources required, advise you on realistic expectations of service levels and, of course, pricing.

With a well-developed plan firmly in hand, the deployment phase takes the service from concept to reality. A suitable MSP will be able to provision the hardware, software and processes - configuring and putting them under management.

The roll out should be phased, to ensure the infrastructure is sufficient, and that an acceptable level of service can be delivered without impacting existing services. During this phase, documentation is key. An MSP, that can provide real-time and historical reports of service performance, as well as trending reports to show how the service will scale as it is moved into production, is critical.

Where the previous phase was about establishing confidence in the new service, the operate phase is about ensuring - and proving - the customer is getting their money's worth. A good MSP will communicate as often as required so the customer remains confident in the service levels being received, and that the MSP is earning their keep.

Any MSP worth considering will be able to deliver a range of reports, but the more advanced providers will utilise web-based reporting portals or dashboards to help customers pull the precise data that they need, when they need it.

The improve phase is an extension of the operate phase, but is more concerned with forward-looking projections. It is less about day-to-day operation and more about forecasting trends to improve your business process and certainly prevent degradation before adversely impacting business profitability. Key things to look for from an MSP are the ability to provide historical and trending data about the operation of your service.

Although there is an old saying that 'all good things must come to an end,' in terms of BPM, the end of life phase is merely the beginning of a new and improved way of conducting business.

When it is time to move along, you should be able to do it fast with minimal negative impact on your business. An MSP that can accurately assess the decommissioning of hardware and services - mapping their utilisation to impacted users and groups - will enable you to make better business decisions in the planning phase of the next BPM cycle.

After scrutinising and quantifying your BPM steps into services, you can easily identify what services will be appropriate to outsource. A broad range of business services - and service providers - are available in today's markets to cost-effectively handle non-strategic services freeing you to concentrate your BPM initiatives on differentiating your company.

You will also be able to evaluate the strengths of an MSP that clearly fit with your outsourcing needs. Choosing the right MSP delivers an expert business partner that will aid in your ability to assess new technologies, reduce your operational costs and improve your profitability.

A knowledgeable MSP will become an extension of your IT department. If you can rely on their continued communication and analytics, then you will be well on your way to successfully achieving even the most complex IT initiatives.