Outsourcing building services is nothing new for owners and operators. However, one aspect that has long been managed in-house is the operation of the building’s IT network infrastructure. Because legacy networks had been highly customized to meet the unique needs of the building, these networks required dedicated staff to manage them.
Modern building networks, on the other hand, are far easier to design, install, and manage. In some situations, networks are reaching the point where third-party service providers can build and fully manage them on the owner’s behalf. Owners and operators now must choose whether maintaining the status quo of managing their network in-house makes sense versus outsourcing the management of their IT network as another in-building commodity. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each network management model and point out use cases where one option might be preferred.
Outsourcing an in-building network
In the past few years, local and nationwide managed service providers (MSPs) have begun offering customers the option not only to have a new network designed and installed within their properties, but also to fully manage network operations on their customer’s behalf. Typical contract lengths tend to range between one and five years. The MSP becomes responsible for the everyday maintenance of the network, including firmware updates, expansion projects, moves, adds, and changes and ensuring that the network is secure and performing optimally. In most situations, the MSP implements enterprise-grade network and security monitoring tools and dispatches technicians when on-site maintenance and troubleshooting are required.
The obvious benefit to the owner is that they can focus their internal staff resources on issues other than building network management and maintenance. It also does away with the need to acquire and keep technical networking staff—a challenge that grows more difficult by the day.
From an MSP standpoint, they have a better ability to acquire capable network operations (NetOps) staff and use their knowledge of how to best manage and secure the networks they design and build. “Leave it to the professionals!” is an increasing rallying cry for MSPs that seek to not only implement a network, but also form a relationship with property owners by way of a long-term network management agreement.
“Leave it to the professionals!” is an increasing rallying cry for MSPs that seek to not only implement a network, but also form a relationship with property owners by way of a long-term network management agreement.
Depending on the size of the network and the number of staff required to manage it, a potential for tremendous cost savings exists. Generally, the savings will be the difference between the annual service cost versus the cost of finding and paying in-house staff salaries and benefits. Additionally, for owners seeking comprehensive cyber security insurance for their properties, MSPs are beginning to seek insurance certifications that can lower the overall cost of cyber insurance policies.
Caveats to an outsourced network management model largely rest on the ability of the MSP to meet their contractual agreement obligations. While plenty of service providers claim to have the staff bandwidth, monitoring tools, and troubleshooting service level agreements (SLAs), the MSP could be overextending their abilities, resulting in customer networks that become neglected over time. Additionally, since most MSPs work remotely and must travel to a facility for on-site emergency troubleshooting, identifying and resolving network-related issues may take significantly more time.
Managing a building network using in-house staff
If a property owner already has qualified staff to manage their network, outsourcing may not make sense. Using internal teams can deliver better cohesion regarding a building’s upcoming network projects, including the merging of IT and operational technology (OT) networks into a unified infrastructure. OT management is a skill set that many MSPs currently do not possess.
Compared to an MSP, a local and dedicated network team will likely be faster at troubleshooting network performance and security issues. Depending on the physical location of the building and availability of qualified staff, maintaining an in-house network staff may also cost less than outsourcing. Thus, IT managers must perform a cost-benefit analysis to compare an in-house versus an outsourced managed service. Because managed networks are still a new concept, availability may be limited in certain areas.
Outsourcing vs. in-house: it depends on the situation
Arguments can be made for both the in-house and outsourced network management models. For building operators that struggle to keep competent network staff—and have a reliable MSP they can count on—a third-party support model makes sense from an operational and cost perspective. On the other hand, the potential for undue risk arises if the MSP fails to deliver on its management and troubleshooting agreement. That’s why finding a reputable MSP that can work closely with building operators and meet its agreed-upon SLA is critical.
Building owners and operators also need to confirm whether the MSP has a sound understanding of how to manage a network for both IT and OT purposes. If a property has complex OT systems to manage, keeping network management in-house may make more sense. That said, in these times, both management models are likely viable options.