Have a Strong Ecosystem of Partners
A typical IT environment has so many different parts that make up the whole and it's the combination of these parts working seamlessly together that make it successful. These many varied parts require different types of technology as well as resources. Gone generally are the days where a single person can manage all of the different components and parts, no matter how large an IT organization and environment to be managed and/or supported.
The most successful IT organizations that we tend to work with have a very competent internal staff and very strong ecosystem of partners. I know that might sound like a bit of a contradiction where one would think that the most well run and successful IT organizations would not have a need to reach outside of their own organization and require partners, but I would argue that the exact opposite is actually true. Let me explain.
Any good IT organization knows the limitations of its resources and people. The goods and the bads, if you will. They know what they can do well internally and when and for specifically what they need to reach outside. The goal of any IT organization is to deliver quality services to the business it supports through efficient technology, processes and services. By knowing what can be handled in house and knowing what needs to be addressed externally, an IT department can create a strategy that uses the best of the skills that they have in house and the best of external partners when they need. This is not a sign of weakness to have such a strategy. It's a strategic and tactical way to make sure the IT department is running efficiently. I believe is a competent way to run a successful IT environment.
So what functions and resources could or should utilize an outside ecosystem of partners? The answer, as you'd probably guess, is that it depends. It depends on the skills you have in house and the quality of them. If a skill set is required that is very high end and considered expensive, but you only need it occasionally (niche areas, escalated support, new versions, etc.) then it probably makes sense to use an outside firm when needed versus keeping that expensive talent and resource in house. I think that is something that no one would argue with.
We tend to see organizations (and highly recommend) having partners to provide higher level support (Level 3 and above) when needed. They might never use it, but at least that ability and access to resources and support is there when needed in times of crisis. And you want to have that mapped out well ahead of time, as you do not want to figure out how the get the support and help you need when major challenges happen. Trying to figure that out who can help in the midst of a major challenge or outage can be very difficult and create even more unnecessary stress and also shows not having forethought. But we’ve all been there to some degree. Knowing who you can go to in times of crisis and having that well defined ahead of time, is not just a smart strategy, it's critical.
When it comes to an ecosystem of partners, how many should you have? Again that does depend. It's all about filling in the gaps so that you have support and resources when needed. At the very least you should examine your key areas of services that are delivered to the business and do a gap analysis of your internal skills and where you might need (or choose) to go outside. In terms of quantity—from our experience—you want a small, but very well trusted set of partners to use. And ask your partners about all of the services that they provide. You might be surprised to learn that they provide a lot more value then you realize our had been using them for.
This is something that shouldn't be scattershot, as you want and need them to be an extension of your team when you need them. This is absolutely something where quality is absolutely needed over quantity and you must be able to lean on them and trust them implicitly. You must feel comfortable that when it all goes south (and all of us that have been in IT for a while know that it will) that they will be there for you.
I can't state it more plainly: An outside ecosystem of partners is critical to success within any IT environment or department. A good set of trusted partners will be there when you need them to help you through issues and challenges. The amount and degree of help is dependent upon many things but they must help you fill in the gaps that you have around skills and resources. And as I stated before it's not sign of weakness to admit that you might need help in filling in the gaps, it's strategic business decision to be deployed to ensure you can deliver the quality IT services that are needed to support the business as seamlessly as possible.
So invest in a good, trusted ecosystem of partners. Use them where and when needed. It will be one of the best investments you can make for your IT environment. It will give you piece of mind and help you sleep better at night. Because when issue arise—and they will—you'll be covered.