Network management centres may seem like the logical step to increase services revenue, but integrators and analysts warn of the planning and investment involved.
Philip Pickering, director of services at network integrator Memorex Telex, said a great deal of training and software was involved in setting up a network management centre environment.
Pickering said Memorex Telex has what it refers to as its NCC (network control centre). Operating for about 18 months, it now has 30 customers, and monitors 3000 service points across Australia and Southeast Asia for these organisations.
He believes the NCC has provided the company with the opportunity to provide a higher level of service to customers. "We are now stepping out of the traditional role of being a hardware technology provider and moving more into assisting customers with their business requirements on a day-to-day basis."
Pickering's advice to other integrators considering setting up a network management centre is to do the homework first. "There are a lot of traps for young players," he said. "It takes a lot of dedicated time, effort and investment to set a network management centre] up."
Barry Wilson, national business development manager at network integrator Getronics Australia, said it decided about two years ago to "spend a lot of money to enter this market and do it properly". He said the company had spent "millions" setting up its network management centre, and it was an ongoing investment.
"Being a network integrator we're looking at customers' networks in the design and planning phase and quite often we get a really good picture of the organisation's infrastructure," Wilson said.
He said the company had seen a lot of deficiencies due to the growth in size and complexity of its customer's networks over the years. Getronics saw this as an opportunity to provide monitoring and management.
"The evidence shows that during the night the networks are just as busy... but typically there is no one around to look after them . . . it can be quite detrimental to a business," Wilson said.
He said its customers were generally companies which had a large enough network to make tasks complex, or one which was business-critical. "They have looked to doing it themselves and realise it's too expensive - it's a cost-sharing thing."
Wilson said the concept of integrator network management centres have been around for some time. "Now customers are getting used to it."
Wilson's advice to other integrators is focus on its customer's business needs. "I guess the biggest lesson for them [other integrators] to take away would be to really understand what their [the customer's] problems are and solve those problems," Wilson said. He added that 24 x 7 and skills shortages are what the company has found to be lacking, which affects the customer. "What they [the customers]need to know is how are you going to take it [the pain] away and that's different for every customer - they all have different things that hurt."
Guy Jacobson, general manager of enterprise management services at IT services company Com Tech Communications, said it set up its network management centre three years ago.
Jacobson said the move had provided the company with an opportunity to increase its services revenue by "getting closer to our customers and building relationships with them".
"Traditionally we'd provided maintenance and had a reactive call centre . . . and it made sense for us to move into the proactive management."
Jacobson said its network management centre had grown enormously since then, and the systems being used in Australia had been chosen as a global standard for the network management centres around the world operated by Dimension Data Group, of which Com Tech is a part.
Jacobson believes a lot of integrators are jumping on the bandwagon setting up network management centres," . . . but don't realise the dedicated resources which come into play to offer 24 x 7."
"I think they've probably seen the successes of some of the established management centres, like ourselves, and probably think it's easy."
Merv Langby, market analyst at IDC, said there is a growth in demand for these centres now, but it has been "a long time coming".
He believes integrators need to face the requirements needed to set up a network management centre, such as staff skills, infrastructure and software. "They have to work on the obvious aspects of security, reliability and scalability.
"Those three requirements will become more important as their customers move further into the e-commerce business model."
"It's not as straightforward as some players may think," Langby said.
He said it involved significant investment and integrators needed to be sure they had it all "nailed down", particularly if aiming at the high end of the market.
"Any shortfall in performance is going to be very apparent and very hurtful."