The Managed Services Choice

Agencies look to outsource temporary needs, fill gaps

To beef up authentication of network users, a Defense Department agency recently hired a managed services company to oversee its identity access management program: authenticating users, managing digital identities, authorizing access to resources and fully integrating all identity services and dashboards. The company also updates, secures, monitors and manages those assets, continuously.

The arrangement is hardly rare in the federal sector, where agencies increasingly are turning to managed services firms to bridge resource gaps and perform critical functions. Yet security-related services are just one type of managed service agencies are using, among them moving cloud infrastructure or software to the cloud, managing enterprise mobility, upgrading and managing networking and infrastructure on site, and managing communications platforms.

A recent report by CompTIA, an IT industry trade association, found that 64 percent of organizations use some form of managed services, a number projected to grow over the next several years. Those organizations are choosing managed services to gain better security and uptime, cost savings over in-house IT, peace of mind and time for internal staff to perform more strategic work.

Filling the gaps

Like most federal agencies and departments, the Defense agency that contracted with a managed services firm couldn’t easily monitor and manage its system on a continual basis. The IT skills shortage – especially in the cyber arena – is a contributing factor. The Office of Management and Budget acknowledged in a recent report that the skills shortage could hinder agencies’ attempts to combat cyber threats.

"We're never – certainly in government and also in industry – going to be able to get the workforce we need … to defend all of these different systems," said acting Federal CIO Grant Schneider at a cybersecurity conference in December.

Dedicating federal employees to specific services also doesn’t always make good economic sense. Sometimes, employees simply don’t have the time to take on extra responsibilities, and the cost of training can be prohibitive.

“While most agencies require the expertise, they usually don’t require it 100 percent of the time,” says Jim Smid, chief technology officer of Iron Bow Technologies, an IT company. “If they only need 15 or 20 percent of an employee’s time, it often makes more sense to outsource the work to a specialist rather than training an employee who already has full-time responsibilities in something they don’t know.”

Customization and expertise are two more reasons why more agencies are turning to managed services. Through this model, agencies can be sure they are getting IT professionals trained and experienced in their specific technology requirements. A good managed services provider also can customize any solution to meet an agency’s needs, such as integration with legacy systems.

It often makes sense for agencies to turn to managed services for temporary needs, such as migrating software or infrastructure to the cloud, that require developing strategy, migrating workloads and optimizing operations. Some agencies choose to retain the managed services approach for cloud services over time, leveraging experts for support, monitoring and maintenance.

“It’s important to keep track of the analytics … to determine what workloads should run in certain clouds,” Smid says. “It can make a big difference in terms of efficiency and cost.”