Managing human resources is key to lowering cost of running networks

If you’re confused about which technologies to build your networks upon, you’re certainly not alone. Network technologies and their economics are changing so rapidly it’s difficult for most people to stay current, let alone implement and manage them. Most networks built within the last few years are homogenous, constructed around a technology such as frame relay or ATM. The proliferation of lower-cost access services such as DSL, cable modems, Web-based application suites and virtual workforces are changing that paradigm.

Selection of network technology should be driven by your organization’s ability to understand the economics and integrate management of the technology. However, the cost of a network is not simply a matter of what you pay your service provider, but the overall cost of ownership. Managing any networking technology entails measurement and management of several key factors, such as network services, equipment, software, maintenance, security and people. While equipment and facilities are easily quantified, the human resource cost is not and can represent a significant portion of your total cost of ownership.

Don’t underestimate the amount of time and effort required to design, procure, integrate, install and manage network technologies. Integrating these new technologies into your network may reduce your monthly outlay for services, but what is the cost of integrating and managing them over time? You may be surprised to find that retaining a well-trained staff proficient in integrating and managing this new hybrid environment is more costly than deploying it. In the long run, effectively managing your human resource costs is the key to lowering your total cost of ownership.

If you plot your resource needs as a function of time and skill set, you’ll find that certain periods of the network life cycle require raw head count, and certain periods require specific skills. You’ll need more people to deploy the network than to manage it once it’s installed. You’ll need expertise to negotiate new services or equipment procurement contracts, but that’s required only once every few years.

These are two specific areas that make sense to out-task to firms that specialize in these types of activities. In this way, you leverage resources that execute these activities continuously, with a plethora of experiences to draw upon. You also benefit by having your staff exposed to expertise throughout the process, making them better equipped to manage issues as they arise.

In contrast, trying to maintain these resources in-house limits the experience base and increases resource cost.

If we apply the same out-task model to ongoing network management, leveraging expertise makes sense. As a network manager, I never felt compelled to learn from my own mistakes when I could learn from someone else’s. There are now several network management firms that can successfully integrate once-homogenous networks with new technologies. I’m not referring to the traditional outsourcing vendors that assume your entire network and staff in huge multimillion-dollar deals.

What I am advocating is the out-tasking of the daily break-fix, moves/adds/changes and surveillance activities required in every networking environment. By leveraging their expertise with the integration and management of these hybrid environments, you can effectively manage your resource costs and focus a smaller in-house staff on business-critical issues.

The one thing you shouldn’t out-task is how your business applies network technologies to meet your business goals. Answering these strategic questions and effectively managing your vendors to specific, measurable metrics is where you should focus your internal resources.

The deployment of network technology is not just about the technology. Like anything else, it must be managed properly in the context of your business goals and objectives. Sometimes the best way to meet your goals is not to deploy technology. Why deploy millions of dollars of new technology to attain a cost reduction when you could achieve the same result by renegotiating your service provider contract?

Accordingly, trying to maintain a complete, well-trained and experienced telecom staff in-house is no longer viable. By carefully assembling a team comprised of internal and external resources with a broad skill and experience base, you can significantly improve your ability to successfully manage technologies and provide maximum benefit to your organization.

Brophy is president of NetPlus, a network consultancy in Parsippany, N.J. He can be reached at