Managed IT services can take away some IT headaches for a set monthly fee. But some operations may be too important for a company to give up. How can you decide which IT services to hand over to a third party?

The first step is to look at the benefits.

Using a managed services provider can lighten the load for overstretched IT departments. It can lower costs by shifting capital to operational expenditure. And it can make an IT team more agile.

More companies than ever before are realizing these benefits.

In its State of Managed Services 2016 report, the Technology Services Industry Association revealed that managed services represented nearly a quarter of the revenue that members had made selling tech services, up from 6 percent the year prior.

Offloading at least some IT services will be necessary for many companies in 2017, according to CenturyLink’s Scott Brindamour. He leads CenturyLink’s architect team for advanced technology solutions, which focuses on building complex, multi-product hosting, networking and cloud solutions for global customers.

Because digital transformation is the norm, mastering every possible technology that could be offered to users isn’t an option for most companies, he said.

“Most clients are at the stage where they can’t be an expert in everything,” he said. “They’re trying to focus on what matters to their business and their customers.”

What To Outsource

Typically, companies consider outsourcing services that don’t differentiate them from the competition, Brindamour said. He highlights email as an example.

“Email could be hugely impacting and mission critical, but nobody wants to spend any money on it,” he said. “Can third parties keep it working? They can.”

There are caveats, however. Much depends on the sector in which the company operates. A company in a heavily regulated sector may be inclined to keep full-time technicians in-house to build up a sophisticated cybersecurity capability, rather than trust that function to a managed security provider.

Maturity is a big consideration for IT departments that are trying to identify services to hand off to a third party. Ideally, IT teams will have a certain level of competency with an internal function before handing it off. This will make a smooth transition more likely and enable the company to know whether the provider is doing a good job.

Companies might consider themselves mature in a service offering if the details are well documented and easily explainable to a third party.

Understand Your Endgame

Some companies may want to innovate, deciding to hand off mundane services to free up staff time. Others may not have the expertise to engage the business and introduce fresh thinking to the C-suite. They may prefer to outsource the strategic part of their function and keep traditional services in-house.

IT departments may have to alter their relationship with the business to stay relevant. Increasingly, IT is moving from an operator of technology services to one that enables them. IT departments can become brokers of services that are provided by third parties.

“We’re seeing that a lot,” Brindamour said. “They may not be providing all the services themselves, but they’re being the broker to find them and ensure that they have the necessary security and governance.”

IT departments can marry this clearing house model with in-house expertise that can help business managers develop new services, he adds. A business department may work with IT to create a new product and perfect it. When that service is mature and well-understood, it can be offloaded to a managed service provider, assuming one exists to serve that particular need.

To fully take advantage of the available managed services options, an IT department must become adept at managing relationships, not only with external providers, but also with internal users, who are increasingly being seen as customers. To avoid the specter of shadow IT and the loss of control, the CIO must reinvent the IT department as an enabling force in the company, which uses a combination of its own expertise and third-party capabilities to satisfy the needs of the business.

Take advantage of a free hour of consulting with a CenturyLink expert to discuss how managed services can help you drive your business forward.

Article originally posted on CenturyLink ForbesVoiceDanny Bradbury has been a technology journalist since 1989, covering subjects from software development to security. He has written for the National Post, The Guardian newspaper and the Financial Times.

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