Discover Performance

HP Software's community for IT leaders // June 2014

The skills you need as an IT service broker

IT ops must integrate third-party services into its offerings. Terence Ngai, director of Cloud Solutions Delivery for HP, details the new business skills IT leaders will need.

The bottom line

What: IT leaders and their teams need to transform into “service brokers.”
Why: Because business leaders demand flexible, cost-effective services—with or without their own IT.
How: You need new skill sets, and new ways to relate to your BU’s and outside vendors.
More: Read about how to unveil the success factors to “Become a cloud service broker” in our hybrid cloud toolkit (reg. req’d).

We’ve heard the stories on “shadow IT,” and seen the evolution: what in-house IT won’t provide, business users will procure with a browser and a credit card. For IT to regain control of technology—and stay relevant to the enterprise—it has to become “a broker of services”—the trusted, one-stop shop for internal and third-party services.

“Of course, this speaks to the relevance of IT to the business,” HP cloud expert Terence Ngai says. “You become more relevant while maintaining control of the services in terms of security, quality, and cost.”

But how do you evolve from “I can build and troubleshoot that” to “I can source, validate, procure, package, and support all that”? It’s not just about understanding that cloud and SaaS technologies are transformative. It’s about IT operations leaders transforming skill sets—their team members’ and their own.

Discover Performance asked Ngai, director of Cloud Solutions Delivery for HP, to talk about the role of “service broker,” and the hiring and career-development challenges IT leaders will face as this new way of running IT becomes the only way of running IT.

Q: First off, what does a successful IT service broker look like?

Terence Ngai
Terence Ngai: I think the true service broker model lets you source services from multiple vendors with a single billing and a single point of accountability. The ideal scenario is that if I need some Amazon web services, Dropbox,, and some other applications, I can go to the company IT service catalog, click on the services I need, examine the pricing, and purchase all these services—and internal IT takes care of procurement, service delivery, and billing. I receive one monthly bill for everything that I’ve purchased, and all the services are delivered through my company’s network.

If I have problems with Dropbox or Amazon, guess who I’d like to call? Internal IT. I shouldn’t have to go call Dropbox or Amazon myself.

Q: Are there any successful examples of IT acting as a service broker?
Look at Amazon’s retail business today. They provide a place to order not only Amazon products, but third-party products, and you can buy multiple vendors’ products in a single order, with one bill instead of several.

It’s happening now in the cloud space. More and more companies are establishing this kind of “marketplace” where you can purchase different types of cloud services. It’s still in its infancy, in that it’s mostly just a catalog. When you need to buy storage from Dropbox, for example, you basically get redirected to those companies’ websites, and you have to pay a separate bill. There isn’t an integrative billing model yet. So the marketplace is heading that way, but it’s not mature enough today.

Q: What role does the service broker play within the enterprise?
Service brokers have four functions to play, in my opinion. The first is aggregation, meaning assembling multiple types of services, from multiple sources, that IT delivers as one integrated offering or integrated billing for the end users.

Second, there’s integration. There may be multiple services with individual components that need to be combined to become a higher-value service: one vendor’s marketing campaign services plus another vendor’s analytics services. I’m buying two services, but if IT can integrate them and make them work together, that will be even better.

The third function is monitoring and management, which includes security and making sure the required service level is delivered. The fourth function is governance related to the selection of vendors. Meaning which vendor I choose. If I need storage, should I go with Google, Dropbox, iCloud, etc.? The service broker could recommend the best fit to my requirements and cost preference.

Q: That’s a substantial change in operations for IT. How do you recommend that IT make this transition to being a service broker?
It’s a big change—a mentality shift as well as a shift in skill sets and processes. It has to be done in steps. It can’t be done overnight. In my opinion, there’s a maturity process that IT needs to go through. Organization structure, roles of the IT staff, tools and processes will all need to change because now you have to govern, you have to monitor, you have to integrate, you have to aggregate. The traditional IT functions are not directly transferable to the new paradigm.  

Traditional IT is about setting up a server or a network, and if it doesn’t work, troubleshoot the hardware. It’s very component-based, as opposed to service-based. It’s a very different way to think about IT. So you may need new roles in your IT organization. You may need an integrated billing administrator, which you never had before.

Q: What are the new skill sets IT needs?
As we talk about the four functions of an IT service broker, the people who are going to perform those functions need to have different skill sets. Your team needs people who can understand and gather requirements from the business units. They need to understand service levels, security requirements, pricing comparison, etc.

Once you have all that, you need the skills to source it. And you have to go to the providers to negotiate the best pricing.

Then you have to integrate each offering into your service catalog and your overall IT service delivery framework. You have to know how you’ll measure performance and value and how you’ll track usage. The vendor sends you a bill, and you need to allocate the costs, based on consumption, across the involved business units.

All of these things need to be thought through and then ultimately to have the right people with the right skill sets to implement it. The main thing is really about changing the mentality of IT from “I can build everything” to “I can build it or get it from someone else based on availability, pricing, and skill sets.”

For more on this complex IT transformation, check out our hybrid cloud toolkit's free white paper, which unveils the success factors in becoming a cloud broker (reg. req’d).

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