By creating an intuitive service catalog with an eCommerce look and feel, you can take the complexities out of business services procurement and fulfillment. This leads to reduced time-to-deploy and ultimately a much higher level of customer satisfaction. Keeps the focus on the deliverables/outcomes rather than disparate elements in service fulfillment.
The Emergence of Services Brokerage
What should not come as a surprise to anyone is that Cloud-based IT services—and the managed services associated with them—have really caught on. Enterprises have made great strides toward shifting their OPEX models to consume Cloud-based applications, data, and managed services. The gains have been clearly articulated in article after article: more flexible short-term consumption on an as-needed basis, reduced CAPEX through not having to acquire the services and equipment in-house, accessibility anytime from anyplace, and the list goes on. Service providers actualize similar benefits, from reduced costs to provide their services to their end customers to more stable and predictable streams of revenue from those customers. Nobody on either side can complain about the shift to the Cloud.
Between these two poles, the provider and the consumer, exists a gray area of needs on both sides that must be addressed. Customers require quick accessibility to the entire catalog of potential business services available. Service providers must track the fulfillment of orders and automate as much of the fulfillment and provisioning process as possible to reduce costs. Stitching the two together is the job of aptly named Cloud brokerage services and platforms.
Cloud services is the act of serving in this middle capacity, helping to manage, govern, customize, and track Cloud services for both the service consumption side and the service provider. The service brokerage role is a trusted one (or at least should be!), just as the role of stock broker is, so the comparison is helpful to sketch out further.
As an investor, you place trust—and your hard-earned money—in the hands of an intermediary who is going to act on extensive knowledge, research, and competency to increase the value of your financial position. This better be a person or organization you can trust, because you could equally lose significantly! Similarly, service brokerage ensures that an Enterprise’s costly investment in their shift to Cloud IT services pays dividends at the core business level: reduced OPEX/CAPEX, improved quality of service, and increased productivity. It also ensures that the many services available through the provider are easy to procure and to track through the fulfillment process. The key to successful brokerage is delivering on that trust factor.
So what are the activities and deliverables of service brokerage? First and foremost, the service broker needs to provide that commonplace location tying the Enterprise consumer to one or more (or many) services and providers, otherwise known as the online market, portal, or catalog. In the same way that online retailers provide the single destination for both consumer and product vendor, the service broker aggregates the available services into an online shopping center for the Enterprise customers to peruse. The service broker, representing the service provider side, manages the shopping experience to make procurement as painless as possible.
More than that, though, the Cloud broker must attend to the post-purchase deliverables, providing a number of additional value-adds throughout the fulfillment process. The marketplace is not only a shopping destination and catalog but a means by which to easily capture provisioning and deployment data, of course only if implemented correctly. Also, tracking the fulfillment through the potentially numerous provisioning or orchestration workflows is a major concern of the Cloud broker. And all of this activity needs to be captured for reporting and auditing on both sides of the service transaction. As you can see, the Cloud broker touches every aspect of service ordering and delivery, from procurement to fulfillment and beyond. It’s no wonder, then, that Gartner views Cloud brokerage as a hugely important industry poised to undergo significant growth.
Details, Details, Details
Cloud services brokerage seems straightforward, and it can be—at least from the conceptual standpoint of providing a great experience for both sides and protecting the investments of both parties as well. Of course, as the wise old adage states, the devil is in the details. Most of the complicated moving parts reside with the service broker and its toolset, performing service aggregation, delivering a world-class catalog of services relevant to the Enterprise consumer, automating fulfillment and orchestration workflows, and overlaying all of this with functionality to provide complete transparency to stakeholders on both sides. We’re not talking about a single platform but potentially many different sub-platforms expertly unified to create a seamless experience and delivery mechanism across many different types of IT services and providers. Not everybody can take an investor’s dollar and multiply it tenfold or hundredfold, and not every technology, software, or service organization can cover this vast middle ground of service fulfillment end-to-end with such deep experience and competency. Fortunately, Cisco can and does focus on the return on investment.
The Importance of Usability
A key goal for the service broker is to create a shopping cart experience for Enterprise customers. With the complexities inherent in service procurement, provisioning, and delivery, usability is an all-important factor. Just as consumers want to add a product to an online cart with a single click, make a few more choices during checkout (billing, shipping, etc.), and quickly receive their orders, the Enterprise customer wants a highly usable and aesthetically pleasing service catalog that collects the minimum amount of data necessary to deliver on the service. An intuitive shopping cart experience absolutely underpins effective Cloud brokerage.
Again, usability is more than just an attractive front to meager offerings. Rather, it is taking into consideration the pain points of the Enterprise customer, aggregating the right services into easy-to-understand catalogs and orderable services, and factoring in the shortest path to order fulfillment (which means collecting only enough data during the shopping experience to fulfill). It is allowing for the process of walking the customer through the shopping-cart experience and the subsequent fulfillment workflow.
Process Tracking For Complete Transparency
Once an order for business or IT service(s) has been made, a complex series of actions swings into motion. These fulfillment workflows are service-dependent, meaning that depending on the business service ordered either something gets configured or provisioned, then shipped or delivered digitally, with associated billing, tracking, notifications, and other order-specific data flowing to the consumer and the service provider. Behind the highly usable storefront should reside a powerful workflow engine, provisioning and fulfillment layer, and set of reporting and auditing features.
Entities on both the Enterprise consumer side and the service provider side need to have up-to-the-minute information about all the steps in the service fulfillment workflow. This information includes but is not limited to the status of any given order (including necessary approvals in the workflow), any inhibiting or gating factors that may pause or delay service fulfillment, and the need for further data in order to completely fulfill the order. A clear window into the entire workflow is very important to maintain that trust and confidence in the broker—this is very similar to the ability of a consumer to track the exact whereabouts of a product order from an online vendor. Knowing where the order is and when to expect it (then delivering on that without delays) is key to the entire process.
Keeping A Paper Trail
Proper governance keeps stakeholders on both sides of the services transaction happy. Being able to restrict access to the service catalogs, order status, and provisioning and orchestration data only to those with an expressed need to know is vital for a service broker.
Every order, every action in the fulfillment workflow, every change request, and every notification to a stakeholder requires capturing the event with enough information to facilitate audits on either side. Knowing how the service order was fulfilled is as important as the order fulfillment itself. In a way, the platform that facilitates all this must in part contain a content management system capable of retaining all the information surrounding a service order. On-demand reporting and auditing actions must be supported for the benefit of both sides.
What To Look For In A Cloud Broker’s Service Portal and Platform
Cloud brokerage platforms are many and varied, but this article has been pointing to some of the key features to look for. Here are some of the most important qualities to inquire about:
- A well designed and laid out service catalog with clear and well documented service items.
- A shopping cart experience that allows for a minimal number of clicks and data entry in order to procure the IT or business service.
- A seamless integration that potentially aggregates multiple service providers’ offers into a single online marketplace.
- A powerful fulfillment workflow engine that tracks every step in the process and presents that information on demand.
- Proactive notifications for key activities and milestones such as approvals and exceptions.
- Content management capabilities to house data used to fulfill an order (such as provisioning data).
- Robust user authentication and permission-based access to order information.
- Full-feature reporting and auditing capabilities.
- Adaptability and scalability for future buildout and expansion of the service catalog.
- Most importantly, a Cloud broker that you can trust.
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