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Whitepaper – Meeting the challenge of Cisco technical services delivery

Assessing the needs of MSPs, integrators and other organisations and the challenges they face when sourcing quality third-party professional project and technical services for Cisco technologies.

Experts Add Value, Amateurs Add Costs – The Value of Hiring Cisco Network Experts

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Many VAR’s, Channel Partners and MSP’s are responsible for allocating the correct technical resource to monitor and manage their client’s IT Networks. Do they hire an external Cisco Network Engineer or allocate an in-house generalist IT Administrator?

IT Experts and Network experts have distinct specialisms and require the application of a significantly unique set of skills. IT Administrators tend to a multitude of IT duties ranging from desktop support to software installation & configuration. Cisco Network Engineers on the other hand are more specialised with typical duties ranging from VPN tunnelling to intricate network designs.

Organisations can be reluctant to hiring external experts as they prefer to assign generalist in-house IT staff to attempt complex networking tasks, often to the detriment to the end client.

Limited Internal Resources

Ask an IT/Systems Administrator for almost any VAR, MSP or Channel Partner what their duties are, and their answer will be “Everything!” They need to monitor & fix, software & hardware, back up data, enhance performance, security, storage and the list goes on. Internal IT & Engineering Departments are generally lacking in specific IT specialist functions. It would sink many businesses to the bottom of the ocean if they had experts in Cisco, Juniper, F5, Microsoft, Dell and Citrix who all need regular work. Not only do you need vendor specialists, you also need to have them situated in every single country where your clients are located.

It is therefore imperative to realise the limitations of the technical resources you have at your disposal in-house. You can hire an external expert in Cisco Networks or you can muddle along with what you have.

The Problem with Muddling Along

Tux, the Linux Mascot trying to put a square peg in a round hole

Round pegs fit into square pegs no problem, but they don’t stay there as the wrong tool has been used for the job. Holding your extremely expensive network together with sticky tape and a few short term fixes may solve an immediate problem, but it will simply add to the magnitude of problems brewing underneath those sub-standard fixes.

Systems administrators or IT generalists may be able to maintain and manage basic network functions, but complex configurations and designs MUST be left to the experts. If you need a CCNP Wireless, then hire one, if you need a CCIE Security, hire one. Prices from one Cisco Engineer to another varies depending on individual skill sets and market experience, where that experience should not be underestimated or undervalued. Technical couriers are often hired by organisations instead of paying the market price for a CCNA Engineer in an effort to minimise the cost of technical resourcing.

Muddling along might save you a penny or two in the short-term, but if I was your client, I certainly wouldn’t be satisfied that my critical business problems are solved with inferior solutions. Clients pay a premium price to have their networks maintained and managed, subsequently only premium solutions will suffice.

Quality of Service

Cisco certifications are highly regarded by Enterprise organisations, VAR’s, MSP’s & Channel Resellers, yet lower prices too often take precedence over quality of service. Cisco hardware is the backbone of all networks in almost every Enterprise organisation, which requires the application of Cisco best practises at all times to guarantee quality and continuity of service.

Here I’ll be bold and hail Cisco Certified Engineers as the best the market has to offer, no other certification comes close. When a CCNA or CCIE Engineer is assigned to complete a specific Network task there is no other IT Expert or Technician more qualified, experienced or skilled to successfully do so: round pegs for round holes.

By allocating anything other than a Cisco Certified Engineer to tackle a Cisco Network task is prioritising price over quality of service delivered. Cisco experts may be more expensive than the cheaper in-house generalist option, but if you think experts are expensive, wait and see how much amateurs cost you.

Cisco Network Engineers from CCNA-CCIE

You’re a Cisco Network Engineer – Now What?

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Gaining a certification as a Cisco Network Engineer is only the beginning of your professional journey, next you need a job. There are literally thousands of Engineers passing CCNA, CCNP and CCIE exams around the world every single year. All those bits of paper look the same; they all tell prospective employers that you did indeed pass the written and trickier lab exams.

You might have a Cisco Certification, but so do thousands more – the question is “Why would an employer hire you rather than the thousands of other equally qualified individuals?” Gaining experience can only be gained by well, gaining experience – so what else can help you become a SUCCESSFUL Cisco Network Engineer?

Professionalism

Any prospective employer and end client will demand a high level of professionalism at all times so you need to consider perception – how does the client or employer perceive your levels of professionalism? Make sure you:

  • Ensure the project scope/SLA agreement is adhered to at all times
  • Have your Engineers tools/kit – Be Prepared!
  • Dress like the professional you are
  • You’re the Technical one, not everyone else so refrain from jargon & being overly-technical

Applying for a job as a Network Engineer is just like any other, you need to portray a good image and one of professionalism. I recently had an online conversation with a Cisco Engineer who appeared on our website with the words “Need Job Mate” – em not from me you won’t, especially as your level of professionalism is shocking!

Communication Skills

Regardless of where you’re from, learn to speak the local language – and well. As skilled as you may be with IT Networks and the technical aspect of being a Cisco Engineer, you need to be able to communicate with clients, employers & stakeholders. There needs to be a trail of the work you carry out from start to finish, make sure you:

  • If you’re running late, tell your boss as early as possible
  • Alert your employer/boss of the time you arrive/leave and report to your onsite contact
  • Take photos before and after your work has been completed
  • Double check your work against the project scope – always focus on Quality of Service

Often external forces like bad weather, heavy traffic or car trouble can’t be avoided, so just ensure that you communicate with your seniors making your movements easier to monitor & track.

More Tracks

Once you’ve passed 1 exam, don’t stop! The more Cisco tracks you have, the better chance you stand of being employed. Technology, business and Cisco qualifications are all evolving – CCNA/CCIE Voice, Storage Networking and Service Provider Operations are now all obsolete – so keep training otherwise your skills will also become superseded. Gaining a certification in R&S is only the start; think about gaining certifications in Security, Unified Communications and Wireless – none of these tracks are likely to be retired anytime soon. With the birth of IoT, BYOD, Big Data and Cloud computing then skills for Unified Communications, Cybersecurity and Wireless will all be in high demand.

cisco-nerd

Responsiveness

To become an in-demand Cisco Engineer – be responsive! If your employer calls you and asks “can you be in London/Paris in an hour?” put down your knife and fork, grab your kit and get moving. Respond to trends in the marketplace, less focus on Voice, more focus on Unified Communications. Less focus on Storage Networking and more on Data Storage and Cloud computing. Recently there have been some high profile security breaches with Sony, JP Morgan Chase and AOL and in 2015 75% of CIO’s intend to increase their IT Security expenditure, therefore be poised to respond to the trends happening in the world of IT Networking.

Housekeeping

Leave the site exactly as you found it. Ensure the communications cabinet is securely closed follow all in-house security protocols and don’t leave a mess. You’d be surprised as to the big impression you can make with small gestures of housekeeping.

Being a Cisco Network Engineer requires greater skills than the ability to rack, mount and stack a server or two. There’s an estimated 600,000 Cisco Certified Engineers worldwide, so if your professionalism, communication and housekeeping skills are lacking – then you won’t be stacking and racking. Since gaining your Cisco Certifications what problems have you encountered when looking for a job? As a client, what skills do you think Engineers lack/excel at? All comments are welcome 🙂

Locally sourced Cisco Network Engineers represented by connecting cities

3 Reasons to outsource your requirements for Cisco Engineers

Locally sourced Cisco Network Engineers represented by connecting cities

With a market cap of $119 billion, 2014 sales of $48 billion and ranked number 12 in the world’s most valuable Brands, Cisco are the industry leaders in IT Networking equipment. The likelihood is that readers of this article will be working with or have worked with Cisco Network Systems. Therefore if your company is working with a Cisco Network System then you’ve faced the dilemma of choosing between outsourcing the need for Cisco Support or employing in-house Engineers.

As an SME, Enterprise or a non-ICT related company with a Cisco IT/Phone system, then you need to think about the level of Cisco Engineers you need to employ for your business. Whereas Managed Service Providers, Professional Services & Cisco Channel Partners need to think about the level of Cisco Engineers your clients require. Either way, outsourcing can provide your business with the specialist Cisco skills you need and at a fraction of the cost and risk of employing Cisco Engineers in-house.

1) Lower Operational Costs

In the UK Cisco Engineers command high salaries and rightfully so, they’ve studied and trained hard to achieve their status. Current 2015 average salaries for Cisco Engineers in the UK are:

CCNA    £40,500

CCNP     £47,500

CCIE       £60,000

Your Operational costs don’t end there, other costs associated with in-house Cisco Engineers are:

  • Holidays & Sickness
  • Salary benefits – Bonus, Shares, Pension, Health Care & Annual Pay Increase
  • Additional Benefits – Company Car, Petrol Allowance, Laptop, Mobile Phone
  • Maternity/Paternity Pay
  • Staff Training
  • National Insurance & Tax Contributions
  • Portion of running costs – office, furniture, equipment, admin costs & consumables
  • Cost of Employment – In-House costs or Recruitment Agency

Accumulating the additional costs of employing in-house, a CCNA salary can be well in excess of £50,000 per year or around £23 per hour. Compare this to the average hourly rate of a CCNA which is currently £18 per hour resulting in savings of 27.8% when outsourcing against employing in-house. Your wallet, your choice.

(Visit http://www.accountingservicesforbusiness.co.uk/calculators1/true-cost-of-an-employee/ to calculate the annual cost of your employees and http://www.itjobswatch.co.uk/contracts/uk/ccna.do for CCNA rates)

2) Access to Skills & Knowledge

The Internet of Things (IoT), mobile devices, smart cities, big data and the human fascination and dependency on technology facilitate the need for Cisco Engineers to specialise in certain tracks. You might have an in-house CCNA, or CCIE, but do they specialise in Unified Communications, Security, Wireless, VoIP, R&S and Data Centre? How many hours and years of training would be required to have access to such a varied and multi-skilled workforce in-house? How much would this cost your company?

Having access to the skills and knowledge of certified Cisco Engineers is the most significant reason to consider outsourcing your need for Cisco Support. Quality of service is often cited as a reason not to outsource, however if you focus on creating strict SLA’s and define a clear scope of work between your outsourcing partner, then you can achieve exemplary quality of service for your end customers.

3) Risk

If you outsource your Cisco Support then you simply pay for what you need and use. Replace outsourcing with employing the multitude of Cisco Engineers in-house and you’ll need to ensure you have enough work for the Engineers every day, 52 weeks of the year.

How much time and money do you think line managers and HR departments waste on frivolous staff issues? “Can I have a day off for the dentist?”, “I need to take my dog to the vet” and so on. Employees also are savvier with their knowledge of employment legislation and their rights – holidays, sick pay, pensions, maternity leave and more heavyweight issues such as unfair dismissal and equal rights. It’s not only your balance sheet at risk; it’s your Brand, reputation and credibility in your industry. Taking risks is part of business, but if you can avoid being exposed to such substantial risks then why wouldn’t you outsource.

Do you employ in-house or outsource and why? However opinionated you may be, please feel free to leave your comments.