Whether starting a new business, building out a new division, or simply experiencing growth, equipping teams with the technology they need to successfully perform is a major part of said endeavors. Cloud solutions, by design, makes these processes much more streamlined, as scaling to accommodate a growing business is almost always an inherent part of these solutions. Aside from the technology itself, the other major part of the equation is how to properly support new or upscaled business systems.
A managed services provider (MSP) doesn’t replace your internal IT staff – rather, it helps augment your team by handling specific processes, such as managing remote systems. This gives your internal IT team the time and freedom to focus more on strategy and business requirements. As such, businesses turn to MSPs as these solutions are both more efficient and cost effective. In the following, we’re going to look at what managed services means, as well as points to consider when selecting an MSP partner.
What is an IT Managed Services Provider?
Managed services are one of those concepts that varies between providers in its actual application. Some providers offer managed services that are hyper-focused and may only provide specific solutions. Even so, such providers still meet the managed services definition as it applies to any organization that provides outsourced IT services for other businesses.
The issue with this broad explanation is the fact that it’s a subjective definition, at best. Just because a company might offer a solution labeled “managed services” doesn’t mean it’s equipped to address your organization’s unique needs. As such, it’s important to do your homework when looking for a new or replacement provider to make sure they have the capabilities to handle your current technology as well as grow or adapt to changes around your business needs.
A skilled MSP will free you up to focus on growing your business while its IT professionals take the wheel and help drive your business to the top of your industry. The benefits of bringing an experienced MSP onboard are:
- Effective management of security and reliability in the IT environment
- Reliable and skilled IT resources maintaining and securing your environment
- Improved system performance resulting in reduced business downtime
- Access to multiple technology competencies and expertise in different areas of IT
- Lowered operational costs and improved ROI
Since not all MSPs are created equal, we’ve assembled a list of the most important points to address when working with an MSP sales team or a consultant to bring aboard a provider to support your organization’s technology. By focusing on these considerations, your organization will be equipped to make the best decision possible, ultimately maximizing managed services benefits and the total cost of ownership (TCO) of implementing a provider in your organization.
- Check Credentials, Case Studies, and Testimonials
If you’re planning on visiting somewhere unfamiliar, you’ll almost certainly check reviews for restaurants and hotels in the area before you arrive, right? The same goes when you’re in the market for a vehicle (even if you already have your heart set on a certain make and model). With an MSP, you probably won’t find a Yelp page, so you should check the provider’s site for customer success stories and awards. You may also want to do some additional investigating by checking sites like Glassdoor for employee reviews. If possible, consider visiting the MSP headquarters and meeting with their leadership team to help determine whether or not their culture aligns with your business. In addition, make sure to check their standing with partner vendors (for example, Microsoft Gold Certified Partners are Microsoft’s most highly accredited independent technical support providers). Too, be sure to determine whether the MSP truly understands your business and has relevant vertical industry experience.
- Ability to Provide Comprehensive Services for Your Needs
This is where the notion that not all MSPs are created equal really comes into play. Whether you have a hybrid infrastructure built on VMware and you’re adamant about keeping this setup, or you’re a dedicated Azure subscriber, find a provider that specializes in these platforms. Building on the first point, don’t leave matters to chance and make sure you or a consultant you trust can pick the brain of the provider you interview for the job. Ensure they have the capabilities to handle your environment and user needs or can properly transition you to something new as your organization can’t afford to be someone’s training ground.
- Proficiency with Multiple Technologies and Platforms
Thanks to the vast number of systems on the market, it is necessary for most MSPs to at least comprehend various kinds of tech, even if it isn’t in their core focus. For example, employees may want (or need) to use certain apps on their personal or company-issued mobile device when in the field or at home. When it comes to your current environment and the technology your staff regularly use, make sure prospective MSPs have the will (and the chops) to support everyday business technology in addition to any technology your organization plans to use in the foreseeable future.
- Understand Their Pricing Structure
Most cloud-based infrastructure and applications inherently possess the ability to scale – for example, with Office 365, when you need more licenses after adding new staff members, acquiring additional licenses is a breeze. Any reputable MSP will have the ability to accommodate more (or less) users, but it usually boils down to a matter of pricing. For example, if a team in your organization increases in size or if your organization decides to ax an internal department in favor of an outsourced solution, pricing should fairly reflect these changes. Make sure to understand how pricing will fluctuate around your needs before signing a contract.
- Proactive or Reactive?
Do you want an MSP that takes precautionary measures to prevent issues before they happen, or would you prefer a provider that jumps to action as soon as a problem reveals itself? This is a trick question as the answer is ‘both.’ A good MSP will tackle preventative procedures to protect and monitor your technology as well as be available immediately if something goes wrong. A provider falling too much on either end of the spectrum means that metaphorical fires will constantly require extinguishing, and you’ll risk wasting time and money on a one-sided business relationship. Above all, your MSP should be an extension of your team and a trusted adviser working in a strategic manner with your best interests in mind (meaning they should have the flexibility to adapt around what works best for you and have a plan for long-term partnership).
- Ability to Augment Staff to Fit Your Business Needs
Most often, companies will choose to use a mixture of IT staff on the company payroll and supplement this team’s efforts with managed services. One Forbes contributor likened managed services to a home renovation project, which is mostly accurate, except for the fact that the provider may become a permanent part of the team. As such, it’s important to determine where the MSP will fit in and how long their services will be needed. In some cases, you might only need the expertise of the provider for a few months to assist with a development effort, but in other cases their services are needed indefinitely. Make sure timeframes are properly discussed so there are no surprises.
- Understand the Service Level Agreement (SLA)
When it comes to most end-user license agreements (EULAs) that we encounter in our daily lives, it’s safe to say that the majority of us usually skip to the end and agree to the terms as quickly as possible. While we might not be concerned with our personal software usage terms and conditions, don’t do this with a managed services agreement! This is one business contract that’s vital to understand prior to pressing forward. Technology is a major contributor to your organization’s success, so it’s imperative to know that everything will be in the best of hands.