What to look for in a Managed Service provider
If you’re a business looking to achieve growth, it’s important to consider your IT infrastructure and the part it plays in your business. Could a managed service provider (MSP) deliver the technical expertise and support to help you work smarter and grow?
Who do you approach and how do you decide who to work with?
Engaging an IT partner to work with can be a daunting and confusing task and it’s important as a business to ask the right questions. Choosing an IT service provider often requires a leap of faith, who you select will play an integral role in the future of your business so it’s important to choose the right provider. Not only will they have full access to your business’s information, you'll be relying on them to secure your data from threats, look after your infrastructure and resolve problems. They will back up the information that your business requires and advise on IT budgeting. You are making a financial investment and potentially entering a long-term contract with your chosen provider, so these are all things to consider.
What kind of IT support does your business need?
When looking for a managed service provider, you’ll often see providers offering two types of support solutions: ‘IT Support’ and ‘managed IT services’. So, what's the difference between the two and which is the best solution for your business? The answer to this will depend on your company and how integral your IT is to your business processes.
IT Support – This is a reactive approach to IT maintenance, meaning that when a problem occurs you contact the IT support provider and they’ll work with you to diagnose the fault and help resolve it. This can be time consuming and may take longer to resolve. They won’t necessarily understand your IT systems or have an extensive knowledge of them, often leading to longer fault-finding times. This option can often seem viable when considering your options and costs. Still, wouldn’t you prefer to reduce the risk of problems occurring, reducing the potential downtime and disruption that they cause in the first place?
Managed Service Provider (MSP) – This is a proactive approach to IT Support. An MSP will not only resolve IT issues but also use remote monitoring tools to help prevent faults before you’re aware of them. This proactive approach helps to resolve issues before they impact your business, resulting in less downtime. They’ll work closely with you to ensure that you have suitable solutions and protection in place to support your IT. Most MSPs will require a deep understanding of your infrastructure and business systems before or during the on-boarding process. This allows them to suggest and carry out remedial work before a contract starts to ensure everything is running smoothly and to maintain best-practice standards.
Further reading: What does a Managed Service Provider do?
When considering what kind of IT support provider best fits your business, it’s important to look at the role IT plays in the day-to-day running of your business. What would happen if your desktop computers stopped working or if you couldn’t access your file server? Would it impact you or your customers?
If you’re leaning towards a proactive support approach and working with an MSP, make sure the provider offers IT solutions that align with your business requirements and goals. Ensure they are proposing solutions that your company may require. Ask how they help their existing clients grow; do they have regular review meetings and if so, what’s discussed? Do they just talk about the support service, or are they also asking about future needs and helping to develop a roadmap to meet growth?
What does the MSP include in the service?
To help you choose the right provider for your business you should consider the following questions.
Do their hours of support fit with your business hours and needs?
Do they offer 24/7 support, or is it just 9-to-5 during the week?
Do they offer remote support only, or can they provide on-site support when required?
It’s worth spending the time to fully understand the scope of their service before you buy into it. Managed services are usually based on a fixed-term contract so it’s important to make the correct choice the first time around.
Price is sometimes seen as the main differentiator for managed service providers, however, it’s important to carefully look at what’s being offered. Some MSPs can have hidden charges for:
On-site support – this will be charged at an hourly rate and is often used by cheaper providers to generate additional and often significant revenue. While many tasks can be achieved remotely, it’s important to have access to on-site engineers when needed.
Maintenance of your infrastructure – maintenance can vary from apply software updates and security patches to your desktop machines to making sure your servers are running the latest updates and security patches. Often this needs to be completed during non-working hours to reduce the impact and potential downtime. Many providers charge for this service.
Supporting services – Are all the core services included in the monthly cost, or do you have to pay extra for backup or security services such as anti-virus or spam filtering? A ‘managed service in a box’ is becoming more popular and gives you the reassurance that you’re getting what you need, with no unexpected costs that may come your way later. If you're not being offered services such as anti-virus, backup or spam protection then you may need to question if the provider you’re talking to is really interested in protecting and securing your business – or are they just after a quick sale?
Do they work with vendors that align with your IT?
Most MSPs are proud to display which partners and vendors they work with as well as their accreditations. You can usually find these displayed on their website.
If a company is gold-certified, then this means that they have earned the highest standard of the widely recognised partnership program. Gold standard certification confirms that the provider fully understands and can deploy and support the technologies, and has been able to demonstrate this through, exams, sales and client work. A lack of high-level certifications and accreditations could mean they will struggle with the knowledge and experience to deal with that technology.
It’s important to ask if they outsource their support or part of it. Many providers struggle with having the in-house skills and knowledge to cover a wide range of technologies. As a result, they outsource their support. Whilst this isn’t always a bad thing you need to be aware that if you’re dealing with the middleman it can result in slowing down the speed of fixing faults since they may not have a detailed knowledge or understanding of your systems.
They need to be reliable
When choosing a managed service provider, any company you approach will tell you that they do a great job and that they’re the best in the business. You’ll need to dig beyond the sales pitch, glossy websites and brochures for facts and evidence that they are the right fit for your business. A good starting point is client case studies. A happy client who is satisfied with the service they receive will usually be willing to take part in a written case study. Find an MSP that has a selection of recent case studies; ones which are anonymous and don’t mention the client can be a sign to dig deeper and ask for reference.
If you’re still unsure, ask for client references before committing to a contract. Is the provider willing to let you talk directly to their clients about their experiences with them? This is a good way to discover whether they can deliver what they are claiming.
A growing trend among MSPs is to display their support statistics publicly on their websites or social media. Providers willing to publicly display their support statistics shouldn’t have anything to hide.
Also, don’t forget to ask about transparency. The best managed service providers will have a portal that customers can access which includes ALL their support tickets. Make sure this includes proactive support tickets – providing proactive support is normally the first service to stop when they get busy. That way you can check that they’re really working to fix problems before they affect you.
Are they an established company?
Whilst there’s nothing wrong with supporting a young, up and coming provider, an effective MSP needs to be built on strong foundations and industry experience. These are some of the things to consider:
- Do they have a large team of experienced and qualified IT engineers?
Resilience plays a vital part when considering IT support. Look for a team that isn’t supported by just one IT guru. What happens if that expert is on holiday or even decides to leave the company? Your organisation relies on the provider not collapsing like a house of cards if one important piece is removed.
- Are they qualified in the technologies your business needs?
Don’t forget to look at their partner status and accreditations to find out if they have the skills in the areas you require.
- Being in place over years.
Assembling a wealth of IT talent and knowledge isn’t something that happens overnight, normally this is built over a long period of time.
- Do they have a proven track record?
It’s worth checking to see if they work with a wide range of organisations across different sectors. Are they trusted to support any large companies and well-known brands? Look for an MSP that has clients across a number of sectors and businesses sizes. This shows they have the capability to deliver a range of solutions to fit businesses of all sizes, all the way up to enterprise level.