Managed Services 101

What are “managed IT services”, what you need to know about them, and will it work for your business?

Even though it has become a buzz word phrase in the last several years, the term Managed Service Provider or “MSP” is not a new “thing” at all. The history and evolution of the modern day Managed Service Provider or “MSP” started around the 1990’s with the emergence of Application Service Providers or “ASPs”. This subset of value-add IT providers really helped to lay the foundation for remote IT support. Back then is was primarily around IT infrastructure but today the proliferation of remote IT support is pervasive in just about any piece of technology that is connected to the internet via wired, wireless, or cellular methods.

Today companies across all industries and varying sizes are leveraging managed services around not only information technology, but also things like supply chain management, printing services, logistics, media, water and power. In fact, you can even order managed services for your favorite friend Fido. Most consumers don’t even realize it but if you use Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or any other flat rate subscription service, you are participating in managed services! Now at this point, if you are a little confused about what managed services are that’s alright because we’re here to help but first let’s define the term MSP…

What is it?

According to Gartner, “A managed service provider (MSP) delivers network, application, system and e-management services across a network to multiple enterprises, using a “pay as you go” pricing model. A “pure play” MSP focuses on management services as its core offering. In addition, the MSP market includes offerings from other providers — including application service providers (ASPs), Web hosting companies and network service providers (NSPs) — that supplement their traditional offerings with management services.”
Now if you’re still confused, that’s ok because like many technology definitions, what becomes a standard understanding of a term, radically shifts and expands as the technology grows. What you end up with is confusion in the marketplace – for “Managed IT Services”, it’s no different.
In fact, a recent study by CompTIA found that even though the use of managed IT services is growing exponentially, confusion over the definition continues to be a central issue in measuring adoption and growth. The reality is that everyone has a different idea and perspective on Managed IT Services. That’s because businesses utilize MSP’s in many different ways.

Is it right for MY business?

If you are like me, you have likely at times cursed your technology systems and the complexity that can often accompany them. However, let’s face it, unless you live under a rock, we all need to use technology to manage something – this is especially true of businesses. When that technology fails us, it affects productivity, performance and moral.

If you have historically managed your information technology in-house or on a break-fix basis there is a high probability that you have a working list of issues that need to be resolved or worse reoccurring issues that you just deal with because you don’t have a means to resolve them. The good news is that the right managed services provider (MSP) can take these headaches off your plate and help you focus on your core business.
The whole idea behind Managed Services is that by partnering with the right MSP, you can make business operations more efficient and cost-effective. This can be accomplished either in concert with your in-house staff, allowing them to focus on more strategic initiatives for you or by replacing staff that aren’t adding real value.
Here are a few more ways that partnering with the right MSP can help you…

1. Scalability
Most MSPs can right-size a partnership to fit your specific business needs based on their capabilities. Although many technologies can be similar, every business is unique and has their own specific technology requirements as it relates to their business needs. As business needs shift so does the technology – the right technology partner can help you move confidently through change providing valuable insight about what might fit your business needs at any particular time. Think of an MSP as your technology partner that is always the right size for your business as it evolves.

2. Decreased Risk
Proactive monitoring should be exactly that… PROACTIVE! A strong technology partner is differentiated in their ability to minimize any business downtime by proactively managing your technology. With Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) in place, you can be confident that any issue you might have will be resolved within your agreed SLA. If you are only interacting with you MSP during regularly scheduled touchpoints, then you can sleep well knowing your technology is covered.

3. Certified Experts
Hiring, training, and certifying internal IT staff is costly, time consuming and often at time still not enough to keep up with the fast pace of technology change. A good technology partner will carry all of the necessary technology training and certifications needed to support you as well as their entire customer base. By taking advantage of these economies of scale, you save time, money and you don’t have to worry about investing the learning curve associated with new technologies.

When choosing an MSP…

If you’ve gotten this far, then it’s safe to assume you’re interested in knowing how to select the right MSP for your business. When you begin your search you will undoubtedly come across many options that promise the best services in your market. In addition, you will hear and read many marketing “buzz words” and industry jargon that will only serve to make choosing the right partner more confusing. To help you along your journey here are some important things to consider when evaluating and choosing you new technology partner.

1. Does the provider have experience in your industry?
Context is everything here folks and understanding the nuances of your business industry will determine whether you actually receive the services you are expecting or not. If your industry has certain requirements or is regulated like healthcare, legal, or finance then it is imperative your MSP understand the correlation to your business.

2. How long has the MSP been in business providing the services you require?

In nearly every city in the US you don’t have to go far to find dozens of small upstart IT companies – especially in large metropolitan areas. Often these small companies consist of a small handful of people, and in some cases are just one person. While they might possess advanced technology skillsets, they likely don’t have the business experience to handle the needs of you company. Further, they will not be able to provide any economy of scale or have the time or resources needed to support you properly. Seek out a partner with decent size and a pedigree of several years of success.

3. What is their communication process?
A good technology partner will have defined communication processes in place. Communication is any relationship is key to success and it’s no different for MSP’s. As a paying client you are entitled to know as much or as little as you like about what’s going on with your technology investments. No matter how much or how little you would like to be engaged, it’s important to know your options. When choosing and partner ask the following…

• What are your response times?
• What are your preferred communications methods – email, phone, text etc.?
• Do you operate 24×7 and does communication change after hours?

4. Try before you buy…
Selecting a technology partner for your business is a serious endeavor that has real life consequences. If your MSP’s capabilities are misaligned with your company’s needs, then you will surely be unhappy in your new relationship. One way to “test the waters” is to request a formal IT assessment of your company’s technology. Making this key investment up front has two important benefits. If done properly, an assessment should identify areas of concern and provide an approach to address “gaps” in your environment. It also has the added benefit of allowing you to see your potential new partner in action. Consider investing in an IT assessment as a way to try before you buy!

No matter who you choose as your technology partner, the goal of any MSP should be to stay in front of any issues that may arise with your technology investments. Getting ahead means your technology partner will be proactive, communicate, and advocate for your company as if it were their own. As a company that is always working hard in the background for its partners, it’s important to remember that reduced issues are typically a result of exceptional service. Hopefully after reading this you will be better prepared when looking to select your next MSP partner.