What is Managed IT Services and How to Select the Right Provider
As a business owner, you want to be able to focus on perfecting your product, promoting your services, and growing your business. Technology is an integral part of that equation. But because managing that technology is time-consuming, you may find that you spend more energy troubleshooting IT-related issues than you would like. You might also struggle to keep up with critical technological tasks, such as developing dependable backup plans or keeping your operating systems, servers, and network up-to-date. But, most importantly, by being bogged down with managing technology, you might fail to leverage the power of technology to maximize your profitability and productivity – a tremendous missed opportunity.
For these reasons, many medium size and small businesses find that partnering with a managed IT services provider for their information technology needs can help them achieve new levels of success.
There are many types of MSP service offerings on the market, so it is imperative that you thoroughly vet your future information technology services vendor before signing on the dotted line. In this post, we’ll explore how best to do so.
What is a Managed Services Provider (MSP)?
A managed service provider is a third-party company that manages, remotely or on-site, your information technology (IT) infrastructure and end-user systems. Most provide services through a service level agreement (SLA).
What are managed services?
Managed services providers can offer a wide array of services, including:
- CIO Services – Strategically designing and implementing the right technologies to achieve your business goals.
- Cloud Computing – Helping you select from the multiple cloud computing options and implement the right solution to potentially save you money, improve productivity and allow your business to flexibly scale.
- Managed Security Services, such as:
- Data backup – Creating multiple copies of your data to protect it from cyber incidents or malicious actions.
- Disaster Recovery Solutions and Business Continuity – Helping recover your data quickly if an unfortunate event strikes.
- Patch Management – Assistance with applying software and app updates to prevent vulnerabilities.
- Endpoint Detection Response – Implementing protections against malware and developing response plans to potential attacks through the use of advanced AI-driven antivirus solutions.
- Cybersecurity Awareness Training – Helping employees recognize and avoid data breach attempts, including phishing emails and suspicious websites.
- Multi-Factor Authentication – Implementing this underused feature that deters unauthorized access by requiring another “factor” after entering your username and password.
- Mobile device management – Managing the use of mobile devices allows for increased productivity while maintaining security best practices.
- Patch management – Eliminating vulnerabilities by updating your software helps protect your business from known exploits and unauthorized access, without sacrificing productivity.
- Firewall management – Configuring and monitoring firewalls, setting rules and tracking changes help protect your devices and networks.
- Compliance – Providing expertise and assistance with the ever-increasing number of complex government regulations, such as HIPAA, DFARS, CMMC, etc.
- Help Desk Support Services – Assisting with any day-to-day IT issues.
- HR Onboarding – Helping set up workstations for new hires and training employees on IT policies and procedures to ensure smooth and professional onboarding.
- Network Monitoring and Reporting – Remote support to notify you of any issues with your network and promptly resolve the problem.
- Many other computer and server-related services
These services are often provided for a monthly fixed fee.
What Are the Benefits of Managed Services?
There are many benefits of the managed services model.
Outsourcing IT can help lower overhead costs by freeing you from employing an entire in-house IT team.
An MSP can help increase your productivity in different ways. For instance, your employees are more productive if they can access your systems easily at any time, if they have the right tools that make their jobs easier, and if those tools and technology work without any issues. Also, implementing proper cybersecurity controls will minimize your risks of potential cyber incidents, which would further impact your productivity.
A major cause of unplanned downtime is human error, but there are ways to mitigate the risk. One way is by implementing strong security measures in crucial systems.
Cyber-attacks also present a significant risk, especially for small and mid-size companies that don’t necessarily have the resources to prevent downtime.
Outsourced IT experts can provide the skills and bandwidth necessary to prevent and manage downtime, which in turn will also reduce your potential losses and costs.
Any good MSP will monitor your systems for problems and can resolve issues before they transform into full-fledged catastrophes. The cost savings associated with this approach are one of the top reasons to use managed services.
If you are a seasonal business with varying needs for resources, being flexible to scale up or down is critical for your competitiveness, which is harder to accomplish with an in-house team. When you need to expand or upgrade your system, it takes a lot of coordination, new equipment, and money. Managed services can help by providing the extra manpower when you need it and helps keep costs down since you only pay for what you use.
Managed IT services providers offer expertise in specialized areas that most businesses do not have in-house because it is expensive and time-consuming to hire them. Most businesses also don’t need such specialized skills at all times, so it is not cost-effective to have them on your staff.
MSPs on the other hand need to employ a large team of highly specialized experts due to having many clients with differing needs. So, it makes good business sense for you to access the managed IT services provider’s experts when you need them, rather than hire them as your staff.
Managed IT services include ongoing remote monitoring of your systems. This allows your MSP to prevent problems from happening in the first place by identifying and resolving small issues promptly before they can make a significant negative impact on your operation.
Your MSP can also provide you with cybersecurity solutions to keep you cyber-safe. For instance, cyber awareness training is critical for your employees to become an integral part of your cyber defense. However, it is not something most companies will do on their own due to a lack of in-house expertise, time, and technology to conduct the training as well as regular assessments and testing. But outsourcing this function to an MSP is a cost-effective option. In addition to training, your MSP can implement several other cybersecurity measures to keep your business protected from data loss and cyber-attacks. And if a security incident does occur, they provide a rapid response service to stop, contain and mitigate the issue.
There are a lot of regulations governing data security. It can be overwhelming for you to figure out which ones apply to your business and make sure you are compliant. The two regulations applicable to many businesses are the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as well as data privacy laws such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
Managed IT service providers keep their fingers on the constantly evolving landscape of laws and regulations, which saves you time and potentially millions of dollars in fines and lawsuits should a cyber incident happen. They can assess whether you are compliant and help you implement the necessary data security measures to meet requirements.
As part of managed services, you don’t have to worry about having outdated infrastructure (servers, computers, phones, and other devices…etc.) that can easily malfunction because your monthly managed services provider will proactively recommend and implement the right technology. This can be particularly valuable for your business if you don’t have the know-how or have limited time and resources to select the latest technology that’s right for your organization.
Choosing the Right Managed IT Services Provider
While most MSPs will assist you with your daily IT problems, a strategic MSP is more than just a vendor. Rather, they are a vested partner who understands technology’s role in your business. They align your IT initiatives with your organizational strategy, so you can focus on achieving your business goals.
A qualified, strategic MSP will streamline your processes and upgrade your technological capabilities to increase your profits as well as attract top talent who wants to work for a forward technology company.
Also, to help manage the vast array of printers, copiers, applications, and programs, your MSP can become the single point of contact when questions or concerns arise.
With such an important role in the success of your business, you need to know how to identify and select the right managed service company.
Consider the following questions to help you determine if an MSP is a good fit:
1. “What support do you provide, and what level of support does my business need?”
A good MSP should only offer you services and support that fit the scope and needs of your business. For example, while most managed service providers may – and should – have a 24/7 helpdesk team, you will likely not need 24/7 technical support, unless employees regularly work past business hours, or you operate an around-the-clock call center. Therefore, any MSP that starts the conversation by pushing potentially unnecessary upgrades or solutions without understanding who you are and what you do is not looking out for your company.
This question can help you assess whether the MSP in question is capable of handling the needs of your business and – more importantly – whether they care enough to find out what those specific needs are.
2. “What process do you use…?”
When vetting an MSP’s experience level, you may be inclined to ask, “How long have you been in business?” While this is a valid question, the answer can be misleading and irrelevant to your decision. Technology changes so rapidly that the age of a business does not necessarily guarantee that the service provider has adequate IT expertise.
To better understand a business’s maturity, be more specific. For example, try asking, “What process do you use for client account reviews?” If the answer lacks clarity or they fumble for words, this might indicate that they do not have a process or are not forward-thinking enough to have developed methods for improving their services over time. An experienced MSP, on the other hand, performs regular service reviews as part of the account management process to identify new solutions and ensure the constant alignment of your IT profile to your organizational strategies.
Another revealing question you may want to ask is, “What process do you use to escalate a problem to the appropriate team member?”. The response should be that the process is automated and tracked until resolution. Anything less, and you’re likely in for a frustrating experience where projects and service requests are not addressed correctly or on time due to inefficient coordination, lack of expertise, or human errors and omissions.
You should also ask, “What process do you use to identify repeat issues and fix them?” to identify whether the MSP you are talking to has a set method for remedying recurring problems. If they do, they will most likely respond by mentioning ticket reviews. Regular ticket reviews help identify repeat issues and escalate them to engineers who can assess how to ensure they will not reappear.
You need to make certain recurring issues will not be repeatedly band-aided and that your MSP is adept at proactively seeking permanent solutions.
3. “What is your corporate structure?”
Most businesses don’t ask this question when evaluating an IT vendor. However, an MSP’s staffing model is also a strong indicator of their business maturity. Having the right team of professionals with various areas of expertise allows them to provide a full range of services that your business can quickly use when needed.
Every MSP should have at least the following teams:
- Account Management / Client Advocate – Your main point of contact at the MSP, who represents and communicates your strategic interests to the rest of the team. They ensure you receive the highest levels of customer service and provide innovative recommendations to help you stay competitive and defend against security threats.
- Help Desk Team – Help your employees troubleshoot their day-to-day computer issues – difficulty logging on, not being able to print, etc.
- Engineering Team – Responsible for designing and implementing your IT environment and resolving more complex problems affecting your entire IT infrastructure and workflow.
- Project Management Team – Coordinates with technical teams to accomplish large initiatives promptly and efficiently. Initiatives may include updating a company’s network infrastructure, implementing cloud-based disaster recovery plans, and more.
4. “How will you help my business in the event of data loss?”
Many MSPs will try to sell you on their backup systems. However, while backing up your data is crucial, recovery is even more critical. After all, the recovery process is why you did the backup to begin with!
To gauge how your potential MSP handles recovery, ask them how quickly they can recover a lost file or your entire computer system. Also, how would they go about helping you recover if your entire office was to be physically destroyed in a fire?
Keep in mind that a strategic MSP won’t have a generic plan. Instead, they should be looking to tailor their backup and recovery strategy to ensure business continuity by helping you determine exactly how much data you can afford to lose and how long you can live without it.
5. “What is your pricing structure?”
If it’s not a flat fee, it’s not an MSP. This question helps distinguish between a true Managed Service Provider and what’s known as a “break-fix” service. An MSP will charge a flat monthly fee for comprehensive services that offer proactive services as well as resolve daily issues.
On the contrary, a break-fix service does not prevent any problems from occurring – they charge an hourly fee for reactive support. They will address the immediate issue at hand, but there is no incentive for them to correct the source of the problem because the more you need their assistance again in the future, the more billable hours they can accumulate. This is not only expensive but it’s risky – issues that could’ve been prevented proactively could escalate quickly and might just put you out of business.
Your relationship with an MSP should be transparent, and predictable, and allow room for growth. They should be able to provide consultative help with budgeting for IT expenses, such as hardware or software, and there should be no surprise charges.
6. “Do you provide Service Level Agreements (SLAs)?”
A Service Level Agreement (SLA) helps set expectations regarding the MSP’s scope of services. It also helps clients understand the strategic priority of the services provided.
The SLA also lays out expected MSP response times. For example, for requests for routine maintenance, you might require the MSP to respond within a 24-hour window. On the other hand, something more critical might be set at a 45-minute response time.
If an MSP doesn’t provide an SLA, it likely means they don’t have a transparent, efficient process for handling projects or support requests in a timely fashion. Make sure to select a provider that can confidently speak to their processes and is willing to provide you with a scope of their services.
7. “What is your onboarding process?”
A managed service provider’s onboarding process should be thorough. Everything should be documented and shared with both you and the MSP’s internal team working on your account.
Many MSPs will do a network analysis before quoting their services and come back with a managed IT services proposal as well as immediate suggestions for network improvement. While this might seem proactive and helpful, it is a suboptimal start to a business relationship. How can an MSP know what improvements will truly benefit your business without understanding the entire scope of your business and the unique way you deliver your services?
A comprehensive onboarding process should take a few months to do correctly. It involves every stakeholder in your organization, not just your IT department. IT touches every aspect of your business, and to help you improve, an MSP must first understand how you use technology day-to-day. They can then help you develop a strategy and implement technology solutions in ways that drive profitability.
Bottom line, a good MSP will take their time to help you make wise technology choices and maximize your IT budget instead of pushing high-tech improvements just to impress you.
8. “What experience do you have in my industry?”
Technology planning for each industry is different. Depending on your business needs, it may be beneficial to work with an MSP that has experience with companies like yours. For example, medical companies need IT professionals who understand HIPAA compliance. Legal and accounting firms also have unique information security needs that must be properly implemented. If you’re in a regulated industry, make sure your MSP understands your industry and its compliance requirements and has experience working within those parameters.
9. “What internal security measures do you have to protect your business and therefore your clients?”
A qualified MSP should heed their own advice. They should protect their own business the same way they are protecting you. This doesn’t just mean using leading technology but hiring trustworthy employees who successfully pass background checks and manage your accounts with care. They should also implement best practice conditional access controls to mitigate against unauthorized access. Also, they should emphasize training to keep their employees vigilant of new threats as they occur because the human element in every cybersecurity process is either the weakest or strongest link – having all the technology in the world means little if the people managing it are uninformed or careless.
10. “What are your credentials?”
Currently, there is no official set of credentials required to sell MSP services. However, the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) previously created a set of industry standards that allowed MSPs to earn a CompTIA Trustmark by meeting specific criteria. For instance, as part of the application process, each MSP was required to provide the following information:
- Code of Conduct
- Details of their business operation, standard operating procedures, and tools used to provide better service at lower costs
- Management and financial information
- List of services provided
- Customer references
You can still ask whether a potential MSP has the CompTIA Trustmark, but in the absence of an active third party who can review and vet businesses to provide some industry oversight, it’s imperative to do your due diligence and ask for some proof of the credentials listed above.
11. “What kind of Cyber insurance do you have?”
Cyber insurance is important. If something happens, either by mistake or intentionally, does your MSP have sufficient coverage limits to help your business recoup losses? Understanding what kind of Technology, Cyber, and Errors and Omissions policies your MSP has should be on your to-do list before agreeing to any partnership.
12. “Would you please provide some references?”
This is a standard question, but critical, nonetheless. When a potential MSP gives you references, check them. Talk to others who have worked with that company and can attest to this particular MSP’s value. Ideally, these references should be in your industry, so you can reasonably expect similar outcomes.
A quality managed service provider offers you a contact to call for all your IT-related needs. Whether it’s help desk support or strategic planning (i.e., How do we improve productivity?), a strategic MSP can be your IT Swiss army knife and the catalyst to achieving your potential through the proper integration of modern technological solutions.
Discover the Benefits of Managed Services at Reliable Technology Services
Whatever your needs are, Reliable Technology Services can help you with cost-effective, all-inclusive managed IT services. We are a top managed services provider in Maryland specializing in helping small to mid-size businesses in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. areas since 2003. To start the conversation about managed IT services, contact Lenny Giller today at 410-828-0060 or firstname.lastname@example.org.