For small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) building and maintaining an effective and healthy IT environment can be a huge challenge. Smaller companies can find it harder to attract top talent, and their IT department usually consists of only a handful of professionals. Yet, these companies cannot simply neglect their technology needs. Technology is essential for these companies to remain competitive in modern marketplaces.
To overcome these hurdles, SMBs are turning to Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to help support their environment—and for good reason. For less than the cost of a full-time employee, managed services allows SMBs to leverage the experience of top industry professionals and fill in knowledge gaps in their in-house team. However, in Chicago alone, there are dozens of MSPs offering almost the exact same service. How do you choose between them? At first glance, every MSP may look the same, but dig a little deeper and the differences will begin to show. Follow our guide below to help you select the right MSP for your company.
Managed Services vs. Technical Support
Some companies seek out a managed services agreement when all they really need is a technical support partner, and the line between these two services can often be blurry. Here’s a quick way to decipher between the two:
Technical Support Services are purchased in bundles of hours and used at the company’s discretion on either project work or issues that arise in the environment.
Managed Services, however, indicates an ongoing agreement with the client. The MSP will take on and fulfill certain recurring job duties, such as monitoring or maintenance, for the client. Essentially, this client is hiring the MSP as an extension of their IT department.
Deciding on which service your company needs really boils down to whom you want to be responsible for your IT environment. If you want to keep the core responsibilities with your in-house team and you simply need a consultant for emergencies or initiatives, choose a technical support plan. If not, then managed services is likely the better choice.
Choosing the Right Managed Services Provider
When you’re in the market for a new managed services provider, be sure to thoroughly vet the MSP, and keep the following in mind:
Managed Services is Like Tetris
No two IT environments are the same, therefore no managed services agreement should be either. Any respectable Managed Services Provider should be eager to mold and customize their agreements to fill gaps in your in-house team’s expertise. For example, you may have an excellent network administrator but still require another pair of eyes for monitoring application performance.
In Tetris, sometimes only a small gap in the line needs to be filled, and sometimes the blocks are stacking out of control at rapid speeds and something must be done. In either situation, the solution must be shifted, rearranged and customized to fit the need. Managed Services is no different.
The Customer is King
A good Managed Services Provider understands that the job is half technical and half customer service. While every IT director or executive is going to demand that the MSP fulfill the responsibilities outlined in the contract, not enough demand an exceptional customer experience.
Find a Managed Services Provider who will specifically outline their customer support policy, set service level agreements (SLAs) and detail their communication strategy with your team. Some accounts require monthly or even weekly meetings to cover any salient issues and provide recommendations for how to move forward.
The goal is to facilitate an open and transparent relationship with the MSP. If you’re going to hand them the keys to your IT environment, make sure there is a plan in place to keep lines of communication wide open.
Clearly Defined Notification and Escalation Procedures
It is not enough to assume that your Managed Service Provider will forward alerts in your environment when they arrive. Ask your potential MSP to define the alert procedure.
Furthermore, your MSP should definitely have a clearly defined escalation procedure. No one is perfect, and it is entirely likely that your MSP will encounter an issue they cannot handle right away. What is the contingency plan if this happens? Ask your potential MSP to describe their escalation process and request it in writing in the contract.
Ideally, you want to find an escalation procedure that automatically triggers the next person in line after a set amount of time. The top level of the escalation procedure for some MSPs even alerts the president of the company.
Experience and Certifications
It’s worth looking into the collection of certifications, awards and years of experience a potential Managed Services Provider possesses. As stated above, half the job is customer service, but the other half is still technical.
One of the key benefits of a managed services agreement is that a company can leverage the experience of top IT professionals for far less cost. Find an MSP who can really wow you with their technical chops. Most importantly, find an MSP that has an ongoing relationship and/or certifications with the technology developers that you already use in your environment. For example, SMBs who utilize Cisco hardware or solutions should try to find an MSP with a long-standing Cisco Gold Partner certification.
Partners in Technology
As a final piece of advice, find a partner you can really work with. You are endowing them with a serious responsibility, and no parties involved should treat it lightly. An ideal partner will be a clear communicator who is eager to describe how it can be done instead of focusing on roadblocks, a technical wizard ready for a deep dive into your environment and a customer service professional who will take your concerns seriously.
All that’s left now is to actually go out and find them.