What to Look for in a Managed Service Provider

More and more companies are considering working with a Managed Service Provider. Once they start doing the research and comparing all the different Managed Service Providers, they often get overwhelmed with all the different offerings. So, the question to answer is, “What do you look for in a Managed Service Provider“? To answer this question, I decided to pick the brain of Scott Gondesen, our Director of Client Services. After reading the following interview with Scott, you will have a much better understanding of what it takes to be a good MSP.imgres

Jon:

What is your definition of a Managed Service Provider? What general tasks do MSPs perform?

Scott:

A Managed Services provider is an IT firm that engages to support your business using a mixture of technologies, people, and processes to keep your operations running as smoothly as possible for a predictable monthly fee.  An MSP assumes management of the day-to-day responsibilities for server and network administration as well as end-user workstation support.  Most MSP’s provide remote monitoring for proactively checking the health of the technology infrastructure on a 24x7x365 basis.  If a server or network threshold is exceeded, which could impact production, alerts are generated and fielded by the MSP’s Network Operations Center (NOC).  An engineer is then engaged to troubleshoot and resolve the issue.  A Managed Services Provider also provides a remote helpdesk for customers to call with IT-related issues.  The helpdesk will then initiate a remote control session to take over the user’s workstation for resolution of the issue.  Many MSP’s also include other value-added services as part of their fixed monthly fee, such as virus and spam filtering, web threat protection, managed backups, and other cloud-based services such as server hosting – all designed to shift the risk from the business owner to the service provider.

Jon:

I’ve noticed that some MSPs do not concentrate on disaster recovery and periodic testing. Is this something a company should want from their MSP?

Scott:

While some MSP’s include Backup and Disaster Recovery as part of their service, either through an onsite appliance, a cloud-based solution, or a combination of the two, others offer DR as an additional service fee and some do not address DR at all.  Disaster Recovery should be an essential component of your overall IT strategy, and it should be tested at least once a year or after significant changes to the technology infrastructure (such as deploying new servers or business applications).

Jon:

Should a company be interested in an MSP that offers vendor management?

Scott:

Vendor management is an important part of an MSP’s service offering, yet few engage to provide vendor management to the extent that it benefits the business.  When an application or support need extends beyond the MSP’s included service levels, a vendor must be engaged to provide support.  Some examples of this could be a failed PC that requires the manufacturer to repair, or a business application that requires specialized support.  In many cases, the MSP will tell the customer “it’s not my problem – you need to call X”.  The customer is then caught in the middle trying to determine which path to take.  A good Managed Services Provider will take the issue and run with it by contacting the vendor on behalf of the customer, and staying on top of the issue through to resolution.  This removes the burden from the customer and allows them to focus on generating revenue for the business.

Jon:

Is it sufficient for an MSP to handle all technology issues remotely only? Or is it preferred to get some onsite management and support as well?

Scott:

There have been great advances in remote support tools over the last few years, which is why the MSP market has shifted from predominantly onsite support to a remote support model.  Some MSP’s do not provide onsite support at all, unless required by a project.  However, most good MSP’s will provide a combination of remote and onsite support.  This allows the service provider to become familiar with the unique needs of the users, to better understand the physical layout of the customer’s facility, and most importantly allows for “face-time” with the customer.  The better MSP’s also layer in value-added consulting (virtual CIO) in addition to the back-end support, to ensure that the client’s business goals and IT strategy remain in alignment.

Jon:

What other factors should be considered before choosing to put all trust in a Managed Service Provider?

Scott:

While the MSP market has become somewhat commoditized, selecting the right service provider is not a decision to be taken lightly.  Selecting the low-cost leader is often a recipe for disaster, as the old adage “You get what you pay for” holds true.  The most important factor in selecting a Managed Services Provider is to be an informed buyer.  Make sure that you understand the service levels being offered and how they measure up against the MSP’s who are trying to win your business.  Ask them to speak to relevant industry experience with your business type, and be sure to check references.  Some of the most common services should include:

  1. Proactive monitoring and maintenance of servers and desktops – including application of patches, updates and hotfixes as well as scheduled maintenance such as disk defragmentation and cleanup of temporary files to improve performance.  Monthly reporting of monitoring data should be provided along with a summary of issues noted and recommendations to consider.
  2. Daily backup monitoring and periodic testing to ensure that your data is secure and recoverable
  3. Guaranteed response time – and monthly reporting metrics to quantify adherence to the service level agreement.
  4. Network documentation – your service provider should provide you will all passwords to servers, routers, software license keys, and vendor contacts so that you are not “held hostage” by not having access to your server and network configurations.
  5. Strategic planning – to help with budgeting for technology refreshes, and to ensure that IT initiatives remain in alignment with your overall business goals and objectives.

Jon:

Well Scott, thank you so much for your time. I’m sure your expert advice on what to look for in a Managed Service Provider clearly answered the questions of our loyal readers.

If you would like any further clarification, or have any other questions about Managed Service Providers, please leave a comment here or email us as [email protected]!

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