There are many reasons why a business may turn to a managed service provider (MSP) to help manage the burden of its IT services. For instance, firms may want to cut costs, tap into expertise or technologies they may otherwise not have the resources to manage, or they want to focus more on developing new innovative solutions rather than day-to-day monitoring and maintenance.
But as with any major change in how a business operates, there will always be hurdles to overcome. Whether it's trying to integrate disconnected systems and processes, questions over security or downtime, or even the inevitable culture clashes that can arise when two different organizations come together
However, if you plan effectively, have the right tools in place and take steps to address any issues before they turn into a major problem, you can avoid many of the pitfalls that lie in wait.
So what challenges can IT managers expect to encounter when setting up a relationship with a new MSP, and how can they make sure it won't have a negative impact on their business? Here are some key things to look out for:
1. Addressing any downtime
The potential for downtime that is out of a company's control is one of the biggest concerns for managers when outsourcing any part of their IT network. If there are delays in dealing with any problems - such as technicians who aren't available 24/7 - you can be left waiting, unable to do anything, until someone is available, as there will be little you can do at your end.
What you can expect from your partners - and what provisions there are to address any issues - should be spelled out clearly in your service level agreement. This should state what level of uptime you can expect and what compensation you will be entitled to if this minimum is not achieved. The lower the guarantee, the more downtime you may have to endure without compensation, so be sure to take this into consideration if you have mission-critical systems managed by your partner. And always have a plan B you can turn to in an emergency.
2. Aligning your objectives
Your MSP needs to be on board with your way of working and looking towards the same business goals, not merely monitoring IT systems. If they aren't making this a priority, it could actually harm your business if they insist on specific processes or systems that don't align with your objectives.
Therefore, it's vital to discuss from an early stage what your business goals are and how you expect the MSPs to help achieve them, whether this is freeing up more time for your employees or streamlining particular processes. Find out specifics about how your MSP's technology will work to achieve this, and what, if any, restrictions or requirements they will have on processes or tools used. You can then work together to establish if changes need to be made.
3. Solving security issues
The security of MSP solutions should be a major concern for any business, so it's important to have a full understanding of how responsibilities will be divided between these parties. While a good MSP will be likely to have robust protections in place for any data or processes they manage, you can't rely on any partner to take care of security for you.
It's especially important to assess security protections if you're working with a company that is based in another jurisdiction, as this could have implications both for data sovereignty and how well your partner understands specific regulatory rules in your location. But even if they can give the right reassurances, you need an approach that you can maintain control over, so be sure to implement your own solutions at every level, in addition to whatever an MSP might offer.
4. Fixing a lack of flexibility
IT managers always need to be aware of the risk that they could become tied to as a result of their MSP's technology, which may well include proprietary solutions that require a certain way of working. The result of this can leave companies finding themselves without the flexibility they need to react to changing market conditions or technology advances without major restructuring.
This is an issue that will be very hard to solve once contracts have been signed and the MSP is embedded in a firm's systems, so it must be addressed early in the procurement process, with IT managers receiving assurances as to what they will and will not be able to do within the MSP's environment. If this feels too restrictive, it's best to look elsewhere before it's too late.
5. Dealing with cultural differences
Culture is an essential part of what any business does, and it can't be overlooked when dealing with suppliers such as MSP firms. These companies should not be seen merely as contractors that come in to do a specific job. In today's environment, they will be integrated much more closely into the organization, so must be as aligned as any full-time employee.
This is another issue that can be hard to rectify if it isn't addressed early. If the cultural values of the MSP don't match up with your own, be it related to levels of customer service, accountability or passion, the partnership will never be able to meet its full potential.
Therefore, it's important you make questions about culture part of your initial discussions, and that your values are communicated as clearly to a possible partner, so they are treated just as importantly as technical requirements. Make it clear what your expectations are and if you aren't satisfied from the MSP's answers, look elsewhere.