Over the last few years, Managed Service Providers (MSPs) have become the norm for many businesses looking to ensure they have the best, most-up-to-date IT systems without having to devote huge amounts of internal resources to building their own solutions.
MSPs offer the promise of taking much of the day-to-day work off your hands by monitoring and managing key systems so you can get on with the task of helping drive your business forward. But when it comes to actually choosing a partner, this can be a daunting process.
There are countless firms out there, large and small, all promising the ability to make your life easier for a relatively small fee. Some specialize in specific sectors or areas, while others claim to be all things to all people. So how should you go about narrowing down your options and finding a partner that's a perfect fit for you?
The first thing you’ll want to do is establish exactly why you're turning to an MSP. Not every company will have the same needs, and this will affect how they think about their strategy. For instance, do you need 24/7 support that you can't provide in-house? Are you in an industry with especially stringent compliance requirements? Are you trying to fill a particular skills gap? There's no one-size-fits-all approach to managed services, so these will all have an impact on what services will be best for you.
Having a clear idea of exactly what you hope to get out of a relationship can greatly reduce the time it takes to procure and roll out an MSP partnership. Here are four tips to help ensure you're on the right track.
1. Know how you expect to pay
There are a range of pricing options available for managed services, some of which may be more suited to the way you do business or the exact needs you have. For example, some providers will be based around a per-device model, whereby customers pay a flat fee for each item that is managed and monitored by the MSP, such as a mobile or desktop system.
This is especially useful if you value predictability, as it gives a clear idea of what you will pay each month, while it's also flexible enough to be scaled up and down if your business needs change.
Alternatively, there is the per-user model, which will cover support for every device used in the business. There are also tiered models to consider, as well as 'a la carte' and 'all you can eat' options. Figure out which will be the most cost-effective and easy-to-manage solution for your needs and you'll be in a much better position to narrow down your options.
2. Establish your regulatory requirements
For some businesses, things will not be as simple as selecting an outsourcing provider based on price or service level, as they will have very particular compliance and regulatory requirements that must be taken into account. And even if there are no industry-specific rules relating to security, compliance or auditing, more general requirements such as the EU's GDPR have to be taken into account.
Not all MSPs will be equal when it comes to meeting these challenges. While many will claim expertise in these areas, you'll have to establish exactly what they offer in practice. For instance, if they don’t specialize in your particular industry, is it worth taking a chance ahead of a more narrowly-focused provider?
Determine exactly what certifications they have, whether they are accredited by third parties, and if they will take the lead when it comes to ensuring compliance with regulations, or if you will have to accept responsibility in this area.
3. Have a clear service level in mind
There are a range of options when it comes to what you can expect from an MSP, from basic tiers to pick-and-mix packages that offer specific services. Therefore, it's essential that you have a clear idea of what level of service you'll actually get for your money, and what isn't included.
For example, if a service offers '24/7' support, how is this achieved? There's a big difference between an out-of-hours service that only lets you raise a support ticket via a contact form and one that lets you pick up the phone and speak to someone directly at any time of the day or night. True 24/7 support will likely be more costly, so figure out if the extra expense is worth it, for example, for mission-critical applications where any downtime will be hugely problematic.
Other factors to consider include being clear about what issues you're prepared to handle yourself and what responsibilities will be passed to the MSP, what compensation policies are in place if agreed standards aren't met, and issues of data sovereignty, especially in the event of a breach or a termination. All these should be clearly spelled out in the service level agreement, so if you know what you need at the start, it will make reviewing these documents much easier.
4. Don't underestimate the importance of personal relationships
It may be easy to focus heavily on price or features when choosing an MSP, but you shouldn't overlook less technical aspects. You're going to have to work with your MSP closely - ideally for many years to come - so it's vital you choose a partner that accepts your company culture, aligns with your values and understands your unique perspective.
Even though you and your MSP contact will work for different organizations, you're likely to have a close working relationship, and it's not uncommon for MSP representatives to be involved in internal meetings to offer their input. But if anything does go wrong, it will be you that bears ultimate responsibility.
Ensuring you can have confidence in potential MSPs can make a professional relationship much smoother, and set you up better for the long term. Draw up a list of what you expect from your partner on a personal level, and don't be afraid to look elsewhere if you're not feeling a connection with a provider that looks good on paper but is failing to deliver.