Are you devoting the right amount of attention to your company's IT functions? If you aren't sure, it may be time to considering contracting with a Managed Service Provider (MSP). Experienced, well-established MSP technology vendors can take on your IT maintenance, support, etc. This not only ensures security: It also helps make the most efficient use of all your business resources.
Of course, if you don’t have an IT department, it makes sense to outsource. But even if you have a stellar IT team, you may want to consider an MSP. Here are three of many reasons:
- You can focus on your business. Having an MSP “on call” can free up your internal IT staffers for more strategic projects, Carolyn April, senior director of industry analysis at CompTIA tells CIO.
- You can better control your IT budget and costs. If your technology costs are fluctuating and your budget is unpredictable, you may need an MSP, TechAdvisory.org suggests. You can often pay a flat monthly fee. This makes it easy for companies to budget for technology. For SMBs, this is crucial. Data from Alinean tells the story: SMBs often outspend larger companies. The average small business spends 6.9 percent of its revenue on IT. Midsize companies spend 4.1 percent. Large companies spent 3.2 percent.
Working with the right technology vendor not only helps keep costs steady; it may help lower them.
- Security. This most important reason. Most small and medium-sized businesses are targets for cyberattacks, and the number is growing. Yet the overwhelming majority do not think they are prepared for a cyberattack. An MSP can help make sure you are.
If you’ve decided it’s time to make the move, here are some tips to help you sort through technology vendors to find the right one.
Do your due diligence
The first step is finding the right MSP for your business. Here are some tips to get started.
Know what you need. Make sure you have a good understanding of the services you need before you begin your search for an MSP. That way, you can look for someone who will be able to meet your specific needs. That may be more difficult than it sounds: Redmond Magazine points out that every IT department is at a different stage and has unique requirements; similarly, MSPs offer different services and have different areas of expertise.
Assess your future needs. Your IT requirements continually evolve; you need an MSP who can provide suite services that will respond to these changes, TechAdvisory.org counsels. And make sure that those services can be delivered without additional costs.
Look for experience. Not that long ago, it was hard to find a seasoned MSP. But the market is maturing, according to CompTIA's Fifth Annual Trends in Managed Services market report. It found 43 percent of MSPs surveyed in 2016 said they’ve been in the market for five or more years. Only 12 percent have less than two years of experience. As part of looking for experience, find out how many other clients the MSP has that are your size. You don’t just want years in business--you want expertise with businesses like yours.
Look at past performance. Find out the MSP’s reputation. Of course, you should ask for testimonials and references, but do some digging on your own, as well.
Make sure they know your business. Listen to the questions they ask you. Are they interested in your particular business needs? “Look for MSPs that understand your business and that speak less about the technology,” counsels April. “You want a partner that can talk about business outcomes and how their services are going to help further your goals from a business perspective, not a technology perspective.”
Before you seal the deal
Once you identify a potential candidate or two, ask the right questions and look for red flags.
Demand transparency. Watch out for white-labeling. Does the MSP really have a 24/7 help desk? They may say they offer one but, in reality, be contracting with a different organization that answers the phone under the local MSP’s name--either all the time, or on nights and weekends, Redmond Magazine warns. If so, it’s not necessarily a negative; the issue is transparency. Be sure to ask.
Negotiate based on what your organization needs. Remember what you learned from the due diligence and use that during negotiations. Pay for what you need, not for bells and whistles you don’t. Avoid the boilerplate. If an MSP offers you a standard, un-customized service-level agreement, be wary, says April. “It's a much better sign if they seek to craft a customized contract based on your business and needs.”
The contract is just the beginning. Here are some tips for building a successful relationship.
Trust but verify. Make sure the backup and recovery systems are functioning as promised. Work with the MSP to regularly test recoveries to ensure your backups are current. You need to be confident that the MSP’s backup provider can bring your business back online in case of an outage, Redmond Magazine advises. You need to be certain the backup and recovery services are working well before you need them.
Communicate. Don’t think of it as outsourcing your IT function; think of it as expanding your IT team. Remember what we said earlier--this isn’t about technology as much as it is about your business. Keep the MSP in the loop with regular meetings. Let them keep you up to date on security and data issues, and you keep them up to date on your business goals. Bonus: Keeping the channels open makes it easier to act quickly if something goes wrong.
One last thought
Retaining an experienced, capable and reliable MSP is a practical, economical investment that--handled wisely-- provide your business with long-term benefits. But that doesn’t mean you should jump right in.
Never forget it’s a business partnership, and the technology vendor you contract with needs to be a good fit. You don’t need a partner to help you become an IT expert; you need a partner to help you build your business. The right MSP can do just that.