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6 things to consider when choosing a managed service provider

A managed service provider (MSP) can be a valuable partner and a true aid to your business as it grows but choosing the right one can be difficult. Here are six important points to consider when matching your business to an MSP.

  1. Do you know yourself?

    Before you look at which MSP you should work with, it’s important to truly understand your own business.

    Is your business thirsty for innovation, or does it resist change? The appetite of a business for innovation and risk falls along a continuum with high innovation and high risk at one end, and low levels of innovation and little appetite for risk at the other.

    High innovators, like start-ups, can flip their business model seemingly overnight and need information and communications technology and partners that can support that kind of change. Low innovators value predictability, dislike risk, and only innovate when the market or technology forces the change. Where are you on the continuum?

    Scale is important too – and you’ll see that this is a recurring theme – so if you have a medium-sized business, you’ll probably fit best with a medium sized MSP. If they’re too big for you then you won’t be important enough to get good service and if you’re too big for them, you’ll end-up feeling under serviced and let-down.

  2. How much does it cost you to stay current?

    During the process of finding a service provider it is important to consider ALL the costs of your current information and communications systems. Above all, consider how much time and money your staff spends just keeping up with developments in technology, evaluating that technology and making recommendations.

    In your business, you bear 100 percent of the cost of acquiring that knowledge and, at best, you’re getting a general to slightly specialised view of the marketplace, and don’t have the opportunity to deeply evaluate many of the IT solutions before you pay for them.

    On the other hand, your MSP spreads the cost of maintaining current knowledge across its entire client pool and can evaluate many of the software tools coming onto the market. A good MSP will use this knowledge to make suggestions to you about potential improvements or cost savings for the business and should also be able to respond knowledgeably to your questions.

    It’s also critical to realise that, as quickly as information and communications technology advances, the threats posed through data security issues will evolve just as rapidly. Make sure your prospective managed service provider (MSP) provides you with 100% confidence that they are competently staying on top of emerging threats and are always committed to keeping you current and protected.

    If security and compliance are not one of the key priorities for your potential MSP, consider it a major red flag. In this case, you need to reconsider your options immediately.

    Related articles: How to get more out of your IT budget?

  3. Does your proposed MSP offer the breadth of services you need?

    First, it’s important to understand that the line between IT and communications has blurred – it’s ICT (information and communications technology) now. Your MSP needs to be able to support and provide professional services for both. The professional services function is important because this is where much of the MSP’s value add comes from. If your MSP is focused completely on hardware and is less interested in the non-technical aspects of your business, then walk away.

    Focusing on hardware only, in this business, is a given. The value comes on top of that.

    Your prospective MSP should ask many questions about your business and your business imperatives. It should regard those as important as its technology audit. It needs to provide and support an ICT strategy to enable your business outcomes.

  4. Do you think ICT will be an enabler for your business in the next five years?

    This is an important question and it goes back to the cultural fit of the organisation and your desire for risk and innovation.

    If you believe that information and communications technology is important to your future, will your in-house staff have the expert-level knowledge required for effective blue-sky thinking?

    Look for ICT consulting with a professional services function that is also looking forward, evaluating technology and can advise you on what fits your strategy. The best MSP for you will probably have subject matter experts (SMEs) in its professional services business that deal with the kind of work you do.

    You want an MSP that looks through the windscreen, not the rear-view mirror.

  5.   Is flexibility important to your business?

    If you value the ability to change, customise and develop your ICT activities and infrastructure, then you want an MSP that can be flexible.

    If your MSP is too rigid about changes and change management, you can find yourself carrying responsibility for anything you customise, which negates having an MSP in the first place. And you will be charged for all the changes. This is fine in a bank that needs to maintain 25,000 identical terminals in branches around the country. But a rapidly changing business, that may have some in-house developers, is constantly testing new paths forward, or is developing new businesses or business models, requires a more flexible approach.

    If your business values change and adaptation, seek out an MSP that offers progressive change management that accepts change as a constant.

    Related articles: Why are organisations turning to managed IT services?

  6. Pick a culture you want to work with, not individual people

    This ties back to the scale question again. Fundamentally, the quality of service you receive should not be tied to any one individual. You don’t want to be in the situation where you call up with a question and it can only be solved next week when someone comes back from holidays. That’s a sure sign that your MSP is too small for your business.

    Also, if you choose well, you will have a long relationship with your MSP. People will come and go, but hopefully the culture will stay the same.

    About service levels:  make sure you know who will be answering the phone when you call. Some MSPs will commit to a service level agreement (SLA) that requires them to answer your query within a certain amount of time, only to meet the SLA by having someone very junior – often in an overseas call centre – take your call, write a service ticket and send you a holding email.

    Ideally, you want the person who takes the call to have some skills and access to your documentation so that they can undertake basic diagnosis and troubleshooting during the call. It also helps if there is a relatively small distance – socially and physically – between the call taker and the person who can solve the problem.

    You are engaging an MSP to unburden your business from the expenses – both financial and in management time – of maintaining a large internal ICT function. But the MSP needs to add more value than just replacing the function. It should work with your business as a strategic partner to help you achieve your strategic ambitions. So look for an MSP that can work with you the way you want to work.

If your IT solutions aren’t delivering value, get in touch with us today.

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