The proliferation of managed service providers (MSPs) over the last decade is due to an undeniable truth: in the digital age, many organizations are finding that maintaining their IT infrastructure is an overwhelming challenge.
IT services are core to your revenue generation. These days, there are no aspects of the business that do not depend on a properly functioning IT infrastructure. As we’ve observed, the increasing complexity of that infrastructure has naturally led to outsourcing IT management and monitoring to companies that specialize on keeping it all running.
Your relationship with your MSP is huge. The truth is, you’re not just purchasing a service, you’re entering a partnership – a partnership as crucial to your organization’s overall success as any that you will enter.
How, then, to vet the candidates for your valuable IT dollars? Below are some questions to ask, broken down into two categories. The first six are business-oriented questions and the next four are operational.
Ask these business questions during the first sales pitch. There should be no hesitation – your candidates should have responses ready for each:
1. How will your managed service help us compete more nimbly?
How you can better compete is what’s really at the core of the MSP conversation. Can they make you more efficient, more flexible? Can they help you win more? Enabling you to be nimble by leveraging state of the art technology, adapting quickly to emerging market trends – that’s the bottom line. Ask them about automations and machine learning. How do they do remediation and orchestration? What is their product roadmap for the next couple of years? What concrete examples do they offer that ensure that they can help you compete at the highest level?
2. How will your managed service fix our IT infrastructure problems and optimize our environment…not just take the mess away from us?
When you think about it, this is exactly why you are engaging them: their expertise in how a well-managed, well run IT infrastructure is put together and maintained.
3. How will your managed service help us adopt technologies more rapidly?
Are the MSP's engineers and techs already up to speed on the latest and greatest? Can they help you determine which technologies are appropriate for you and which won’t offer you any benefit?
4. How will your managed service enable better collaboration and innovation within our organization?
Any partnership with an MSP should be bringing you a smoother and more productive environment for your staff. Beware of sales pitches that offer the same set of tools, albeit at a lesser cost. You can do a lot better than that.
5. What is your uptime guarantee? Do you have reporting in place that will make me comfortable you are meeting the SLA we agree to?
The MSP should be managing and monitoring your applications, computers, networks and services to keep things running. Make them commit to response time and network uptime that’s close to 99.9%, the industry standard.
6. What kind of insurance do you have?
MSPs have various types of insurance. Data isn’t usually covered under the typical property insurance policy. Ask, for example, how you will be compensated for a data breach?
Next, don’t hesitate to ask questions that deal with the more nitty-gritty, functional aspect of how they have built and run their own business:
7. Is your help desk staffed in-house 24x7x365?
The SLA provides an overall assurance that they will keep you up and running. But if they outsource their help desk after hours or on weekends, your business is now dependent on your MSP's SLA with their vendor. Be critical.
8. Do you have your own data center, or do you outsource to a big cloud such as AWS or Azure?
Again, outsourcing on their end can lead to finger-pointing and a broken SLA.
9. How do you prevent cyberattacks and data breaches? What do you do if it happens?
Make yourself comfortable about the level of incident and penetration monitoring they have in place. Ensure that their incident response plan – including service restoration – is adequate.
10. Are your end client happy?
Don’t shy away from this one. There shouldn't be any issue with their ability to provide references to current customers. Everybody has skeletons in the closet – try to find out why past customers moved to another provider. Did the end clients choose the provider or did they fall into it as a result of an M&A? That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you deserve to know. When you talk to their references, ask if they feel the MSP delivered on what they promised both contractually and verbally. Ask if they can better compete in their vertical.
Shop for More Than Just Value
Shopping for a managed service provider is often instigated as a cost-cutting measure, coupled with a feeling that the current, ad-hoc built IT infrastructure is a bit of a mess. This is perfectly understandable when the short-term, tangible benefits of cheaper IT services are easily understood.
But the real value resides in the fact that managed services help to streamline operations, to innovate with new technologies and to drive more IT value to the organization. Effective managed services can also provide your company with a competitive edge by offering you increased efficiencies and improved internal communications.
A good MSP will offer intelligent and experienced technology professionals, powerful and insightful tools, and, without exception, employ industry-accepted best practices. Further, they will be able to provide data protection that complies with all pertinent regulatory requirements.
To understand the real value of managed services, you have to ask the right questions by placing the emphasis on your desired business outcomes and understanding the true ROI of managed services.
It all boils down to an open, honest discussion with your potential provider. Think through your questions before the meeting. Find out what differentiates them and how valuable their managed services offerings really are.
Size them up. Drill down as far as you need to. Keep in mind just how critical the decision is.