Evolved from IT resellers and technical support companies, IT Managed Service Providers (MSP’s) deliver ongoing outsourced IT support and administration of a company’s computer systems, their users and infrastructure. They typically charge for their services on a monthly per employee or per device fee. Although MSP’s have existed for some time, we have seen their popularity grow in recent years, largely in the small and medium enterprise market segment.
This article assumes you have decided hiring an MSP is the right choice for your organization. Making the decision to hire an MSP will be the subject of a future article. This article will help with the many factors that need to be considered in helping you select the right one.
#1 - Service Offering
Your technical infrastructure includes your devices, servers, network and applications. Not all MSPs provide the same services but most MSP’s start with a base product offering that may include some of the above, and then offer additional a-la-carte options as desired. What is consistent across all MSP’s is remote technical support. Even though many MSP’s are very effective troubleshooting problems remotely, you need a clear understanding of when they will come onsite for hands on support and if that is included in the base price or is an additional paid service. MSP’s may also be able to assist you with backup offerings, end point security protection, network and Wi-Fi security, updates & patching, proactive system monitoring, applications support and other services as well. You may not be interested in all these services today, but keep in mind as you scale, you want to make sure your MSP can scale with you. Be sure you understand what is included and what is extra, or out-of-scope.
#2 – Coverage Area
This applies to organizations that operate with more than one geographic location or have a distributed workforce. Do not discredit the local and smaller Managed Service Providers out there if this is the case. Many have strong partnership arrangements to give them national and international reach when it comes to dispatching onsite support. Ask about the arrangements of these partnerships to make sure they meet your needs.
#3 – Platforms & Areas of Expertise
Does your organization use primarily Microsoft products, or Apple, Linux or otherwise? Are your applications running on premise, in the cloud, or a hybrid of both? What type of IT infrastructure have you invested in that you need supported? Different Managed Service Providers have different partnerships and skillsets. Those partnerships (ie. Microsoft Gold Partner) give that MSP access to more resources behind the scenes. You need to make sure any MSP you are considering is well versed with what you need supported. Ask for certifications and experiences their employees have with the technology you rely on.
#4 - Familiarity with your Industry
Most Managed Service Providers work with a variety of businesses in different industries, and so it is likely they have some experience working in your industry. You should confirm this though. Some MSP’s focus on specific sectors or have found themselves with most of their clients in select industries. An MSP being experienced in your line of business could be advantageous to you, but an MSP with experience across many lines of business may bring different insights and opportunities.
#5 - Size of Existing Clients
If you are a company of 75 employees, for example, it might be a good idea to get a sense of how experienced your potential MSP’s are with servicing organizations your size. You may not want to select an MSP who primarily works with larger organizations, or opposite, you may not want to select an MSP who primarily works with smaller organizations. You want to be a good fit and vice versa.
#6 – Metrics & Service Levels
A strong Managed Service Provider should easily provide you operating metrics and be open to sharing this information with you. You will want to understand expected and average response times for critical, medium and low severity issues. If your expectation is 2 hours – make that contractual through a Service Level Agreement (SLA). Does your interested MSP offer services 24x7? Do these metrics change after hours? Further to response times, you may want to understand their mean time to resolve issues. It is also okay to ask how many tickets their Service Desk handles in a day (opened tickets and closed tickets), and what their average ticket backlog is. You will also want to understand what reports you will receive on a weekly or monthly basis. Is there a dashboard you can view to see your metrics in real time?
#7 – Contract Terms
Not everyone has the luxury of passing agreements by their legal department for advice. You still need to know what you are signing. It is important to review contracts carefully and do not be afraid to ask for clarity on what you don’t understand, and revisions on what you don’t like. Pay particularly close attention to the length of the agreement and whether it auto renews. Understand the termination process including potential fees. Understand all fees and payment schedules including onboarding and monthly fees. Service Level Objectives and Agreements may also be of importance. And be sure to understand all indemnity clauses in case of wrongdoing and damages. All contracts should also include client confidentiality clauses.
#8 – Cost
Managed Service Providers operate in a competitive space and you absolutely want to be sure you are being offered fair and competitive pricing. You are safe to negotiate on price and services offered. Keep in mind you want to have a good working relationship with the MSP you proceed with so squeezing them for every dollar may not be in your best interest. Ask for written clarity on potential onboarding and termination fees. It is important to recognize that every MSP is looking to increase their billable hours with you by offering additional higher value services. It is their easiest and best way of increasing revenue. Get a clear understanding of what is and is not included in their service offering to you. Ask for and negotiate their hourly rate for project and other out of scope work. Also understand that services like 2-hour response will likely be much more expensive than 4-hour or next day response. And onsite service will always be more expensive than remote support. Choose the services you can afford but also ones that you truly need. Choose an MSP that allows you to adjust services during the life of the contract as your business will grow and change.
#9 – Conflicts of Interests
Technicians may be rewarded for finding extra billable work that falls outside of the monthly fees. Managed Service Providers are often rewarded by manufacturers to sell more or specific hardware, software or services at certain times. This could result in savings if you need those items but at an additional cost if they were not forecasted or necessary. Keep in mind, like you, the MSP is running a business, and their business and profits are their primary focus. But it is likely they will bring sound recommendations forward so be open to these. It’s also in their best interest that your technical infrastructure works well. Typically, investments in hardware and software result in efficiencies, greater reliability and uptime. But you may not be required to do this work exclusively with your MSP. Your MSP should know your environment well so it may be advantageous to choose them for additional project work. It’s usually in your best interest to consider your options which may include second opinions and competitive quotes from other providers for out-of-scope work, especially from providers with specialties in that area of work.
#10 – References & Rating
Always ask for references – and be in touch with these references with some specific questions. Ask them how the MSP handled things when something bad happened. Bad things will happen, its during these times that the relationship is tested. It is also easy to find reviews online. Look for reviews beyond the MSP’s website. Simply searching for MSP’s name + reviews will likely result in some easy finds. Another thing to consider is employee reviews. Websites such as Indeed and Glassdoor may be able to give you a glimpse of how things are on the “inside”.
Bringing an MSP in to your organization is a big decision and should be treated as such. Take your time and do your research. Choosing the wrong provider can lead to major frustrations for you, your employees and your customers. Worst case scenario it can have a very negative impact to your business and its bottom line.