More and more businesses are investing in a managed service provider (MSP) to guide, support, and enhance their IT operations. As the technologies and vendors that power modern business continue to multiply, organizations are turning to dedicated professionals to help them manage the growing complexity and cost associated with such rapid developments.
Robust and well-managed IT operations have long been an opportunity for augmenting business efficiency, but today they are more than that. Properly operating technology is absolutely mission critical for many businesses. In the digital economy, where most marketing, sales, product development, collaboration, customer support, and even service delivery is mediated by computer networks, every company is a technology company.
Given the considerable technological requirements of modern business, choosing the right MSP has implications for the functioning of an organization from the top down. Still, many firms find themselves dissatisfied with the quality of service they are receiving. Common complaints include:
- Calls go unanswered and lines of communication are confusing
- Business needs go unmet
- Bills are unpredictable or inscrutably vague
- Documentation isn’t being regularly recorded or transmitted
- Access credentials are not available around the clock
- Problems aren’t addressed with sufficient speed
- Older technology isn’t being phased out
- New technologies are promoted without first establishing a need
- Insufficient manpower is being deployed
- Security holes aren’t being patched
- Networks are going unmonitored
- All work is done in reaction to an issue or request, never proactively
If your company is dealing with any of these challenges, it’s time to start reevaluating your MSP. A qualified IT service provider is more than capable of avoiding these problems and helping your organization utilize its technologies efficiently, predictably, and effectively.
In particular, there are four crucial proficiencies they should be delivering to your business:
1. Leveraging a mutually-beneficial and personal relationship to ensure a proper fit of your technology to your needs
Impersonal service providers commoditize their offering with generic responses and recommendations. They don’t take the time to check that the technologies they are promoting are actually producing measurable business results. Nor do they act with the requisite care and attention when interfacing with a client. Service requests should be seen as more than faceless “tickets,” but as human beings with pressing concerns.
Furthermore, when an exciting piece of business technology first hits the market there is often a mad scramble to adopt it. Some firms do so because they want to be seen as cutting-edge, others because they see the competition doing it and fear being left behind. A smart and practical MSP, however, will always investigate the real world usage case of a new technology before implementation.
The novelty and sheen of the latest tool wears off quickly (and there is always a new product or service coming). Those early adopters end up with software or systems that don’t integrate well with their business, which is a waste of time and money.
2. Demonstrable openness, transparency, accountability, and a fundamentally collaborative approach
MSP’s without resources like skilled engineers that are as talented at working with other people as they are with technology, are simply unable to provide an adequate level of service to their clients, which inevitably results in downstream business failures like opaque bills, work done outside of the scope of a service level agreement (SLA), miscommunications and duplicated work, and no clarity as to who controls essential documentation and credentials.
Another common issue are first-call failures, which refer to situations where a client finds themselves stuck on hold or bounced around different departments from the moment they contact their MSP — and no one ever takes responsibility for the issue or attempts to correct it.
Sometimes there simply isn’t a skilled enough respondent on hand to answer the client’s question, but just as commonly, the MSP lacks a well-documented and organized response framework. The clearest sign that something is wrong is a messy list of individuals or teams to call for different issues. There should be one point of contact for the client that is capable of addressing their problem, deploying the proper response, and being accountable for the outcome.
3. A willingness to perform as a true partner that takes ownership of all technology initiative outcomes and reacts with the same urgency as an in-house IT team
Your MSP should offer options like a virtual CIO who monitors and manages all IT activity to keep response times down, network speeds up, security protocols updated, equipment running properly, and a sufficient allocation of manpower working for you.
For that reason, a common concern is a lack of scalability on the part of the MSP. They may be built only to handle a specific size and type of IT operation, instead of designed from the onset to grow with their clients, adding on new capabilities and bandwidth so that the client’s business can grow as quickly as the market dictates with minimal friction.
Growth only adds to IT complexity. Billing becomes more involved, as does juggling a mushrooming list of vendors and licenses. The MSP’s job is to make growth a seamless process and serve as a facilitator not an obstacle. Only a true partner, one that succeeds when you succeed, will be well positioned to fill that role.
4. Proactive leadership that anticipates problems and addresses them before they snowball
Traditional break-fix models that preceded MSP solutions created perverse incentives for IT providers. Those IT firms made more money by letting known issues fail rather than mitigating or preventing the damage beforehand. Worse, they might not even be actively monitoring for trouble in the first place. Expensive and disruptive downtime for you was good for their bottom line.
The MSP model solves that problem with an ongoing relationship and better aligned goals. That said, not every MSP lives up to that promise. A diligent and proactive MSP doesn’t just show up after the lights go out or only offer generic solutions that aren’t customized to your needs. It presents forward-looking planning that anticipates problems and boosts your organization’s efficiency and performance.
The Right People and Process
Success in the modern marketplace demands an MSP that works synergistically internally and with clients. Everyone from the help desk to Network Operations Center (NOC) technicians to the virtual CIO should be capable of adhering to best practices, documenting their activities, and effectively communicating with the client when required.
IT business environments are complex; there is no fully automated, ‘set it and forget it’ solution for achieving your key performance objectives while controlling costs. It takes continual monitoring, adaptation, and strategic investment in human and technological resources.