We still get asked on occasion what MSP means and what an IT Managed Service Provider does.

The biggest reason is that the business demand for managed services continues to grow at an amazing pace, so those that are now considering employing an MSP for the first time or changing to a new provider often need a quick 101 on what it all entails.

An increasing number of small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) leverage managed IT services for a variety of reasons. They gain access to newer technologies with the expertise to implement them more quickly, realize better uptime, and free up internal staff to focus on their core business offerings and those they serve. As data protection now requires constant monitoring with the need for newer technology to meet industry requirements and best practices, businesses are turning to managed service providers more often for management of certain IT functions like email hosting, storage, backup and recovery, network monitoring, and cybersecurity.

While managed services are not a one-size-fits-all solution, they do offer a clear-cut solution to a number of significant business challenges faced by organizations of all shapes and sizes.

MSP Defined

Managed Services is the practice of outsourcing day-to-day technology responsibilities to a third party as a strategic method for improving operations and accelerating a return on technology investment. Truthfully though, "managed services" is an umbrella term for a variety of different kinds of offerings.

Managed Services Provider (MSP) is a company that provides either on-site or, in most cases, remote management of a client's IT infrastructure and/or end-user systems. This is typically done on a proactive basis and under a subscription model based off the complexity of your network with virtual or on-premises servers, the number of devices, any industry-specific equipment or software, the number of physical locations that may need Boots On The Ground (BOTG) service, and the number of users that are accessing your system.

MSPs can handle any number of crucial tasks including remotely monitoring and managing networks and services, providing IT strategy, and helping procure equipment. A good MSP should also provide the latest cybersecurity strategy and tools, data backup and recovery services, unified communications, and more — as technology evolves, so do the services of MSPs.

The largest concern for MSPs today besides keeping you up and running is cybersecurity. Threats can now arise inside and outside a company's network, making businesses more aware of their exposure to hacking or ransomware events. This is why it is crucial for businesses to pay close attention to cybersecurity and the possible threats that can occur and have a proactive strategy in place — now.

Benefits of Managed Services

A managed services provider can be essential for safeguarding a business's most valuable asset — time. By giving managers more time to focus on core competencies and important business functions, a business can greatly increase productivity.

Small and mid-size businesses must balance a range of challenges in managing their IT function because they usually do not have the skills or resources required to fully meet their needs. To address this issue, many businesses have turned to the support of an MSP.

Here are the top drivers why SMBs are leveraging managed services:

  • Need for greater technical expertise
  • Need for the latest protections in cybersecurity
  • Systems getting too complex to manage internally
  • Want to focus internal resources on core business operations
  • Need to reduce cost of internal IT support
  • Want help using technology to drive business forward
  • Need expertise specific to industry vertical including compliance and best practices

Now that we have outlined some of the reasons why companies are turning to managed services, let us review how you can work with one to achieve ideal results.

How to Work With a Managed Services Provider

It can be a bit uncomfortable or overwhelming when first considering outsourcing a section of your business. Any trepidation that you may feel is normal as you are opening the most confidential aspects of your business to an outside firm and paying another "vendor" to support your business. Finding the right, competent partner that you can trust is critical. So, here is a brief list of things you should look for in a potential MSP.

Services Contract

This is one item that you will want to find out earlier on in the process — it is the best way to protect you and your business from any unforeseen expenses later on in the partnership. The goal here being not to be surprised with any unknown costs at the end of the month.

Having a clear idea of what your business needs are will save you time as managed services providers can differ on how they provide services. Good news though, the MSP should be able to assist you with this process. River Run is a "hybrid" MSP that offers all "three doors" to clients — the option to pay a monthly flat fee in advance, purchase time in blocks of hours that are billed and renewed based on the amount of work actually being done, or after-service billing. Each method is calculated differently, so finding the one that suits your needs and comfort level is important.

Business Growth

All businesses are focused on growth, even further, driving new and sustained revenue growth. When selecting a provider, you will want to choose an MSP that will assist with your growth plans. As your business experiences growth, you will naturally add more staff, so you need to select an MSP that will make it easy and affordable to add new workstations, employee accounts, and/or locations.

Modern Technology Including Cybersecurity Tools & Services

One thing is certain, technology will continue to change and evolve. You need a managed services provider that is able to adapt to both growth and change. This means the MSP has a plan to keep your business current with technology, based on your budget and needs.

Help Desk

Help desks are one of the most popular managed services out there today. It is important to understand, though, that all help desks are not created equal. One critical, and easily identifiable, difference is where the help desk is located. Is the help desk U.S.-based or not? If not, is it in a geographic area prone to natural disaster? Does the MSP you will partner with have their own support desk or do they outsource to a call center? Do they provide First Call Resolution, meaning that the same person who answers the phone has technical training to begin helping you, rather than a call center agent that will take your information and then have someone call you? This can be frustrating as you often have to describe the issue multiple times, and the resolution time can be much longer.

Additionally, it is important to know what the operating hours are for the help desk. You should have a 24/7 help desk service because technology never sleeps, and neither does commerce. If your entire email network goes down on New Year's Day, you are going to need to call the help desk, and if no one is there because you did not invest in a 24/7 system, you will start the new year with regrets and a lack of productivity.

Communication Expectations

We recommend that you make your communication expectations clear to the managed services provider from the beginning. Let them know that you expect to be included in certain events or items related to your industry and IT needs. Good MSPs want you to be involved and will have set procedures on how they communicate to keep you in the loop.

Here are some standard practices you can ask about:

  • Reports: Are they included in your service, and at what intervals will they be provided (quarterly, monthly, weekly, etc.)?
  • Meetings: Do they offer recurring meetings as a way to stay up to date?
  • Troubleshooting: This is more personal preference, but do you want your MSP to come to you when there is a problem, or do you just want them to handle it?

When Should You Make a Change to an MSP?

A study by CompTIA found that nearly two-thirds of organizations are using managed services for at least one IT function — not too surprising considering the many options MSPs offer and the increasing dependency on technology.

MSPs provide a wide range of services and features, but they also complement in-house IT staff. Does that mean outsourcing some or all of our IT needs to an MSP is right for your business, though?

Below are some helpful items to consider when evaluating your managed services options:

  • Do you feel like your in-house IT team could use extra time to focus on big-picture projects like business development, strategic efforts, or employee productivity?
  • Are you looking to move your data to the cloud?
  • Is your business large enough to justify a full in-house IT team (troubleshooting, security engineer, software development, etc.)?
  • Do you currently have an Incident Response Plan (IRP) for your data?
  • Do you like the idea of a fixed monthly fee for all of your IT needs or paying for blocks of time in advance to have additional support?
  • Could your employees benefit from a more collaborative and flexible communications system?
  • Would support for purchasing equipment, managing software licenses and renewals, managing assets, and having a roadmap for the future make sense for you?
  • Do you have remote workers? Do you plan to have remote workers in the future?
  • Does your business work with sensitive data?
  • Do you see your IT needs elapsing your current IT solution?
  • Do you have the latest in cybersecurity offerings and employ an evolving strategy to thwart malware and ransomware?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, there is a very good chance that it might be time for you to consider a managed services provider for your business.

River Run has been serving hundreds of businesses like yours for over 28 years. Helping your business, employees, clients, and community achieve meaningful results as a trusted provider of IT managed services is our mission. To find out more, contact David Pede at dpede@river-run.com or call us at 414-228-7474.



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