What to look for in a Managed Service Provider
No matter whether your organisation has its own internal IT skills, a fully staffed IT department, or outsources IT management or support to a 3rd party specialist, working with an MSP (Managed Service Provider) is an option that might be worth exploring.
In simple terms, an MSP can deliver and manage some, any or all of the IT services and solutions that you need, either based on your premises, in their own data centre or in a third-party data centre.
What is an MSP?
MSPs enable businesses to outsource their IT infrastructure, services, network, security and applications in full, with ongoing support as part of the package.
Working with an MSP allows business owners, managers and heads of public sector organisations to run often complex IT systems and solutions efficiently, so they can focus on their core business processes and operations.
This enables everything from IT security, tech, HR, compliance, back-up and disaster recovery is independently managed so that it supports the functional and operational needs of the organisation and its staff.
What qualities should you look for in an MSP?
Today, there are some vitally important factors in working with a MSP successfully. Here are a few that our clients tell us are important to them.
Experience in Enabling Remote Working
The COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting effects on many aspects of life in the UK and around the world, particularly the switch from office-based working to a remote or hybrid model.
Many employees and employers alike now see how efficient hybrid or remote working practices can be, and there is growing evidence that bosses who don’t follow suit, will find themselves recruiting from a much-diminished pool of talent.
When you work with an MSP, you need to be certain that they have experience of delivering successful remote and hybrid solutions. They should understand how working from home impacts cybersecurity and how to mitigate the risks associated with multiple devices being used in distributed locations to access network- and cloud-based shared resources.
Skills in Cyber Security
Connected with the previous point, cybersecurity is a perennial concern for any business or public sector organisation.
According to the 2020 Cyberthreat Defence Report, 80% of UK organisations experienced some kind of successful cyber-attack in 2020.
The impact of an attack of this kind can be huge in terms of data loss, recovery costs and reputational damage.
You need to ensure that your MSP puts cybersecurity issues at the forefront of everything they deliver.
Some IT experts operate in a silo that places technical considerations front and centre, while ignoring – or not properly taking into account – wider business issues.
When you choose an MSP to partner with, you need to make sure they have a firm grasp of how IT issues impact and intersect with wider business concerns – and more importantly how IT solutions, when implemented and managed properly, can support business efficiency, growth and success.
In this way, all IT strategy and decision-making can be based on a business context, rather than the other way round.
There are plenty of technical gurus who may have demonstrable skills in a specific area of IT, who may have little experience of working in the real world.
It may be an obvious or simple question, but how long your MSP has been in continuous business through the global economic ups and downs of the last few years is a reflection on the talent and expertise they bring to your IT management.
For example, Alliance Solutions has been more than 20 years as an MSP, and every year we have built our knowledge to gain the expertise we provide today.
One of the key selling points of any MSP is that they will be there when you need them. If anything goes wrong, or you need general support, you need to know that there’s a support desk ready to respond to you if something does impact your IT systems.
Does your MSP offer a comprehensive helpdesk experience, and how quickly can you expect them to respond to phone calls, emails and website enquiries?
Network Operations Centre
Access to round the clock operations is a key factor to look out for.
If your MSP can offer IT monitoring, support and management on a 24 x 7 x 365 basis you should feel very reassured, especially if these services are backed by a Network Operations Centre (NOC) operating worldwide in different time zones.
Why is a NOC so important? Because if a problem occurs on a server overnight, you don’t want your users unable to work until the problem is resolved the following day. A NOC can detect and resolve most server issues before users are aware of them.
A proactive approach
The MSP you choose should have an approach to IT provision which is proactive rather than just reactive.
Do they adopt methods such as remote monitoring to spot possible problems and issues before they can become a real problem? What measures do they take to prevent and/or mitigate significant issues such as a data breach before they have a chance to impact the business?
At the same time, can they help you create a disaster recovery and backup plan so that in the event of a disaster, your organisation can be up and running again fast and does not suffer costly or prolonged downtime?
Clarity on their offer
Before signing a contract with an MSP, read through the proposed contract carefully to double-check that they offer exactly what you need.
In some cases, this will mean full IT solution provision, while in others you may simply want cover for a few gaps in the skillset of your in-house IT department – for example by outsourcing cybersecurity to a specialist.
Choose an MSP that offers precisely what you need initially, yet which has the capacity to scale up (or down) as and when your business needs change.
A questioning approach
You want to work with an MSP that shows interest in getting to know your business as a whole and how it needs IT to support its operations.
Your operational processes need to be supported by IT systems, so your MSP needs to be interested in what you do, how IT enables your organisation and why you work the way you do. You can judge your MSP based on the questions they ask you, as it means they want to understand who you are, what your organisation does and what principles and ethos drive you.
Infrastructure and staff
A good quality and trustworthy MSP will be open about its infrastructure, solutions and processes and will be happy for you to visit their premises and talk to their employees.
You need to be sure that they can handle fluctuations in demand, and deal with peaks in your business at the same time as peaks experienced by other clients.
Ideally your MSP should be able to share their strategy for future investment in skills, tools and systems, so you can be assured that they will keep pace with the often rapid changes in the technologies and dynamics of IT.
A key litmus test of any MSP is how other customers feel about their service delivery.
Does the MSP you’re talking to offer customer references or testimonials that show they have performed in real-world scenarios.
Even better, as contract discussions progress, you should ask to speak to one or two existing clients prepared to MSP experience.
Here at Alliance Solutions, we offer complete outsourced IT management for our clients or deliver specific services as and when needed.
We welcome the questions prospective clients ask, as it gives us an opportunity to showcase exactly what we offer, and our understanding of how important an effective relationship with an MSP is to wider business delivery.
If you’d like to know more about our IT solutions and services, please contact us on 0800 292 2100 or via email at email@example.com.