How To Choose A Managed IT Services Provider

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Choosing a MSP to handle your IT infrastructure is more cost-effective. Here's how to choose the right Managed IT Services Provider.

Almost every business today is dependent on computer-based services to meet the needs of their customers and run their own internal operations. But most small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) simply don’t have the budget or the focus required to maintain a first-class IT infrastructure. More and more SMBs are discovering that it’s much more cost effective to outsource major portions of their IT requirements to an Managed IT Services Provider, also known as a MSP, than to attempt to fulfill those responsibilities in house.

Employing an MSP to handle your company’s computer operations is a major decision that can have a significant impact of the success of the business. Selecting the wrong one can lead to major upheavals in your business operations. So, how can you go about selecting the right MSP for your business? Here are some suggestions:

1. Perform an assessment to understand your current IT status

Before talking to MSP candidates, you should assess your current IT infrastructure. This will help you develop a clear understanding of what your needs are, and the services you’ll require the vendor to provide.

You should document, for example, the number and types of servers, computers, and networks you have. What are the software applications your business depends on? Are you using some cloud services, such as Office 365, Dropbox, or industry-specific software packages, or do all your applications run on your own machines? Do you have business-critical workflows that have stringent up-time requirements? Is access to your system restricted to in-house employees, or can mobile users and outsiders such as suppliers and customers connect into some applications?

This is the type of detailed information you should have available when you meet with potential MSP vendors.

2. Determine the specific services you want the MSP to provide

Based on your assessment of your current IT operation, determine the minimum set of services an MSP will be expected to provide. For example, a recent industry survey reveals that the services businesses most commonly demand from their MSPs include secure data storage, backup, and disaster recovery (69%), network management (66%), and end-user or help desk support (52%).

A good MSP should be able to provide a wide breadth of additional services, such as the following:

  • Hardware maintenance
  • Software installation and management of updates and patches
  • Remote diagnosis and troubleshooting
  • A robust security regime that prevents unauthorized entities from gaining access to your system or data, and that can quickly restore any data that is lost or corrupted.
  • Continuous remote monitoring of your network operations to detect and aggressively respond to potential problems or intrusion attempts
  • 24/7 remote help desk support
  • Support for both the cloud-based and on-site portions of your IT operations

You’ll want to pay particular attention to the MSP’s data security, backup, and disaster recovery procedures to ensure that neither natural disasters nor attacks by malevolent intruders can result in a permanent loss of your business-critical data.

3. Pre-screen vendors based on reputation, expertise, and fit with your needs

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that people who are trying to sell you something will present themselves in the best possible light, whether that conforms closely with reality or not. Rather than accepting a potential MSP vendor’s claims as gospel, do your homework! Ask the vendor for a list of current and past customers, and check out those references. Research what industry publications have to say about this organization. Based on actual past performance, assess whether the vendor and its technical representatives have the expertise to deliver the services you need, as well as the integrity to follow through on their commitments.

4. Select a vendor committed to being an extension of your own IT infrastructure

Ideally, the MSP you choose will see themselves as an integral part of your IT operation. Not only will they quickly and competently respond to problems as they arise, but they will also be able to help you develop a strategic IT vision keyed to your business objectives and the rapid pace of technological advancement.

In this regard, close communication is key. Your MSP should be willing to consult with you on a regular basis to ensure their continued understanding of, and input into, ways your IT operation can contribute to meeting your business objectives.

5. Negotiate an acceptable Service Level Agreement

In most instances, the relationship between a client and an MSP is based on a Service Level Agreement (SLA). An SLA specifies in detail the services the MSP is obligated to provide, and establishes penalties that will be applied if defaults occur. Usually an MSP will have a standard SLA they offer to all clients. But if that document fails to cover areas that are important to you, don’t hesitate to discuss it with the vendor. If the MSP cannot or will not accommodate you on what you consider to be critical issues, you might want to reconsider whether they are the right partner for your business.

This is just a brief overview of the considerations that should go into the choice of an MSP. If you’d like to know more, we’d be happy to help. Please contact us.

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