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  • Dr David Land

8 questions SME's should ask a Managed Service Provider

Many companies roll out the purchase orders once a year, and hand over the money to their ‘IT company’. Unclear on what they do, what they provide, or how they do it. But vaguely aware of the need for some kind of IT support. IT can be a little like the need for an accountant. It is a necessary evil; another demand the modern working environment throws at the time-poor small business owner.

It can be different though. By applying just a small amount of diligence, and a handful of the right questions, business owners could start to see their IT provider as a genuine asset, not a cost to be borne. There is the opportunity to envision IT as something in which to purposefully invest, as it can reap rewards many times more than the cost.

Managed Service Providers (MSP) are one type of IT provider, and the one that small and medium enterprises most often employ. They can also be seen at charities, social enterprises and non-profits. They are the ideal solution if there are not the resources, or the desire, for an in-house IT solution. They proactively, remotely manage the infrastructure and end-user systems (the parts that people touch), usually by installing a small piece of software (the agent) onto all of the devices owned.

If you are heading down the route of a managed service provider, then the questions you need to ask depend on your usage levels, your staff size, and your strategy for growth (assuming you have one). Here are our top 8 questions for making sure you get the right support from an MSP

1. Why should I go for MSP?

In the ever-expanding galaxy of IT support options, it’s right to want someone on your side to solve problems. The provider should be able to articulate the benefits of proactive management; how it disrupts the old-fashioned ‘it’s broken, let’s fix it’ model of other IT providers. MSPs do not charge substantial amounts for individual fixes, patches and projects; nor do they operate reactively. They should be on your side, all the time.

2. How will I be charged?

The standard options are to pay per device, per user or all-inclusive. Per device is a straightforward fee based on the number of devices. Per user a flat fee based on the number of people, no matter how many devices they have. All-inclusive is a flat fee which covers everything and everyone.

3. What’s your turnaround time on service calls?

Whilst in most cases MSPs proactively manage a service, there will be inevitable unforeseen problems. Good MSPs provide data on call response times, average response times, and the amount of time to fix an issue. The best ones will keep a data log of issues, which will provide insight that can be used to drive proactive management.

4. What backup service do you provide?

Given the remote nature of MSPs, it is fundamental that they can provide you with trust levels when it comes to business continuity, data storage, and backup facilities. Backup needs will be different for different businesses. Some may decide they want full bells and whistles, which is likely to include a double-storage process, often including a link between the London Data Centre, and MSP-bespoke secure storage. Most companies will not need such complexity. Nevertheless, backup is a fundamental part of the MSP offer. Other services such as Bare Metal Recovery (BMR), and Virtual Disaster Recovery (VDR) should be a given in the conversation. For example, good MSP’s who run BMR can receive a broken laptop from a client, and return a new one, with all their data, desktop, apps and so on completely restored, within about 15 minutes.

5. What is in your core offer?

There are some standard practices that all MSPs will offer. For most organisations this will be more than enough. It is worth finding out if there are any differences between different MSP core offers. Some may include anti-virus, cloud storage, proactive call management, 24 hour support and so on. But the prices may vary. It is important to ensure that any comparison is like-for-like when pricing is being discussed.

6. What do you specialise in?

Following on from the core offer, for certain companies it will be relevant to explore what an MSP can offer that aligns with the specifics of their mission. Some MSPs look at print services, some specialise in data management or data storage. Others may have experience in particular markets, or look at specific geographical locations. Whilst they run remotely, it may be important to have support that is relatively close by; relationship building is always better face to face.

7. What other business tools can you help to deliver?

With the rise of GDPR in the UK and Europe, there is a potential for MSPs to offer guidance, solutions and storage for company data. This is unlikely to be part of the core offer, but equally, it may offer a simple, and catch-all solution to the thorny issues of IT and data protection compliance.

Further support in this regard is likely to be in the form of ISO27001. If a company is keen to show their support for the ISO, then the MSP can offer a straightforward process supporting the documentation for IT processes.

8. Have you got some clients I can contact for references?

This sounds like something that happened in the 1970s, but it’s a valid question, and one that is easy to follow up on. Good MSPs, like any other business, should be happy to point you in the direction of happy clients. It is worth calling them and talking to the decision maker. They will be able to give you direct experience of working with that MSP.

It can a tough business, getting your IT support just right. Too much, and it’s not clear what’s being paid for. Too little, and there’s nothing there when it goes wrong. For Small and Medium enterprises, charities and other non-profits, an MSP is a strong solution. Even more so for those organisations that just want someone to ‘make all the IT problems go away’. The questions provided here are a good starting point to knowing whether that MSP is the right one to take on your challenge.

Dr David Land


Causeway Intelligence

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