What are managed service providers?

What are Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and How to Find One: A Definitive Guide16 Min Well Spent

Technology helps businesses succeed, but if not handled correctly, it can set businesses back immensely.

Downtime, system failures, internet connectivity issues, and other IT issues can overwhelm business owners.

In-house IT personnel can leave at any moment, taking the knowledge of your infrastructure with themHiring and retaining an in-house IT team can be expensive, as well.

More and more, companies are outsourcing their IT to Managed Services Provider (MSPs) to end the day-to-day struggles with their technology.

Outsourcing IT is the right decision for many businesses, but it takes a little studying to get right.

“What are Managed Service Providers? – what do I look for in a Managed Services Provider? – how do I choose one?” These are all questions that decision-makers ask, so why not let an actual MSP answer them?

Below are the answers to why your business should use an MSP, and how to find one.

Table of Contents

What are Managed Service Providers (MSPs)?

What are managed service providers?

Managed Services Provider Definition

A managed IT services provider is a third party hired to manage a client’s information technology. Managed IT services are often delivered via a subscription model.

IT service providers handle daily IT tasks so clients can focus on their main operations. This reduces company the length of downtime and service interruptions.

MSPs put an end to the break/fix model, or when companies are only solving issues when they arise.

Meanwhile, Managed IT services are proactive. MSPs are responsible for both maintaining technology and anticipating problems that may arise.

What do Managed Service Providers do?

An MSP abstracts non-customer-facing tasks from their clients. While companies are servicing their clients, MSPs keep their technology efficient and secure.

Roles and responsibilities vary depending on services agreed to by both parties. Managed IT support tasks include server, network, and endpoint support

Among other duties are cybersecuritybackup and disaster recovery services, and managed cloud services.

Managed IT services are generally on a subscription model, but MSPs will also handle individual projects for a one-time fee. IT relocationinfrastructure projects, and consulting are examples of singular projects.

Any top managed services provider has a 24-hour help desk. A remote help desk guarantees users can reach a certified tech expert at any moment they need it.

Why Should I Use a Managed Service Provider?

There are plenty of reasons to use an MSP.

The main benefit of hiring an MSP is allocating your resources where they are best used. As a client of an MSP, you only tell your provider when something is wrong, and they take care of the rest.

The average employee loses 22 minutes of productivity per day dealing with tech issues according to the BBC. Outsourcing IT eliminates spending time troubleshooting, as help is delivered efficiently and remotely.

Managed IT providers reduce costs. Clients wind up paying less for an outsourced IT team as they do for a single in-house IT professional.

This allows business owners to spend get more bang for the buck and spend their capital on other needs.

Additionally, managed IT services generally include 24-hour help desks. Help desks give users access to their IT professionals as soon as necessary. 

Never worry about your in-house IT professional going on vacation or leaving for another job at a moment’s notice.

With a full team of experts at your fingertips, MSPs have the range of knowledge to handle many projects. Keep a variety of skills in reach while paying a flat rate.

Managed IT pros have been in technology for years, so they can forecast the tech landscape for years to come. This level of foresight puts businesses ahead of the curve when considering their infrastructure.

When it is time to scale your company, and MSP will already have the resources on hand to take on added responsibilities. Not to mention the knowledge of your business.

No need to hire another IT tech to deal with demand. Managed services bring flexibility with no extra complications.

What to Look for in a Managed Service Provider

Not all Managed Services Providers are equal. For every business, there are many aspects of service that are non-negotiable. Certain services must happen in a specific amount of time, and with a baseline standard of quality.

These are the three facets of managed services that businesses should look for when outsourcing their IT.

Standard Managed Service Provider Services

Outsourced Help Desk Support

Two IT experts working help desk services.

Remember, 22 minutes of the average workday are spent dealing with IT-related issues. Over the standard 261 workdays in a year, that equates to around 95.7 hours of lost production.

No matter a worker’s wages, the math on dollars lost per year is staggering. Multiply that by your entire staff, and it is downright frightening.

This is what makes the 24/7 help desk so important. Having a set of experts ready to help employees through their IT issues at any moment saves loads of time and money.

Because most IT issues can be resolved remotely, your tech team is just a call away. Don’t spend extra for an unneeded in-person visit from technology vendors. 

Top managed services providers will have your phone call answered in less than 10 seconds, and you will be on your way to a quick resolution.

On-Site Maintenance and MSP Support

An IT tech making an on-site maintenance and support visit to a client for an emergency fix.
Times have changed, and needing a local provider is becoming less common. Depending on the kind of company you are, you may still need one who can reach you in an emergency.
 
If your business still uses on-site servers, shared hard drives, or a VPN, you could need an MSP who can get to you quickly. On-site visits can also be important for infrastructure projects and IT relocation.
 
Yet, a managed services provider like IT Support Guys will strive to end your reliance on providers that are local.
 
ITSG is helping to move our clients off of servers and shared hard drives, and into the cloud. Our clients have employees all over the globe, all connected without issue.
 
By simply supporting company computers, a managed IT provider can get you to a point where you no longer need field services.

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Solutions

Two IT professionals monitoring a client's IT security services

Some times, managed IT providers are hired with cybersecurity in mind. These providers can be Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs), or otherwise MSPs with more network security-focused expertise.

Just about everybody is aware of the threats of cybercrime, but MSPs can take cybersecurity to the next level.

Cybersecurity is a battle on multiple fronts. Most viruses and malware come through email, but companies must also secure their networks and endpoints. The ability to respond to cybersecurity events is also important.

Many MSPs will offer cybersecurity training for your employees that includes how to avoid phishing emails.

This is a huge benefit of managed IT services. MSPs are uniquely prepared to handle all aspects of a diverse cyber-defense, all while you focus on what your business does best.

Managed IT Backup and Disaster Recovery Solutions

A man upset while looking at his server racks, wishing they had backup and disaster recovery planning

Regardless of whether you hire an managed service provider, your company should be equipped with a comprehensive disaster recovery plan. 

The best managed services providers will have your backup and disaster recovery plan in place immediately.

Disasters happen, and the inability to recover can shut your business’s doors for good.

Planning, storage, design, testing, monitoring, restoration assistance, failover, and reporting are all aspects of BDR planning. All are essential to ensuring your most important data is secure in any situation.

Virtual CIO Managed Services

Strategy and planning are key to any successful IT journey.

Time moves fast in the tech world, so it is easy to get passed by. A managed IT provider must adapt to the times to keep business. In-house IT professionals may be too overwhelmed to keep up with developing tech.

MSPs should come with virtual CIOs (Chief Information Officers) who can help architect, install and manage technologies that give you a competitive advantage. Your IT plan should span more than months, looking years ahead instead.

A vCIO also reviews your IT budget and helps you find the most cost-effective infrastructure for your needs. Elevate your operational maturity all while returning the most on your investments.

MSPs For Cloud: Setup and Partnership

A man hired as an MSP for cloud solutions, reviewing performance statistics on a computer.

The cloud has something for every business these days. Finding a managed IT provider who is an expert in the main cloud environments can help you best leverage the cloud.

 
Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) are a third-party vendor that offer components of cloud computing as a service. CSPs can be Cloud Providers like Microsoft, Google, or Amazon Web Services; or can be an managed service provider who manages companies’ cloud environments.
 
Consider hiring an MSP to also serve as your CSP rather than the cloud providers themselves. Cloud providers have some benefits. However, they will not help with the shared responsibilities of some key aspects of your cloud environment.
 
An MSP with cloud partnerships has demonstrated its skill in working with these cloud providers.
 
They have also proven that they know the best ways to use the cloud for business growth. Cloud providers give these certificates to verify vendors’ capabilities.
 
Top cloud managed service providers will have gone through the steps to earn their partnerships.
 

Make sure that your MSP offers cloud migration services. That way you can successfully transition your data to the cloud with ease.

Maximizing the cloud is a complex task. The right MSP will help you find the right mix of cloud environments and integrate them into your operations. No more wasted overhead.

Vendor Management From Your MSP

A vendor management specialist working with a vendor to secure the best resources for their client.

Trust is the backbone of any relationship, including your relationship with any vendor. Including your managed service provider.

To stay up to date, your company will need new workstations, server equipment, applications, anti-virus, data backups, and more. Procuring these pillars of IT will involve using many different retailers.

Over time, managed IT services providers have developed relationships with all types of technology vendors. The best managed service providers will know what vendors you can trust to find products and discounts.

Having a team that can lay out an IT roadmap and get you the parts to put things in motion is ideal.

Never worry about filtering through thousands of potential options. Your MSP should know who to go to whenever you need anything.

Discover an MSP's Industry Expertise

An IT professional with industry experience speaking to his team.

When you hire an MSP, you should be hiring an expert in the technology landscape. That kind of goes without saying, but a managed IT provider should also be an expert in something else, too:

Your industry.

Whether it is retailhealthcarehospitalitymedia/entertainment
manufacturing, or otherwise, your industry has its specific challenges. 

You don’t want an MSP who discovers these issues as they arise, you want that knowledge beforehand. That’s why you hired them in the first place!

Find a managed IT provider who has managed companies in your field before. At the very least, make sure they can prove their understanding of how to navigate your business’s unique challenges.

MSP Compliance Expertise

An IT professional going over compliance

Compliance regulations are some of the most important pieces of industry knowledge that your managed IT provider can have. They also change all the time.

Industries have their own compliance regulations, like HIPAA and HITECH in the healthcare realm

But government entities like the Department of Defense institute their own compliance regulations. So do states, like California’s Privacy Rights Acts.

Top MSPs understand the regulations that your company must adhere to. They will also create a plan to keep your customer data protected in ways that comply.

Managed Services with Foresight, Proactivity, and Efficiency

An IT professional in a futuristic space, working as a managed service provider

As you’ve heard a few times already, technology is always changing. You need an IT team who adapts to it.

That adaptation is not very tangible, but there are signs that an MSP could show that indicate they will continue to evolve.

Do they challenge the status quo? Do they have a plan for your business? How far down the road are they looking? Are they fixing problems before they happen?

Even better, are they constantly asking you about your business and trying to learn more? 

Managed IT providers should always be asking questions, especially about you. They are meant to be leaders and learners, so make sure they want to grow with you.

Later in this post, we will list some questions you can ask to figure out if an MSP has the foresight you need.

Discover an MSP's Service Quality

Two members of a managed service provider providing quality service

In the world of IT managed services, there are certain benchmarks that must be hit for an MSP to be worth its while. Many of them should be agreed to beforehand.

Managed IT services should reduce costly downtime and improve customer morale, but how can you measure that? How can you enforce it?

Timely Restoration of Managed IT Service

Members of a managed help desk ensuring maximum guaranteed high availability

Unfortunately, occasional downtime puts you at the mercy of your provider. Nobody can get your internet back online if your internet provider itself is down.

Downtime can cost your company around $5,600 per minute.

Imagine your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is down. You are losing valuable productivity, you are having to send employees home, and you need a fast resolution.

Most providers are trained to put the fault back on you. Chances are, your provider will tell you they are up and running, or try to sell you an “upgraded” service that you don’t need.

f your provider is down, our tech experts will know how to speak their language. An MSP skilled in vendor management can talk to that provider for you. This ensure that you get faster escalations and that your problems are in front of the right people quickly.

A managed IT provider gives you a partner to perform root cause analysis, finding the exact issue at hand. An MSP can diagnose your problem and let you know if you are down, or the provider are.

So what happens if the vendor is correct, and the issue is on your end? With an MSP, that should never be a reality.

For what you are already investing in your IT service provider, they will add failovers to your environment so that you never go down. The best MSPs will leverage all the new technology to ensure redundancies for the critical parts of your network.

An MSP stops any potential finger-pointing between clients and their vendors, and they will go straight to the vendor for you. They will also leverage the best vendors to achieve the best goal of all: being as close to 100% uptime as possible.

Your MSP has nothing to sell you, and they only make money when you are up and running.

Having a partner who can diagnose your tech and find a logical solution to fix it will keep your downtime to a minimum.

All for much less than $5,600 per minute.

Fast Service/Response Time from Outsourced Help Desk

An employee experiencing downtime because they cannot reach their managed service provider quickly enough

Time is money, as we have seen. Your managed IT provider should be finding more time for you.

Having an entire help desk at your disposal should make it easier to get on the line with a tech expert. If your help desk can’t get to your phone call in a timely fashion, it may be an indication of their speed when handling tickets.

IT Support Guys boasts a 4-second average pickup time on incoming service calls, with a 94.53% same-day ticket resolution rate. 

We think our response time is outstanding, but we urge you use these numbers as a baseline when seeking out a managed services provider.

Service Level Agreements (SLAs) vs. Service Level Objectives (SLOs)

A managed service provider and a client shaking hands to agree upon service level agreements.

OK, so how will you hold your managed IT provider accountable? You may have heard of service level agreements (SLAs).

An SLA is an agreed-upon benchmark for the services provided by an MSP. They can also cover the client side of the relationship. This includes what information or access the client provides, and how far in advance it is given.

But what about service level objectives (SLOs)?

The concept of an SLA is great in theory: Your IT service provider guarantees certain tasks are handled in a specific amount of time, or else the service is discounted for the extra time.

Guarantees do not automatically make services better. They may be set too far out, making the only guarantee that your provider won’t have their pay docked.

Small and mid-sized businesses want providers who are responsive, not guarantees that are slower than they deserve.

SLOs are honest and achievable benchmarks that show the intention of your provider. These tangible goals are a candid expectation that you should be able to rely on.

SLAs sound great, but they are not the best use of a company’s money. Simply put, you should focus your energy on finding an IT services provider who strives to deliver the quickest, high-quality service they can.

SLOs outline those goals more honestly.

How to Choose a Managed Service Provider

There is a lot to consider when finally deciding on which MSP you ultimately want to outsource your IT to. 

Your budget and the scope of services should determine which provider is best for you.

As you consider who you trust with the future of technology, think about what is most important to you and weigh that against other factors. Start with your current pain points, and project further into the future.

Also, consider who you believe is in the best position to be an extension of your team. In the end, that’s what managed IT is: an addition to your business, that you trust.

Creating a Checklist for Your MSP Search

Two business leaders creating a checklist for an MSP search

As you grade potential managed IT providers, perhaps it will be best to make a checklist. Use your checklist to guide your questions when interviewing potential MSPs and check the boxes as companies earn your trust in those areas.

To review, here are some points that should definitely be on your checklist. Add anything else that makes sense for you.

  • Does this MSP have a help desk?
  • Do they have 24/7/365 support?
  • Are they capable of making on-site visits? Will you possibly need one?
  • Do they offer backup and disaster recovery planning?
  • Do they have a Virtual CIO to help plan out your current and future needs?
  • Do their services line up with what you need?
  • Do they have experience?
  • Do they have experience in your industry?
  • Do they handle compliance?
  • Do they demonstrate foresight?
  • Did they ask questions about your business?
  • Is their pricing a flat fee or hourly?
  • Do they offer SLOs, or clear goals for service delivery?
  • What is their standard response time?
  • Do they have testimonials that show their value to other companies?

Finding the best managed IT services provider for your business is not an easy task, nor is it a decision to be taken lightly. There are many factors to consider, and each of them must be vetted carefully.

If you are ready to begin interviewing MSPs, or just want to get on the phone to learn more about a potential transition, we’re here to help. IT Support Guys have been helping businesses for over 15 years, and we are ready to help yours today.

To start the conversation, give us a call at 855-4IT-GUYS, or schedule an appointment with our virtual CIO. Even if we aren’t the right managed IT provider for you, we will help you find one!

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Alex Hooper
Alex Hooper
Alex has been working with technology since receiving an Acer computer with Windows '95 for Christmas. Aside from tech fun, he can be found watching soccer and TV with his Newfoundland, or playing video games on his Raspberry Pi.

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