We want to give you our 10%.

No, that’s not a typo. Yes, that’s a good thing.

Before you tell us to lay off the sauce, let us explain. When you are looking at managed IT service providers to work with, it all starts to look the same, right? That’s because all MSPs do 90% of the same stuff. We use the same types of tools, hardware, and software. Not helpful when you are trying to find the differentiating factors between MSPs.

Q: So, if all MSPs are 90% the same, how can I get the unique results I want?

A: By focusing on the 10% difference.

At Ripple, we see the 10% difference as the real show of value. Sure, it may only be 10% of what an MSP does, but the value it offers is exponentially greater. Kind of like if your diet is 90% meat and potatoes and the remaining 10% is fruits and veggies, you receive exponentially more benefits than the person who has the same diet but fills the remaining 10% with candy. 

Basically, we see the 10% as the best place to learn if an MSP is going to help you win. Win what, you may ask? Win back your time. Help your colleagues win by getting rid of their technology issues. Position you and your team for success. That’s ultimately what the decision to hire a managed IT service provider is about, right? Helping people win. 

How to Use this Guide

Think of this guide as a high-level search tool for you. By focusing on the 10%, you can narrow your options to a manageable few MSPs before you dig in to the details of exactly how they operate. Because in order for you to make the most out of your relationship with an MSP, you want to make sure that they align with your business goals, strategies, and overall company vibe. 

We think that the 10% can be summed up by five fundamental elements. You can use these five elements to guide you to your “big picture”. Once you evaluate which MSPs best compliment your company, use our detailed eBook to learn which specific questions to ask the final MSPs you are interviewing. 

So, for now, we want you to focus on the 10%. Because we want to help you find the best possible managed IT service partner to help you achieve those winning goals - whether it’s through Ripple or someone else.

Why Use the Guide

Managed IT service is foundational to all businesses these days. Whether your company’s technology is in the cloud, hosted in your office or somewhere in between, you’ve got to find the MSP that will give your organization the most from its IT investment.

Feeling skeptical? We know how it is. 

You start an IT relationship with high hopes that the MSP can take the IT tasks off of your plate, elevate your company’s experience, and give you time back to do your primary job. And yet, somewhere along the way, this falls short and you spend too much time managing and defending the relationship. The expectations plummet and you end up just hoping they respond to support tickets on time. 

If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. At Ripple we have helped hundreds of companies in a similar position. 

Maybe you are wondering how an MSP can keep from falling into that trap of complacency. We can’t speak for how other MSPs handle it, but at Ripple, we don’t do long-term contracts. That means that we have to earn your business with every interaction. Besides, complacency doesn’t fit our vibe. We aren’t here to push some buttons and make some machines work. We are here to help people get work done. There is a huge difference in that philosophy.

Ultimately, the point of this guide is to simplify the IT buying experience. Focus on these 5 elements to get you there.

5 Fundamental Elements

Learn why these matter, what problems they can address, and how to know if an MSP can help you.

  1. Philosophy
  2. Execution
  3. Consistency
  4. Strategy
  5. Security

 

1. Philosophy
Do you align with their approach to managed IT?

Why does it matter?

Allow us to present you with a little history lesson to help us explain. 

The term “IT managed service provider” became a buzzword during the late 2000s. Before that, organizations really only fell into two categories: IT consultants or IT support companies. Sure, they both took care of standard support, but depending on which you worked with, you would find completely different approaches.

IT consultants were often involved in decision making and strategy, hanging their hats on relationships and results delivered to their clients. IT support companies, on the other hand, were break-fix style firms specializing in crisis management.

Basically, two different types of companies with two different philosophical approaches that eventually came to refer to themselves as “IT managed service providers”.

Q: What’s your point, Ripple?

A: When you are interviewing applicants for your company, you screen them to see if they support the values of your company. Why should the interview process for an MSP be any different?

The strongest managed service providers will know that it’s important to have both skills. Your company has its own unique set of goals and needs that your MSP should support, and they need to be supported both technically and strategically.

What problem can it address?

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a break-fix type service provider, but if you are looking for IT that will grow and scale with your company, you deserve a company that offers a relationship and strategy-focused approach.

One thing to ask yourself - If you have no major changes or service issues, how often would your MSP reach out to you or schedule a meeting to speak with you over the course of a year?

You may say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but as your company grows, so should your IT.

You will commonly find that after on-boarding there is a reluctance for an MSP to come onsite or meaningfully engage with your organization outside of the support experience. Remember our little history lesson? It comes back to the business models that transformed into MSPs.

You see, sometimes it’s not about solving an existing problem, but rather creating an environment where problems don’t have time to breed.

How to know if the MSP can help?

Here are a few questions that you can ask as you research an MSP that aligns with your core values:

      • Can they simply state what results they will deliver for you and your organization?
      • Do they use a lot of adjectives to describe the service they provide?
      • Do they use results, processes, and methodology to describe the service they provide?
      • Is their discussion focused on your infrastructure or your people?
      • Do they outsource any functions? If so, why? Where? To whom?

Look for simplicity and objectivity. The more subjective or adjective-laden the discussion, the less likely the service will match.

The best result an IT company can provide your organization is always helping your people get more work done. If an MSP doesn’t focus on your people or is not in control of the experience, this can have a negative impact on the success of the relationship.

 

2. Execution
Get the job done - efficiently

 

Why does it matter?

Since you’re here, we are sure you already know why this matters and have already experienced the impact of poorly-executed IT. You can survive without good strategy for a while before it rears its ugly head (more on that later), but execution is non-negotiable. Because let’s face it - without execution, everything falls apart right away. It is at the core of everything an IT partner will do for you.

If your standards for execution are not higher than just “getting support”, then you are being under-served. If getting back your time and having a less frustrated team is important to you – you win!

Have you ever experienced these issues?

      • You have to take time out of your busy day to manage the IT relationship.
      • Your last support request was exhausting because the person on the other end didn’t seem to know anything about you or your company.

Classic examples of poor execution. You deserve better.

What problem can it address?

Take a look at this example of a bad user support experience that comes down to how your IT experience is executed:

Your teammate has a poor support experience

   Your teammate vents to colleagues about the experience

     Another teammate shares a similar experience

      The person tried to fix their own problem

        The person goes to a colleague and they try to fix the problem together

          Someone gets fed up and talks to you (because you manage the relationship) 

            ↪ You initiate a call to the provider 

              After lots of back and forth you set a time to talk with the provider

                ↪ Conversation happens and promises are made

                  Service improves (or doesn’t), but eventually the cycle repeats itself

What a let down. But it doesn’t have to be! We realize that most people don’t exactly enjoy working with their IT provider, which means that they will do whatever they can to avoid them, as you see in the example above. Execution isn’t just about fixing the problem - it’s also about the entire customer service experience. Especially in IT, where you need to have a trusted bond between the user and technician, customer service can’t be seen as the icing on top. It has to be a core value, because if people don’t like calling IT, they won’t. Period. 

How would this change your experience?

How to know if the MSP can help?

Typically, size and structure will dictate this. If you are looking at MSPs with a similar size and structure as your current IT provider, then the chances of the execution being different over time is less.

For example, an MSP that has 15 people or less typically has one technical person that is immersed in your support requests. In addition, they do much of the relationship management and project work. This may sound enticing, but when there is only one dedicated tech for your account, you often run into two problems.

    1. The person goes on vacation, takes leave, moves to another company, or simply is overwhelmed with work, meaning that someone who doesn’t know your company has to pick up the slack.
    2. You have an issue with the service you are receiving, but you withhold critical feedback because you may worry that it will either impact the person negatively or that your complaint might impact the quality of service you will receive in the future.

Similarly, if you choose to work with an MSP that prioritizes number of staff, you run into a similar problem. In this case, you have many people with the skills you need, but if the company is too invested in quantity over quality, it runs the risk of becoming unpleasant, arduous, and impersonal as your issue gets passed around from help desk to help desk.

When you choose to work with an MSP that is structured in a way to provide you with the resources you need and the dedicated attention you deserve, you win. Because you get a team that is dedicated to your account, consistent customer service, no worries about an individual bearing the brunt of your feedback, no more getting passed from person to person in a call center, and your quality of service won’t suffer just because someone takes a vacation.

 

3. Consistency
Consistent support above great support

 

Why does it matter?

Consistency > Greatness

Sounds like a pretty controversial statement, but the math checks out.

A Great Experience ≠ A Consistent Experience

A Consistent Experience = A Great Experience

Support is the single most used function of an MSP, so it should get a lot of attention. Obviously, a consistently great experience is the best of all. But an inconsistent experience punctuated by occasional heroic greatness is costly – and unfortunately, very common. It’s a product of well-meaning people, traditional IT hero-culture, and an ill-defined process.

Since support is at the core of MSP interactions (AKA the 90%), why would we include it here when we are defining the stand-out 10%? Because while support is a given, consistent support is not.

You might think that consistency is inherently part of the package, but the truth is that unless there is a concerted effort, most people just do what they can to get by. To be clear, it’s not out of malice or laziness. But if the organization isn’t actively encouraging consistency, the individuals don’t stand a chance.

What problem can it address?

Why is a consistent managed IT support experience better than a great one?

Time.

Time is the critical return on your investment from a managed IT service provider. Just like we talk about spending and investing money, you can spend and invest your time.

If your team doesn’t have a trusting relationship with your IT provider, they are likely to avoid spending their time chasing someone down to fix what they perceive as a small issue. If their IT professional doesn’t have a reliable turnaround, it seems like time spent and wasted to even put in the ticket.

But a collection of small problems can mount into a big problem, and that is when you really run the risk of wasting your time trying to fix a major issue that could have been prevented. If only your team felt confident enough with your IT provider to see reaching out to correct the small things an investment of their time!

When the experience is consistent - in response time and support quality - your team can focus on their most important work. No dramatics or heroics necessary.

How to know if the MSP can help?

So can you simply ask a prospective partner, how consistent is your support? Sure. Will they give you an honest answer? Perhaps, but it’s better to look at other strong indicators of consistency.

      • How long have they been around?
      • How long have the majority of clients been with the company?
      • How long has the support personnel been with the company?
      • What is their average time to resolve tickets?
      • What is their average response time to tickets?

These are the questions to ask. A well-established MSP that retains both clients and support staff indicates consistent service and practices. If they are transparent enough with you to share recent response and resolution analytics on their support tickets, you should feel very confident.

 

4. Strategy
Where are we now? Where are we going? Why does it matter?

 

Yeah, why does it matter?

Okay, enough with the 20 questions. Let’s simplify them into just one.

Why is IT strategy important?

You want your business to grow, and with growth comes change. Some of those changes you’ll be able to expect and others… not so much. But no matter what twists and turns are ahead of you, your IT has to be growing at the same pace.

It’s not just about security and compliance - although that is a major reason to think about IT strategy. You also need an IT environment that allows your team to do their best work without interruption.

What problem can it address?

Humor us, if you will, and imagine that you are a baker. Someone is paying you to make a four-tiered cake, but you are baking out of your home with one oven. Can it be done? A quick search on the internet says yes (give us a break, we aren’t bakers, we are IT professionals). Technically, you have all the tools, but it is going to take you a while to make that cake with only one oven.

But then, you receive more and more orders. You don’t want to turn them down, but it’s complicated to grow this baking business when you don’t have the right tools and if you haven’t arranged for the necessary support to help you scale. Now you need more (and more specialized) ovens, more bakers, someone to teach the new bakers how to use your fancy new ovens, and if you hadn’t already planned for this… whew! What a stress. And we haven’t even begun to talk about food safety compliance issues!

Your IT strategy is just like that. Whatever your business is, even if you technically have all the tools you need, you need your IT to be in sync with where your business is looking to go and how it can get you there with minimal interruption. Let your MSP handle the tech strategy so you can focus on the job that you love.

Having a solid IT strategy will also help you in ways you may not have considered before. Ask yourself:

      • Are you serving your customers in the best way possible?
      • Are you hiring the right people?
      • Are your people free to do their best work?
      • Is your new employee onboard experience helping retain your people?
      • Are the tools you use enhancing the experience your customers and employees have?

How to know if the MSP can help?

Discuss your overall goals with your MSP. You are the expert of your work, and the MSP should be the expert in how to enable you to do your work. That means looking at potential challenges that may arise in the future and developing an IT roadmap that shows what success looks like from an IT perspective over time.

And then you revisit it. Because achieving your goals requires attention, effort, and adjustments when necessary. Find a partner that can lead you down the path to success.

Having a regularly scheduled meeting with your IT partner is a good thing for a lot of reasons.

But a regular meeting is not a strategy.

Quarterly talks (if they even occur) almost always default to being tactical in nature. Typically these discussions are used for reviewing the latest service tickets, security scans, and what needs to be bought or upgraded. Does that sound strategic?

Expect more of your MSP than a short-sighted view of the future. Talk about those lofty goals, then talk about how your IT can help make reaching them even easier.

 

5. Security
The CEO has been phished...


Why does it matter?

Did reading “the CEO has been phished” make you shudder or remind you of a horror story you heard from someone else?

IT security feels tactical compared to stuff like philosophy, execution, consistency, and strategy. Surely, every managed IT service company includes it. Yes, most responsible IT companies include some form of security in their solutions. But the 10% here makes an enormous difference, which is why security makes the list.

Consider this - 43% of cyber crime is targeted towards small and medium-sized businesses. In addition, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the FBI has seen a 300% increase in cyber crime overall.

We’re not trying to scare you - but rather underscore the importance of finding an IT partner that can not only deliver the technology, but also address other key aspects of a strong security stance. Once you do, the chances that you will need to pay some hackers a ransom or report to your clients about a security breach decrease tremendously.

What problem can it address?

Nothing derails security faster than a poor user experience. If your prospective IT partner seems to be offering complex security solutions (and by that we mean complex for the people using the software every day), they need to get specific with you so that you can understand what your users will likely experience. If the security solution is cumbersome, it doesn’t matter how great it is - because at the end of the day, it’s not security if everyone can’t use it.

Hybrid and completely remote work has disrupted many traditional workplaces thanks to COVID. Since that has forced our new normal, the old way of securing the perimeter of the office is no longer a viable strategy. We want to ensure that the entire security capability follows your team when they are out of the office and that it doesn’t require too much of them (we can’t stress this enough - it’s not security if everyone can’t use it).

Making sure security is no longer dependent on your physical office is critical.

How to know if the MSP can help?

Make no mistake, if the IT service company you choose does not have a solid process for securing your organization no matter where your people work (in or out of the office), then you are likely to be calling them about an incident within the next year.

So, how can you assess who has a comprehensive plan? In addition to the security tools they use, check for these additional non-technology-based solutions:

How Do They Secure Themselves?

Your MSP’s tools and form of access represent a large, potential security hole in your environment. If they are not implementing security best practices themselves, then working with them actually increases your risk rather than lowering it. Yikes. That’s the benefit of finding an MSP to work with that is SOC 2 certified. That means that an independent, third-party auditor has certified that the company has effective security, confidentiality, processing integrity, availability, and privacy controls. If you don’t see this SOC certification on their website, simply ask!

Are They Willing to Compromise?

Security is a commitment, not just a suggestion, it is only as strong as the weakest link.

Typically, the largest pushback on security comes from the executive suite at a company. Understanding how a potential IT partner will navigate that is crucial.

      • Do they make exceptions for the executive suite?
      • Or instead, do they stick to their commitment and work to get the executive suite onboard?
      • Are they equipped to help you persuade executives?

When security and strategy are your goals, you need a provider that can work with your team as a partner, not a vendor. If that shift does not take place, accomplishing this goal becomes very difficult.

A lot of the value from an outsourced IT partner comes in the form of exposure and experience. They should be able to educate you on best practices they have seen and developed as part of the security effort.

You Did It!

You’ve learned about the five fundamental elements that will help you cut through the noise. Now you can evaluate your next managed IT service provider on the critical 10% rather than the standard 90%.

There are few decisions that will affect your company as substantially as switching your managed service provider. IT is at the core of almost every business, and choosing a great IT partner makes all the difference.

Ready to talk to our team? Book a free consultation and let us help answer some of your most pressing IT questions. At Ripple we have helped hundreds of companies in a similar position.

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