Search the internet for managed IT services, and the results will include network monitoring, cybersecurity, scheduled maintenance, and cloud management. Dig a little deeper to learn that an SLA defines the precise services a managed IT service provider (MSP) will deliver at what price. Finally, query the web for local MSPs. The search will return hundreds of names. Where do you begin? How do you select a technology partner? And what should you expect from this partner?
According to Gartner, MSPs provide the following services
- Data backup
- Business and productivity application management
- Cloud-based infrastructure
- Network monitoring
- On-premise device management
- Endpoint and network security
- Cloud-based applications management
- Mobile device management
These services may be delivered at a customer location, in an MSP data center, or at a third-party location. But there's more to selecting an MSP than what they provide. A crucial criterion is what is the attitude behind delivering these services. Are they focused on technology or on the humans that use it? Exactly what should you expect from a managed IT service provider?
Expectation 1: Speak Your Language
The selection process begins at the office. Because the service levels can vary with each MSP, companies need a written list of expected services in priority order. Otherwise, they can get lost in service details that have little meaning to a non-technical customer. If the conversation degenerates into statements such as
We'll need to upgrade your firewall and add a secure web gateway and firewall to protect against SQL injection, session hijacking, and DDoS attacks.
Companies should expect MSPs to discuss their services in terms they can understand. Discussions shouldn't be about technology; they should be about how technology will make work better for people. A restatement of the above example could be:
We'll look at upgrading your company's cybersecurity to reduce the chances of employees browsing unsafe websites or clicking on insecure links.
Expectation 2: Understand Your Business
Organizations may start with basic services like network monitoring and IT support, but their needs will quickly expand. Maybe, they will need advice on what CRM package to choose or assistance as they relocate their offices. Unless the MSP understands the business, how will they make the best suggestions?
Companies should expect MSPs to work with them to develop an IT strategy that supports their business strategy. MSPs may conduct a capabilities audit that identifies the current IT status. Next, they will ask questions about your business strategy, such as:
- Where do you want to be in 12 months or three years?
- How much do you plan to grow online sales?
- Can your existing accounting package support that growth?
- Are you looking to add more in-office or remote staff?
Having the answers, an MSP should draft an IT strategy that supports your business objectives. MSPs may use a roadmap to illustrate how technology and business can align. For example, a capabilities audit finds that some equipment is near its end-of-life. The IT roadmap identifies when to replace the older equipment. Instead of waiting for equipment failures, you can replace aging devices during off-hours to minimize downtime.
Suppose that aging server runs your accounting package, which will experience increased use as your online sales grow. Knowing how essential online sales are to your business, MSPs can adjust the roadmap to prioritize server replacement. Growing sales without the technology to support it places undue stress on the entire workforce and ultimately weakens the customer's experience.
Expectation 3: Strengthen Your Infrastructure
MSPs talk about network monitoring and administration. They mention network components such as routers, firewalls, and servers. They use terms like bandwidth, zero-trust, and multi-factor authentication (MFA). As MSPs oversee a computer network, they should be looking for more than failures and deficiencies. They should be working to make your infrastructure stronger and more resilient.
Technology resilience refers to a company's ability to maintain operations during and after severe disruptions to critical processes and infrastructure. It's making sure that employees have access to the tools they need to serve customers, even in the middle of a hurricane. Part of resilience means monitoring performance by:
- Looking at network statistics
- Listening to employees
Many MSPs look at the numbers but ignore the people. What better way to know how technology is working than asking the people who use it.
MSPs should have the tools to monitor network operations, but they should also listen to what end-users say. Optimizing a network isn't about making the technology work better. It's about ensuring the technology is helping employees work smarter.
Expectation 4: Support Your Workforce
As workforces become more diverse, ensuring that employees have the tools they need becomes more complex. When everyone worked in the office, they had the same basic setup -- computer, monitor, keyboard, and mouse. All devices were provisioned in-house, so the software was the same. If the configuration didn't work for some employees, they learned how to work around it even if it wasn't efficient.
With employees working from home or the local coffee shop, there's no such thing as a standard configuration, especially if employees are using their own devices. That means having access to tools that can help. Whether it's a remote desktop or team viewer, MSPs should have a solution that provides remote support.
Since more companies are moving their infrastructures to the cloud, they need to ensure that their MSPs have experience with cloud and hybrid deployments. MSPs should have the expertise to help on-premise and remote employees resolve technical questions quickly, such as:
- How do I set up the VPN client?
- Why can't I access the server?
- What do I do if my file is too large to email?
Resolving questions quickly means employees can return to work with fewer interruptions.
MSPs should view support as addressing technology concerns so that employees can be more productive. They should not focus on the devices without understanding what end-users need to do their jobs. Sometimes that means spending an extra minute or two to explain how the technology works.
Expectation 5: Secure Your Network
No one needs to be reminded of the high cost of cybersecurity failures. Whether it's a ransomware attack or a data breach, compromised systems are bad for business. MSPs should understand the cybersecurity landscape and your company's security posture to mitigate risk. They should be able to address the following:
- Security Management. Firewalls, Intrusion Detection and Protection Systems
- Advanced Protection. Advanced Endpoint Detection and Protection and Advanced Endpoint Remediation
- Security Monitoring. Logging, Compliance Reporting, and Event Monitoring
No company is too small or too large to escape a cyberattack. With an attempt occurring every 11 seconds, it's only a matter of time before your company becomes a target.
What happens if your network is compromised? MSPs should have the expertise to develop a cybersecurity playbook that outlines what to do and who to contact. They should understand any applicable regulatory requirements. For example, when credit card information is stolen, companies have only a few hours to notify their gateway or face stiff fines. Waiting until you're in the middle of an attack is too late to implement new procedures.
Expectation 6: Train Your Staff
MSPs should be willing to train staff. Employees may work with MSP personnel to learn how to manage, configure or monitor devices. They should provide more formal training for everyone when it comes to cybersecurity training. A monthly security session can keep everyone informed on the latest threats and how to avoid them.
When all precautions fail, your employees are the last line of defense. Training them on how to spot suspicious emails can stop a potential phishing attack. Showing staff how the latest scams work can reduce the chances of someone falling victim to one. MSPs should create an open environment where individuals feel comfortable reporting a possible attempt, even if it turns out to be false. All it takes is one misstep to give bad actors access to your network.
Expectation 7: Peace of Mind
Most MSP websites list their technical capabilities such as network monitoring, cybersecurity services, and 24/7 support. And for the most part, the technical services are comparable. What differentiates providers is their business philosophy. MSPs can be technical wizards, but if they can't align the technology with the humans that use it, the impact on business growth plummets.
If companies want to realize the 25% to 45% reduction in IT expenditures or enjoy the 45% to 65% increase in operational efficiency, they need to look for MSPs with a human first focus. Without putting people first, MSPs struggle to meet customer expectations. They cannot provide consulting services to produce a roadmap for an aligned business and IT strategy.
What should businesses expect from an MSP?
- They should expect a partner that understands technology's role in today's environment.
- They should expect a strategy that strengthens the network and makes it more resilient.
- They should expect the peace of mind that comes from selecting the right MSP.
If you're looking for an MSP that can meet expectations, book a 30-minute free consultation with Ripple's CTO
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