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Thursday, 15 October 2015 12:26

How to select the right managed services provider

Posted By  Matt Kingswood

Many businesses are turning to managed services providers (MSPs) for everything from printer maintenance to helpdesk functions, Matt Kingswood explains what to look for in picking the right MSP.

As Verizon’s recent report “Better Outcomes for IT Outsourcing” reveals, the digital transformation of IT infrastructure has made it possible for businesses to improve their levels of customer service, innovation and resilience. To keep up with the competition, businesses need to be flexible and stay on top of rapidly changing technology – a task that may be challenging if internal staff don’t have the time or skills to implement or maintain technology.

Today’s businesses are turning to managed services providers (MSPs) for everything from printer maintenance to helpdesk functions to disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS). Working with an MSP can help an organisation cope with day-to-day business demands, as well as rapid business growth due to mergers and acquisitions, or the release of new products or services that meet a critical need in the industry.

Gone are the days of “outsource and forget” it, however. MSPs are nothing new, but as Verizon points out, digitalisation demands the transformation of the MSP relationship. To gain the most value from outsourced services, an MSP must take on the role of a strategic partner. Here are the keys to making sure you can pick the right MSP for your needs.

Determining what to outsource and service levels

It might seem obvious, but the first step to selecting the right MSP for a business is to know what functions you want to outsource. This could include providing on-site technical support, managing security concerns for a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program, network configuration or implementing a cloud-based disaster recovery solution. Also, consideration should be given to services that may be implemented in the future, and whether an MSP is equipped to scale to handle the additional workload.

Once it is clear which IT functions to outsource, a decision on support levels needs to be made. Vendors typically offer three levels of support: break-fix, proactive and fully managed.

Break-fix

If a business isn’t heavily dependent on IT or if the IT team has little trouble managing its workload, this level of service is optimum. The provider will simply offer a helping hand when a computer or network breaks.

For example, financial mutual Wesleyan works with IT Specialists (ITS) to provide IT hardware support to Wesleyan’s financial consultants across the UK. Whenever a problem with a laptop or other piece of critical hardware arises, Wesleyan can draw upon the services of one of ITS’s regionally dispersed engineers. This arrangement makes it possible for the consultancy to offer support to its remote workers regardless of their location.

Proactive

When a business relies heavily on IT (if it runs business-critical apps or use cloud services, for example), the firm will need a higher level of support. Proactive support helps to avoid problems by monitoring the health of computers and networks. The third-party support team will immediately address areas of concern, such as low disk space. By resolving issues in advance, the likelihood of outages can be minimised.

Howdens Joinery, one of the UK’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of kitchens and joinery products, turned to an MSP when it experienced unprecedented growth and the dot matrix printer solution located on the business’s front counters couldn’t provide the required speed and functionality. ITS provided installation teams to help Howdens roll out new printers to its 560 depots nationwide. After installation, ITS continues to monitor each printer remotely and provides Howdens with alerts, reports, counts and automatic replenishment of consumables.

Fully managed

Sometimes break-fix and proactive solutions aren’t enough, particularly if a company is IT dependent but isn’t able to effectively manage its IT resource requirements. In this case, an MSP can oversee day-to-day maintenance needs for the functions to be outsourced. The MSP will also look for recurring problems and approaches to strengthen IT infrastructure. At this level, a company will benefit from the provider’s knowledge of industry trends and experience with new technologies.

In the case of Lyco, a premier lighting company stocking over 4,000 lighting products from around the world, ITS worked with the company to identify a DRaaS solution that would meet the need to back up data on- and off-site while reducing the recovery time objective from 4-8 hours to 1-2 hours. The MSP was able to implement a new-to-market DRaaS solution that met the customer’s needs.

Evaluating managed service providers

Once the level of IT service is mapped out, the process of assessing vendors and what can be accomplished within budget. Regardless of the type of support, businesses need to select an MSP based on the following key considerations:

Level and relevance of experience

First, the business should consider the company’s years and type of experience. Does it have an established reputation with customer testimonials to back it up? Does the provider have knowledge of the company’s industry? For example, an MSP with limited demonstrable knowledge of or experience with the financial services industry might not be the best company for a financial firm to partner with. On the other hand, if the MSP has a large base of financial clients, the MSP’s technicians have likely encountered issues within the industry that the firm’s in-house IT team rarely, if ever, experiences. The MSP might also be able to suggest new technologies or processes that have worked well for similar organisations and help the firm implement those changes.

Additionally, ensure that the MSP has experience supporting the specific functions that will be outsourced. DRaaS, for example, is a popular addition to MSPs’ service offerings, but not all MSPs are equipped to adequately support the business’s infrastructure.

If the provider will be working on hardware, verify that the engineers are fully qualified to repair equipment from an array of manufacturers to prevent voiding warranties. Businesses should also ask specifically what skills engineers have in regard to virtualisation and cloud technologies, network technologies, mobility, security and change management.

Service level agreements and industry standards

If the vendor makes it past the business’s initial investigation, examine the company’s service level agreements. If possible, the business should evaluate the MSP’s service quality by having the provider demonstrate typical response times. The MSP should be able to provide quantifiable metrics of success to demonstrate that it’s helping to improve business performance.

When reviewing contracts, businesses should bear in mind that new equipment and upgrades are not always covered. Also, not all vendors support BYOD equipment, so if that’s a priority, businesses should look for a service provider that can support these devices.

Organisations in regulated industries should make sure the provider is equipped to help the business adhere to regulations to which the company is subject. Banks, for example, are required to meet the requirements of Basel III, which in terms of technology systems means the organisation’s infrastructure should be able to vault and organise large amounts of data.

Available technology and services

If the business requires a specific brand of computer hardware or would prefer the MSP to manage software licences, it should ensure the MSP can meet these requirements. As mentioned earlier, businesses should consider the range of outsourced services they will consider in the future and be comfortable with the level of service the MSP is willing provide in identifying a solution that meets the organisation’s need. Lyco, for example, did not initially require a DRaaS solution when it began working with ITS, but the MSP identified a unique solution to meet Lyco’s needs.

Considering the rate at which technology changes, you can’t afford to be left behind. By strategically partnering with an MSP, you can unlock business potential that might not otherwise be possible for your business.

About the author

Matt Kingswood is Head of Managed Services at IT Specialists (ITS) and is responsible for developing Managed IT services within the UK and is currently focused on the next generation of cloud and recovery products.

Matt has more than 20 years of experience in the information technology industry, and was formerly CEO of The IT Solution – a full service IT Supplier acquired by ITS. Since joining ITS, he has led efforts to introduce a range of managed services based on the new ITS cloud platform. Previously Matt had a career in technology for several top tier investment banks before founding and selling several companies in the IT services industry.

Matt has an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a Master’s in computer science from Cambridge University.

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