For small-to-mid-sized businesses, adopting an information technology managed service provider (MSP) can be the silver bullet for a multitude of computer and network problems. MSPs operate on a pay-as-you-go, fixed-fee basis, allowing clients to better predict IT services costs and scale their computer and network systems smoothly and easily. Moreover, MSPs have every incentive to ensure that client systems are well-managed so as not to incur additional troubleshooting costs, which would eat into their fixed-fee-based profits.
But finding an MSP that is a good fit for your business may not be easy. The transition period from your current IT provider, whether internal staff or a different outsourcing company, can also be rocky and fraught with peril. These five steps will help you make a smooth and successful transition to the right MSP for your business.
Look for a mid-sized MSP
Because the entire business relies on economies of scale, larger MSPs are more profitable. Big, national MSPs also have the marketing dollars to draw the attention of potential customers away from small, regional outfits, so they are often at the top of the list when businesses consider moving to an MSP.
But like any big business, customer service frequently suffers at the largest MSPs. Your business is only one of many, and probably not particularly important in comparison to other, larger customers. Additionally, policies and procedures at the largest MSPs will be standardized toward the most efficient pursuit of their core business model, which may not match your own needs.
At the other end of the spectrum, small MSPs will not have the resources to deal with times when demand surges, and might not be able to retain certain key experts, such as security or networking professionals, that larger MSPs have.
The best fit are mid-sized, regional MSPs, which are large enough to have a good cushion of resources but small enough to give personal attention and to make customer-specific procedural alterations when necessary. A good rule to follow is: if the MSP's CEO comes to your initial sales meetings, but won't be overseeing your account if you sign up, you are in the right ballpark.
Know what your IT needs are
A surprising number of clients show up to MSP sales meetings without a clear idea of what they are buying. An MSP manages services, not strategy. It's incumbent on your business to evaluate your strategic information technology needs and to chart a course for the MSP to follow when managing them.
Although some MSPs will offer strategic services or consultation, don't cede decision making for major technology investments to anyone outside your business. You may still need a CIO or IT steering group to manage this function in-house. Either way, convene that body prior to evaluating MSPs to engage. Determine exactly what IT needs can be outsourced effectively and what functions may need to remain under the direct control of your company.
Once an MSP is retained, be sure to retain this oversight function to track their performance and provide new guidance as required.
Insist on a flat fee for service
Many information technology consulting companies have dealt with the industry trend toward managed services simply by changing a couple of phrases in their marketing literature and continuing on with business as usual. That business is typically most lucrative when it accrues billable hours.
But the advantage of a true MSP model is that it aligns the interests of the MSP with the interests of your company. That means that incentives have to be provided to keep your systems running when needed at the lowest cost possible, or failing that, getting them running again quickly. An hourly billing model is most profitable when your systems go down, however. Despite the best will in the world, no consultant works as fast to resolve a problem when they make more money the longer it continues as they do when they make more the more quickly it is fixed.
A flat-fee model provides that incentive. The MSP is most profitable when there is no problem at all at your company; they collect their monthly or annual fee for service for doing nothing at all. When problems occur, they have to commit staff time and resources to fixing them, eating into those profits. Therefore, they work as quickly as possible to resolve the issues, and to do so in a permanent fashion.
Brief your staff on new support procedures
Businesses often overlook the apparently minor, but weighty factors involving staff participation in MSP adoption. Line-of-business staff are those who will have to interact with the new MSP support processes most directly and most frequently. Because most businesses don't bother to involve those staff in the selection of new MSPs, they often experience some degree of resentment or trepidation at the change. The staff may have spent significant amounts of time figuring out how to deal with the current support systems at the business; learning new ones represents a non-trivial amount of time for some of them.
Devise a program for introducing new support procedures to staff well before implementation. Take the time to listen to feedback, and have staff from the MSP on hand to provide answers or assurances as required to address objections.
Prepare a fallback plan
From time to time, MSP roll-outs go terribly wrong. Most MSPs have monitoring software they will need to install in your network, and they have new support procedures that will require adjustments. Either of these steps can result in broken systems or insufficient support to line-of-business staff.
Your CIO or IT steering committee should work closely with MSP staff to devise fallback plans to address potential snags during the roll-out process. This could include the MSP bringing in more staff temporarily, setting aside additional hardware to use in case of system failures, or using deployment systems which facilitate a rapid rollback if software installations go wrong. Make sure all important systems are backed up, and consider reviewing or revising routine disaster recovery contingency plans before the rollout.
Moving to an MSP model for in-house system's support can be one of the most cost-effective steps your business can take to rein in IT spending. Extra preparation ahead of and during the actual MSP adoption will keep those savings in your bank accounts.