Managed Service Providers (MSPs) are a new option for technical support and systems administration for businesses who do not have information technology management in their core competencies. MSPs typically offered fixed-fee for services solutions to manage SMB computer systems and provide on-demand technical support. The service is generally more cost-effective than traditional IT departments or consulting services.
For small-to-midsize businesses, technology headaches are a leading cause of unpredictable expenses and lost business. A computer fails at a critical juncture in a bidding process, there are no backups, staff lose hours trying to recreate valuable documents and the bid is lost to a competitor ... these sorts of stories are all too common in companies that aren't big enough to have dedicated IT departments.
For many years there were only two solutions to this problem: bring in expensive consultants on a case-by-case basis to handle tech needs, or hire a "computer guy," a single individual who had to keep up with all the various technology demands generated within the company, even when they might be, strictly speaking, outside his or her areas of expertise.
Consultants were expensive and lacked institutional memory--a different person might come out each time, rediscovering simple solutions over and over at great expense. The jack-of-all-trades computer guy didn't come cheap, either, with the latent demand for IT talent boosting wages for even entry-level technicians.
Today, however, another excellent option exists for most SMBs: hiring a managed service provider to take care of their computer needs.
MSPs are an outgrowth of computer consultancies that grew up to fill the niche in the SMB market for professional technical help. By forging a more lasting partnership with your business, the MSP is able to keep tighter and more proactive tabs on your technology processes than other consultants, yet leverage economies of scale to provide the service at a lower cost than on-site staff.
An MSP will keep many different types of specialist technicians on staff, affording a deeper bench to address technology problems than most separate IT departments. They adopt standardized monitoring and management platforms for their clients, ensuring that they track many technology processes that are off the radar for less sophisticated daily users. They often offer automated backup and antivirus solutions also, and ensure that those services are operating properly in the background at all times.
There are many entrants into the MSP market, however, and selecting the right one can be difficult for SMBs without much technology expertise themselves.
The best MSPs tend to be mid-sized themselves; large service providers lose the personal touch, while small ones may not have the expertise or number of employees to keep up with demand.
It's also important to find an MSP that offers services for a fixed-fee, usually on a per-computer basis. This fee should cover all regular maintenance, technical support, and monitoring services. This not only makes your IT costs predictable, it aligns the MSP's incentives with your own--they will operate at a higher profit by ensuring that you have fewer problems to take up their time. This is inverse to the traditional consulting model, which generates more profits for consultants based on the longer it takes to solve your problems.
Finally, look for an MSP that is responsive to your requirements. Do not cede strategic technology decision making to an outside entity--your business still has to determine what technology processes are appropriate to its needs, and maintain control over major projects.
Some MSPs make money by upselling particular software and hardware packages--this is a conflict of interest and you should avoid MSPs with these outside influences operating on them.
An MSP can dramatically cut your technology support costs, but only if properly selected and managed.