Best Practices for Choosing a Managed Services Provider
Joining forces with an IT managed services provider (MSP) gives you the benefits of having a full-time IT staff, without the full-time expenses that go with them. MSPs can enrich even small and medium-size businesses with a wealth of IT knowledge and experience that wouldn’t be available at the same price point with in-house employees.
However, choosing the wrong MSP can get your organization in serious trouble. You could be locked into an expensive multi-year contract that doesn’t fit your business needs, or even suffer cyberattacks, data loss, and downtime.
For these reasons, it’s crucial that you take the MSP vetting process seriously. This article will discuss the most important best practices when choosing your next managed services provider.
5 Questions for Your MSP Vetting Process
1. Who in the organization should be involved?
When assembling a team for the MSP vetting process, seriously consider bringing the following people on board:
- The executive to whom the IT function in your business reports. This may be the chief financial officer (CFO), the chief information officer (CIO), the chief technical officer (CTO), or the chief information security officer (CISO).
- If the CFO isn’t responsible for your company’s IT function, also include the CFO or other financial representatives who can address budgetary concerns.
- Representatives from each functional area inside the company, who can testify about how they currently leverage the IT environment to do their jobs. Each representative should make sure that the MSPs under consideration are responsive to their needs.
- When the process gets further along, in-house or external legal counsel to help with contract review, ensuring that the terms of the proposed contract are understood and acceptable.
2. What are the time and workload commitments required?
You should be asking this question both of your own organization and of the MSPs under consideration.
For your potential MSPs, what does the onboarding process look like? Different MSPs use different methods to onboard and learn about their new customers, some of which are more time- and labor-intensive. What will they need from you, and how much of your time and effort will it require?
3. How many IT providers should you compare?
Picking the right MSP is a bit like buying a car: just one option usually isn’t enough, because you don’t have any point of comparison with the market at large. On the other hand, having too many MSPs on your list will waste time and effort as you struggle to compare them all.
You should have no more and no less than a small handful of potential MSPs on your list—at least two, and three or four if you can find ones that match your criteria.
4. Should you hire a local MSP?
All else being equal, working with a local MSP is the wiser choice.
Local MSPs give you easier access to their resources—especially during downtime and other IT emergencies—and the opportunity to interact with them on a personal level. If they visit your business in person, local MSPs can notice issues that they might not have over the phone. In addition, as part of the same local business climate and environment, MSPs near you better understand your needs as an organization.
5. How can you identify the top providers in your area?
Using Google and other search engines can help you find which MSP operate in your area, but it’s not always a good source for which providers are best for you.
Instead, rely on your local network of acquaintances and business connections. Even if your contacts work in a different industry, ask for their experiences and recommendations. Your vendors, partners, and suppliers might also have good advice to share, including which MSPs some of your competitors are using.
4 Questions to Ask Potential MSPs
1. What is the range of services you provide?
Does the MSP offer all of their services in-house, or do they also partner with other firms? Do they have an “à la carte” business model that lets you pick and choose products, or do they have a single default offering for all clients?
If the MSP does have a standard offering, what is included in it? What’s not included and will it cost extra? Finding an MSP that offers everything you need in a single bundle can vastly simplify and streamline the vetting process.
2. What level of transparency, communication, and customer service do you offer?
What time frame is specified in the MSP’s service-level agreement (SLA) for responding to a problem? If something is truly urgent, can you pay extra in order to receive expedited service?
Do issues get tracked in a ticket management system where you can view their progress, or do they simply disappear into a frustrating black hole until they’re resolved? How can you escalate high-priority issues to ensure that they receive the appropriate level of attention?
Your MSP should be willing to sit down and hold periodic reviews about your IT environment, and discuss any strategic investments you need to make in order to improve it. Some MSPs offer “virtual CIO” (vCIO) services, offering advice to make your IT environment more efficient and stable and alerting you about any noteworthy future developments.
3. What IT best practices do you follow?
Cybersecurity isn’t just about finding the right combination of technologies to prevent malicious actors from accessing your network. According to research by Kaspersky Lab, 90 percent of data breaches are caused by human error.
Look for an MSP that invests in training and education for your employees, so that they understand their role in keeping your IT environment secure. These programs should be ongoing throughout the year to keep cybersecurity best practices at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Data loss and corruption can be disastrous for your business. It’s fundamental to select an MSP that will perform robust backups of your entire IT environment on a regular basis. If you experience an issue, you can revert to one of the backups before it occurred and restore your operations to normal.
4. What are your customer references, case studies, or testimonials?
Nearly every MSP will have some references or testimonials that testify to the quality of their work. Look especially for reviews from customers with a similar size, industry, and/or business requirements; these companies are more likely to be aligned with your own situation.
Key Criteria for the Final MSP Decision
You might have a variety of deal-breakers when choosing an MSP: inadequate service offerings, lack of personal interest in your business, lack of experience with companies in your industry, and many more. But how do you go from disqualifying MSPs on your list to choosing the right one for you?
When it comes down to it, the best way to make the final MSP decision is to take a look at your own internal needs. Think about the IT situations and problems that you’ve encountered in the past and how you reacted to them. Were there any difficulties with the response and remediation? Are the MSPs you’re considering able to address these difficulties?
Also think about the budget that you’ve allocated for your MSP. What does your IT environment mean to you, and how important is it to your business? What happens if the environment isn’t working properly or at all? Make sure that your MSP budget is fair and commensurate with the importance of IT in your business.
There are a lot of questions and factors that go into choosing the right MSP. If you’re not sure how to get started with your MSP journey, check out our quiz: Are IT Managed Services Right for Your Organization?