Local Vs. Non-Local IT Providers: Which Is Right For Me?
You’ve decided that partnering with an IT managed services provider (MSP) is the best way to keep your business secure, available and efficient. The next step is deciding which MSP will provide the best service for your organization.
When it comes to choosing between a local or out-of-state MSP, I’ve heard people say, “It can be done from anywhere,” or “It doesn’t matter where the support is located because all MSPs provide the same service.”
While it’s true that many MSPs now offer most or all of their services remotely, IT management and monitoring isn’t the only thing that your MSP should provide.
In my years working for an IT MSP that partners with small- to medium-sized businesses in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and surrounding areas, I know an MSP might not be the right solution for every business, but I’ve seen firsthand how working with an MSP (local or non-local) can benefit many businesses in the long run.
I’ll explain some of the reasons your MSP may need to come on-site, the pros and cons of working with local and non-local MSPs so that you can honestly evaluate which option is best for your organization.
5 Reasons An MSP May Need To Come On-Site
Not to be biased, but when things really go wrong—whether via natural disaster, technology failure, or human-induced error—having people who can come on-site to help is invaluable, not only for their physical presence, but to help to improve the end-user experience and enhance the relationship between the staff and IT.
Any MSP can provide standard network monitoring and management: keeping an eye on your servers, devices, and firewalls to make sure that everything is secure. However, this is only a small portion of what MSPs can actually do for your business.
When your MSP is located nearby and can come on-site, they can offer services like:
1. Strategic Guidance
For example, many MSPs offer “virtual CIOs,” (also called vCIOs,) who provide strategic IT advice that helps companies use technology effectively to achieve their short- and long-term business goals.
These types of services often require an on-site presence to clearly understand your business, challenges, pain points, what you’re doing well, and what could use improvement.
MSP services like intrusion testing and vulnerability testing should also be done on-site. Social engineering tests, such as dropping a flash drive in the parking lot to see if an employee picks it up and plugs it in, are best performed on-site as well.
In-person training and education programs for topics like cybersecurity awareness can not only bolster online, self-directed learning, but also give a forum for employees to ask questions in an in-person format. It also helps to build trust between employees and IT and helps to make things stick.
When your network goes down or your business experiences a security breach, every second counts. A local MSP has the advantage of being able to provide live BCDR support to get your operations back up and running..
5. Replacing Hardware
When something isn’t working, there are obvious benefits to having someone come on-site and hand you or install new equipment. You have resources to immediately answer your questions and handle any glitches that might arise.
6 Benefits To Partnering With A Local MSP
In addition to the obvious, which would be the convenience of being able to meet face-to-face any time, there are other advantages to working with a local MSP:
1. Personal Touch
One of the greatest advantages of a local MSP is the personalized service you can receive.
Local MSPs understand and can quickly adapt to changing local requirements.
For example, during the Covid pandemic, the MSP I work for easily transitioned to using video effectively during times of high local infection rates to augment and enhance our face-to-face time with customers.
We didn’t miss a beat in adapting to in-person restrictions and masking requirements, while maintaining (and even enhancing the effectiveness of) our customer relationships.
Working elbow-to-elbow with your trusted partner at the table improves communication and the relationship.
2. Long-Term Relationship
Thanks to the closer connections that local MSPs build, you’re more likely to have a working relationship that will last in the long run.
Your MSP should fundamentally understand your business, your needs and objectives, and your plans for getting where you want to go.
Choosing an MSP that's not located near you may save you money in the short term, but you’ll be missing the valuable strategic advantage that can only come from a long-term partner that takes the time to get to know your business.
3. In-Person Service
As mentioned above, a local MSP can offer the high-quality, in-person service that non-local MSPs simply can’t provide, from setup and installation to technical support and business continuity.
I work for a local MSP and when a client was hit by a freak lightning strike, for example, they needed a new switch and a new server to get back up and running. We hand-delivered the hardware the client needed, helping them survive with minimal downtime until they could perform a full repair.
4. An Extra Set Of Eyes
Having MSP representatives on-site regularly allows them to notice things in-person that they might never have been aware of remotely.
For example, during a site visit, a local MSP may see that the server room is kept unlocked leaving a large, potential security risk that would have gone unnoticed. Or, passwords posted on sticky notes at workstations may have become commonplace behavior.
Being made aware of these risks when your MSP visits your site can help to make your company more secure.
When the person who builds your house lives around the corner, you know they are going to stand by you when something goes wrong because their reputation relies on it.
The same is true with your MSP. If you are local, they will likely be more responsive when you need something out of the ordinary. If they are half a world away, your crisis may not get the quick resolution you need.
I mean, who wants to get an earful at the grocery store about poor service?
With the proliferation of remote work, we’ve all realized that sometimes it saves time and energy to communicate face-to-face. An issue that might take just a few seconds to demonstrate in-person could require a lot more time and effort to explain and duplicate remotely.
4 Reasons A Local MSP Might Not Be Right For You
As with any service provider in any industry, there are disadvantages to working with some local MSPs.
1. Staffing Limitations
When working with a local MSP, it’s important to inquire about the size and capabilities of their staff. You want to be sure they have the capabilities you need to keep your business running well.
Local MSPs often have a smaller staff and their capabilities may be limited. Make sure you ask the right questions and check with other customers to see what their experience has been.
2. Off-Hours Service Coverage
Some local MSPs hire outside organizations to respond to service calls. Others do not.
Outside service providers an MSP hires may be local and may be across the country or across the world. Make sure you know what you’re signing up for and where your service will be coming from. Language barriers can cause time consuming and expensive issues, especially in a highly technical field like IT.
3. Hidden Charges
You know the old adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
All MSPs handle things differently. You might pay one price for all of your managed services or there may be hidden fees. Some MSPs provide unlimited help desk calls while others limit them to a certain number of calls in a given time period. Make sure you know what your contract covers so there are no surprises.
4. Response Time
Smaller, local MSPs may be slow to respond. Find out what the service-level agreement lists as a reasonable response time and talk to a current client to see what their experience has been. Are they satisfied? Details matter!
3 Advantages To Working With A Non-Local MSP
To make the best decision for your organization, it’s important to consider all of the information.
Some of the top reasons I’ve heard for choosing a non-local MSP include:
The most common advantage I’ve heard is cost savings. Because non-local MSP may be able to hire people at less expensive rates in different parts of the country (or the world,) their costs often come in below those of local providers.
2. Global Talent Pool
Access to the world’s largest talent pool provides not only a potentially cheaper source of labor, but also one that can draw on multiple layers of knowledge, talent, and expertise in different regions.
3. 24-hour coverage
Most MSPs that are sized to provide non-local service are accustomed to providing 24-hour service 7 days a week even when U.S. businesses are shut down for holidays. If you are a 24-hour business, this provides a sense of security that no matter what day or time your issue occurs, you will have someone available to provide immediate service.
4 Reasons A Non-Local MSP Might Not Be Right For You
1. Time zones
While some non-local MSPs provide 24/7 coverage, others may have working hours that are radically different from your company’s core work schedule. MSPs based in Asia, for example, operate on a schedule that is up to 12 hours different from the United States.
Does an MSP that is headquartered in California account for the time difference on the East Coast?
Time zone differences can make real-time communication and support virtually impossible unless the MSP offers guaranteed 24/7 availability.
Clear, precise communication is invaluable for a highly technical field such as IT services. The consequences of a misunderstanding can be drastic and expensive.
Some MSPs pass support calls to an offshore organization. If that is the case, there is the potential for language barriers.
3. Response time
When calamity strikes, time is of the essence and a rapid response is necessary. Failing to mobilize when a problem occurs can result in harm to your reputation and even catastrophic business loss. Many disasters will require the physical presence of support staff on-site, which can be challenging to coordinate when your MSP isn’t nearby.
4. Inconsistent quality
Your business relies on your IT to run smoothly, without hiccups. When you work with a non-local MSP, you run the risk that your priorities may not be front of mind for them. There could be local talent retention issues, weather considerations, or other unknowns that will affect the quality of the service you receive.
Having said that, less expensive doesn’t mean better quality service. In fact, our experience with customers has proven the truth of the old adage: “You get what you pay for.”
A non-local IT MSP could be located across the country or across the world. As with most things in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to working with a non-local MSP.
Looking For A Local IT Managed Services Provider?
So, I’ve pointed out some general advantages and reasons why a local or non-local MSP might be right for your organization. There are business, service and communication reasons why one might be a better fit.
If you decide that a local MSP is right for you, here’s an article about some of the qualities to look for in an MSP.
After decades in the IT business, Kelser understands the benefits of working with local clients—both for you and for us. That’s why we offer IT managed services only for companies headquartered in the Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island tri-state area.
Simply put: we prefer to excel at our job for local clients, where we can really stay on top of things across the board, build close-knit relationships, and provide the service your business needs and deserves.