<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=352585001801011&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Lisa Carroll

By: Lisa Carroll on February 07, 2024

Print/Save as PDF

What is an IT Managed Services Provider (MSP)? (Should you use one?)

Managed Services

Updated: 2024

You may have heard the term “managed service provider” or “MSP” in conversations or articles. You may have an idea of what it means or you may not. Either way, this article is for you.

Although they have been around for several years, MSPs bring a new approach to IT support.

In this article, we’ll explore how MSPs work, what makes them different, and how to decide if they make sense for your organization.

It’s fair to say that all IT support organizations share the goal of serving their customers, but how they go about it and the services they provide vary. And the truth is that either traditional or managed IT support can be a good solution depending on your needs.

After reading this article, you’ll have a clear understanding of your options when it comes to supporting your business technology, so you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.

And don’t worry, even though Kelser is an MSP, my goal is not to convince you to work with us, but rather to provide the honest information you need to make the best IT support decision for your organization.

The nuances can be confusing, so I’m here to spell it out clearly and concisely.

What Is A Managed Service Provider (MSP) in IT? The Definition Of An MSP

At its most basic level, a managed service provider (MSP) is a company that provides ongoing, proactive support and management of your technology under a monthly agreement or subscription.

What Does An MSP Do?

IT managed service providers handle a wide variety of services, tasks, and maintenance for your business depending on their specific specialties and offerings. Many IT managed service providers may offer some of the same services or features.

At a minimum, the services provided by an MSP typically include:

  • System Patching

This service typically includes applying operating system (usually Windows or macOS) updates and patches to your desktops and laptops.

The benefit of having these patches and updates applied by professionals is that it keeps your computers safe, efficient, and performing optimally.

And, if there’s a glitch when those important updates are installed, the MSP has the IT resources to ensure your systems are back online in no time.

Some MSPs handle these tasks manually, others take this service further offering automated centralized patching, including other hardware such as servers, mobile devices, and network hardware; or analyzing the health of covered devices to stay ahead of hardware end-of-life planning.

  • Monitoring & Alerting

MSPs typically use software to remotely monitor the real-time status of the hardware covered by your agreement (usually at a minimum your desktops and laptops). The software alerts the MSP if issues or errors occur.

The benefit of proactive monitoring and alerting is that you'll know early on if something is off or wrong with your managed hardware and your provider can promptly address the issue before it worsens.

Your agreement will specify what happens with different types of levels or severity of these issues. Often that may mean the MSP alerts your in-house IT staff (if you have one) or handles them directly for you.

The specifics of monitoring and alerting will vary by MSP and even by which things are being tracked.

  • Technical Support & Service

Every MSP handles technical support (also called “help desk,” “service desk,” or “tech support”) a little differently.

At a minimum these services typically cover routine issues with your desktops and laptops as well as common software on those devices (operating system, word processor, spreadsheet and slideshow presentation applications, and internet browser, for example).

Some providers include unlimited service calls for hardware, software, and other issues in their monthly subscription fee. Others include a fixed number of calls or “service tickets” with separate fees for each additional request for help. And others charge per call for any service request. 

The benefit of these services is that if something goes wrong with your hardware or software while you're using it, you simply send a service request to the MSP, and they will handle the troubleshooting and repair for you.

One word of caution, pay attention to the terms of the service level agreement so you know how quickly you should expect a response and a resolution.

Related article: What Is A Normal IT Response & Service Time? 5 Things To Know About SLAs

Each MSP may handle the way technical support requests are submitted, tracked, escalated, resolved, and followed differently. Understand how this works before you sign an agreement.

Many providers offer different paths for submitting support requests (telephone, email, text). While this may not be essential for routine requests, you’ll want to have the option of calling or texting someone if your computer is not booting up.

Managed service providers also may feature additional services beyond the base level of services above. These could include centralized antivirus, anti malware, email support, managed network, employee security awareness training, data backup, data recovery, and more.

Do Managed Service Providers Work With In-House IT Staff?

Your relationship with an MSP can range from full support of your entire technology infrastructure to supplementing an internal IT staff of any size.

If you are just looking for someone to handle everything, an MSP can do that.

If you have an internal staff that does a great job of handling day-to-day services, but you need someone to handle the proactive monitoring and updates or other infrastructure oversight, an MSP can do that.

If you have one person who handles your technology strategy and planning, but you need extra hands to manage it all and carry out the daily tasks, an MSP can do that.

If you have projects that you just can’t get to, most MSPs can help with that as well.

And, if you currently have no dedicated IT staff, an MSP can act as your outsourced IT department. 

How Is Working With An MSP Different From Traditional IT Support?

The best way to illustrate the difference between the two approaches is to use an example. 

Imagine this scenario:  You come in early on Monday morning to get a jump start on the week. Your computer has other ideas and refuses to boot up.

Traditional IT Support Example

You call your IT support organization and wait for a call back. It’s Monday, so there’s no telling how long it will take before you hear back and then it will take time for things to be sorted out.

Ideally, it’s an isolated issue that is only affecting your computer, but it could be more widespread and be affecting your co-workers as well. Either way, there’s no telling how soon you’ll have your computer up and running again and if it’s an infrastructure issue, it could be days.

And, once the issue is fixed, there’s the matter of the invoice which is usually very difficult to predict and often makes IT budgets a guessing game.

MSP IT Support Example

With managed IT, your network and devices receive comprehensive, ongoing, proactive support. In most cases, this support spots and mitigates issues before they have a chance to propagate throughout your internal network.

As we’ve mentioned, MSPs proactively monitor for suspicious activities, install patches and updates to keep your infrastructure and devices protected from the latest cyber threats, and generally oversee your technology strategy and infrastructure to make sure your business has the tools it needs for what’s next.

And, even better, since you pay one monthly fee for these services, your IT costs are predictable and manageable. No surprise repair bills.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Only you can decide if working with an IT MSP is a good choice for your organization.

A primary advantage of working with an MSP is to obtain proactive support and service that in turn will decrease or eliminate your business downtime and reduce the costs associated with that downtime and technology/IT in general.

Having said that, I know that managed IT isn’t the right solution for every organization.

If you’re comfortable with some downtime, its associated costs, and how much you spend on technology and maintenance (don’t forget to include those hidden costs), a IT managed service provider may not be a good fit for your organization.

However, you may want to explore working with an MSP if you:

  • are losing an unacceptable number of working hours to broken hardware, frozen software, network outages, and updates that seem to take forever or constantly error out,

  • have an in-house IT staff but they’re stuck putting out the daily figurative (or sometimes literal) technology fires, or

  • find yourself spending hours outside the office researching any number of technical issues popping up in your environment so you don’t have to spend “working hours” keeping your technology running or replacing that old desktop that still runs Windows XP.

Use the button below to self-assess whether you have gaps in your infrastructure that managed IT support could help you address. 

Managed IT Checklist Banner (Active)


About Lisa Carroll

Lisa is Kelser's VP of Revenue who works at the intersection of business and technology to help Kelser’s clients jump on growth opportunities.

Suggested Posts

Visit Our Learning Center