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How to Choose the Best IT Managed Service Provider

A picture of an IT professional working with a client much like a managed service provider (MSP) would with organizations to meet their IT network needs.

As organizations increasingly adopt digital systems to run their business, many decide whether to hire an in-house IT specialist or outsource.

Considering the IT skills gap and the sometimes daunting cost of building out IT operations, it’s no surprise that tens of thousands of organizations elect to work with a managed service provider (MSP). Putting network data, systems, or operations in the hands of a third party is daunting – but a league of existing and trusted MSPs show why adopting managing services enriches network capabilities, enables faster scaling, and reduces costs.

This article looks at what a great MSP offers and the points to consider when looking for a prospective managed service partner.

Also read: Who Are the Top Managed Security Security Service Providers (MSSPs)?

Expertise and a Proven Track Record

When organizations elect to outsource, their managed service provider should exude expertise and experience. Though an upstart IT technician might help a small business, organizations scaling or managing complex network systems need more.

As the IT ecosystem grows and evolves, traditional MSPs continue to expand their offerings to meet increasingly complex demands from client businesses. Still, managed services are an ample market opportunity with room for startups that offer quality solutions to new demographics.

These new firms might lack years of experience as a vendor, but typically, these MSP teams are highly skilled, certified technicians. Managed service professionals are responsible for monitoring, guiding, and acting on behalf of multiple clients. Without evidence of in-depth knowledge or field experience, it’s a dealbreaker for prospective clients.

Also read: Top Vendor Risk Management (VRM) Software 2021

Network-Specific Service

Managed service providers come in all shapes, sizes, and service capabilities. Some have thousands of clients, including Fortune 500 enterprises, and a suite of tools available globally, while others may specialize in a specific network system and support regional organizations. In the ocean between these two examples, managed service providers must allocate time and resources toward serving their customers.

Hands-On MSP vs. Hands-Off MSP

Working directly with the client to evaluate and understand needs before crafting a solution fit for the specific network is the sign of a hands-on managed service provider. Because there is no one-size-fits-all solution for networks, even the hands-off MSP services need some time to deploy, implement, and set configurations. When initiating an MSP relationship, organizations must ensure the vendor meets expectations for network-specific challenges.

Custom Implementations Take Time

Custom configuration and implementation of managed service provider tools for a specific organization sometimes is a necessity for complex networks. Note, the onboarding process can be a time-intensive process depending on the size and complexity of the organization network. If possible, look for and inquire about the timeline from contract to full implementation.

Also read: Best Managed IT Service Providers 2021 (IT Business Edge)

Consistent, Trustworthy, and Secure

To earn a client’s heart and continuing business, managed service providers must offer consistency, goodwill, and a robust security posture. 

Consistency

Though technology changes fast, organizations and business leaders expect consistency from their MSP. From effective communication with network administrators to the complete delivery of agreed-upon services, consistency is crucial to business continuity.

Goodwill

Like any business, MSPs actively seek opportunities to serve new or existing clients. MSP-client arrangements can be complex, and every step of the process is an opportunity for parties to grow, learn, and benefit from the relationship.

Security

As seen in the case of Kaseya this summer, IT service management providers aren’t immune to attacks, and the downstream impact on MSP clients is daunting. MSPs should detail their security posture and regularly update clients on developments.

Also read: SMBs: How to find the right MSP for your cybersecurity needs (TechRepublic)

Flexible with Integrations, Devices, and Environments

With the rapid change in digital technology, offering solutions that meet every client’s needs is challenging. Billions of devices and systems work together globally to provide web users with resources online, and not every device, system, or environment is compatible. 

While Windows has long been the operating system of choice for enterprises, the proliferation of macOS, Linux-based operating systems, and Chrome OS continue to push vendors to develop and offer more flexible solutions. Today, a handful of mobile operating systems also compete for compatibility.

The more extensive the organization’s network, the more likely it isn’t homogenous. Industries at large are making the shift to adopt hybrid infrastructures, including cloud and virtual workloads. Though many top managed service providers are fit for the hybrid era, there’s plenty that can only work with specific environmental challenges.

Around-the-Clock Service

The digital economy relies on the uptime of network services, and organizations expect the same around-the-clock service from their managed service provider. Not every managed service requires 24/7/365 monitoring, but it’s an industry staple to offer uninterrupted service no matter the time or event.

Also read: Results from the Uptime Institute’s 11th Global Data Center Survey on ServerWatch.

Organizations with customer-facing infrastructure, including a growing universe of web content and applications, rely on their network’s performance and cybersecurity for business continuity. To dive deeper, two examples of managed services include managed server and storage needs and a managed security solution akin to a remote security operations center (SOC).

Managed Data Center

Whether in-house, colocation or multi-tenant facility, cloud-based or virtualized, data centers are crucial to storing and serving modern digital resources. With managed data center services, organizations can outsource systems for data hosting, maintenance, backups, and more. 

Though an effective method for scaling network resources, even managed data providers are vulnerable to downtime due to disaster, cyber attack, malfunction, and human error. In these instances, every second counts, and organizations need to trust that any downtime gets mitigated promptly and effectively.

Managed Security

Managed security services remain a top seller for the MSP marketplace because organizations increasingly recognize the need to safeguard their data. 

From essential network traffic monitoring to advanced threat detection, remediation, and attack reports delivered to the client’s inbox, plenty of organizations rely on managed security to monitor and manage the network at all hours. With networks growing more complex with hybrid infrastructures, remote workforces, and the evolving nature of threats, managed security solutions act as the 24/7 SOC allowing organizations to sleep at night.

Also read: MSPs with Data Protection Expertise Are in Demand (Channel Insider)

Why MSP Vendors and Client Networks Matter

Managed service providers are IT market connectors. MSPs fill a needed gap in the IT marketplace by utilizing technology from top IT vendors globally and offering it as a managed service to SMBs up to enterprises.

Evaluating Third-Party Technology and Risk

Because MSPs use a range of suppliers to build their organization and managed service solution, clients can use underlying technologies as an indicator for consideration.

MSPs, though often experts in their craft, aren’t immune to vulnerabilities and advanced threats. In a growing space, third-party risk management is the practice of validating the security and risk posture of partnering organizations, including MSPs. With supply chain disruptions hitting several industries this year, organizations need to take steps to consider their vendor and client relationships.

Read more: Remote work and increased cybersecurity threats presented both challenges and opportunities for MSPs (TechRepublic)

More Clients Provides Validation and Innovation

Though less apparent, an MSP’s client network also is an essential indicator of the firm’s promise. More clients typically mean the MSP is doing something right, but it also can strengthen the MSP’s capabilities. MSPs can identify challenges and build solutions that benefit the entire client network when overseeing a swath of organizations. 

Too many existing MSPs to count tell the story of how assisting a client with a single, specific project led them to adopt a new managed service offering. Of course, this type of innovation is only possible when MSPs take on unique challenges to address clients’ evolving needs.

Weighing the Cost of MSPs

The client should regularly evaluate the cost of managed services to ensure the investment meets the quality of service delivered. MSPs offer several pricing models, including fixed fees, fees based on the number of devices or users, as well as monitoring-only, tiered, and value-based plans.

Like holding a lawyer on retainer, some MSPs offer services when needed while others are around-the-clock network monitors and administrators for the client organization. The former is most well-known through break-fix service providers that often only charge an hourly or set rate for a specific service. Consumers are all too familiar with local smartphone repair stores, while organizations remember when MSP experts needed to travel to office or facility locations for technical support physically. Trends in remote desktop software (RDS) continue to make remote IT support more feasible than ever.

Also read: Considerations for Hiring a Managed Services Provider (IT Business Edge)

Evaluating Hard vs. Soft Costs 

Every organization deals with hard costs directly paid to suppliers and partners for products or services. By comparison, soft costs are even harder to track due to inefficiencies, downtime, and lost revenue due to IT challenges. When evaluating an MSP, organizations should determine expected hard and soft costs to ensure the cost of outsourcing makes commercial sense.

Questions for Prospective MSPs

  • Do you have specification sheets for your service and product offerings?
  • How many clients do you currently serve, and for what purposes?
  • What is the communication protocol between network administrators and MSP?
  • How would you describe existing client relationships and workflows?
  • Are your services unified across the client network or specific to organizations?
  • How do your IT managed services give us a competitive advantage?
  • Do you document your processes or maintain compliance records?
  • How long does the onboarding and implementation process typically take?

Common MSP Services

The extent of IT systems that managed services can handle is profound. Though there are several popular options for enterprises, including managed security solutions like detection and response (MDR), managed backups, and managed firewalls, many specialized services are emerging to rising demand. These specialized services include:

Read more: How Can the Channel Use Cognitive Systems Like Artificial Intelligence?

Types of MSP and Their Capabilities

As suggested, managed service providers can be everything from a one-person show to a global network of SOC-certified facilities. Though there isn’t a fine line between which MSP is a low-level, we offer the basic understanding of each type below.

Low-Level MSPs

Offers services related to software installation, monitoring, and notifying clients of threats but remains hands-off most of the time.

Mid-Level MSPs

Extends foundational support with enriched monitoring and maintenance services for performance, cybersecurity, and management.

High-Level MSPs

One-stop shops for all your IT operations needs, these vendors can extend as far as the client’s budget to serve the network.

Read more: Data Protection Business Model Requires Nuanced Approach for MSPs (Channel Insider)

Industry Examples: Detection & Response MSPs

In a year where cybersecurity got its share of media coverage, managed security service providers (MSSPs) are having a moment. Within the realm of managed cybersecurity, managed detection and response (MDR) continues to be a popular solution for organizations in need of endpoint protection. Beyond traditional endpoint detection and response (EDR) features, the top MDR solutions offer perimeter telemetry, incident response, and threat intelligence.

A few of the top MDR vendors include Arctic Wolf, Cybereason, Sophos, SentinelOne, and Secureworks. See the entire breakdown of Top MDR Service and Solutions for 2021 on eSecurity Planet.

How to Choose a Great IT Managed Service Provider

With the integrity of network systems on the line, picking a great managed service provider means taking the time to evaluate organization needs, MSP capabilities, the total cost of ownership, and more. Because there is a spectrum of MSPs, keep the above considerations in mind when evaluating your next prospective managed service.

Read more of the latest coverage on MSPs:

Sam Ingalls
Sam Ingalls is a content writer and researcher covering enterprise technology, IT trends, and network security for eSecurityPlanet.com, Webopedia.com, ChannelInsider.com, and ServerWatch.com.

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