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The MSP Alliance has enlisted seven big-name IT companies to spread the word about the benefits of managed services.

The Chico, Calif.-based group’s goal is to educate users about the increasingly popular IT services model by clearly defining the role of MSPs (managed services providers) in seeking to meet the IT needs of business customers of all sizes, said alliance executives.

The companies that have agreed to participate in the awareness-raising campaign, which kicks off Sept. 13, are Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif.; Hewlett-Packard, of Palo Alto, Calif.; RSA Security, of Bedford, Mass.; Best Buy for Business, of Richfield, Minn.; Konica Minolta, of Mobile, Ala.; EDS, of Plano, Texas; and Siemens, of Buffalo Grove, Ill.

“They’re landing their name and recognition to the managed services industry,” said MSP Alliance President Charles Weaver.

Under the managed services model, providers remotely take over some or all of the IT functions at their customer sites, billing them either monthly or quarterly for the services. Tasks MSPs handle range from desktop PC management to more complex services such as enterprise data storage and network security.

The model promises predictable service for customers and predictable revenue for the providers.

But as often happens with emerging business models or technology, some confusion exists about what managed services are. As a result, said Weaver, it is necessary to clarify the model and how it works in the minds of public at large.

Through its awareness campaign, the alliance aims to answer three primary questions for customers: What is managed services, how does it help businesses, and where can customers find qualified providers.

The MSP Alliance has an accreditation program for MSPs and keeps a database of qualified providers that customers can use for references, Weaver said. The database provides such data about accredited members as qualifications and client references, as well as information on best practices.

“This is not a phone book approach to listing every Tom, Dick and Harry,” said Weaver.

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The participation of the seven IT companies in the campaign, said Celia Weaver, vice president of the alliance and wife of Charles Weaver, helps lend credibility to the alliance’s efforts to promote the model.

The alliance aims to create the perception among customers that MSPs are professionals, much like accountants or lawyers, said Celia Weaver.

To create that perception, the providers themselves have to think like professionals, making sure they have the qualifications to deliver the services, she said. To aid in that, the alliance and its campaign partners will direct efforts to raise awareness about managed services within the industry first and then to the public.

Providers have to take professionalism seriously as the industry becomes increasingly regulated, she said, so they can protect their interests.

Celia Weaver cited a California law on spyware and adware that would have created difficulties for MSPs if the alliance hadn’t interfered before it was passed. As originally written, the law would have called for fining anyone accessing a network without the knowledge of every user, which would have hurt MSPs, she said.

“What concerns me is that had we not got wind of this, this bill would have passed as written,” she said.

Charles Weaver said the alliance’s initiative to raise awareness of the managed services model marks the first time big-name IT companies have endorsed the model in a significant public way.