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Lack of awareness remains the biggest obstacle to customers in agreeing to a managed services contract.

In a survey of users, IT trade organization CompTIA, of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., found that 52 percent of customers cited lack of knowledge about available services as the biggest deterrent for them to use managed services.

This means that despite some evidence earlier this year thatusers were becoming better attuned to managed services, a lot of work is still needed to educate customers on the model, through which solution providers remotely take over some or all their clients’ computing environments.

CompTIA, which tries to stay at the vanguard of developments in the IT channel, is doing its part by boosting efforts to promote managed services growth. The organization, naturally, is focusing on the solution provider end by offering them best practices tools, educational programs and research.

The MSP Alliance, a Chico, Calif., advocacy group that was pushing managed services before the model became fashionable, also invests a lot of energy in educating the market about the model.

The alliance has an accreditation program for solution providers that want to become full-fledged managed services providers and has also developed the MSP Code of Ethics. Both are designed to lend credibility to the emerging managed services model and professionalism to the channel companies that make the decision to embrace this way of doing business.

Managed services vendors in the past year have stepped up their education efforts as well, realizing that if providers lacked the requisite knowledge to implement the model, they couldn’t possibly hope to ultimately educate theusers properly.

Embracing the managed services model from the user’s perspective requires a serious leap of faith. While intellectually, we can all agree on the practicality and benefits of a model that transfers the burden of keeping computing environments in tip-top shape from end users to solution providers, in practice getting the customer to agree to this arrangement poses some challenges.

For one, a business owner has to deal with the guilt – presumably—of firing IT personnel should that become necessary when entering a managed services contract. But more importantly, agreeing to hand over control of IT to someone else now that data is a company’s most important asset is a difficult decision to make.

So educating the user is paramount to employing the model successfully. Users have become far savvier about technology when they used to be. It’s not enough for a provider to say, “Leave everything to me.” The customer wants assurance the provider will deliver.

An effective way to win over customers is to get them to agree to one managed service to start with. A provider could offer to remotely handle e-mail filtering, for instance. Once the provider proves it can deliver, the customer will be more inclined to add other managed services.

The effectiveness of this approach is supported in CompTIA’s user research. The organization found that 27 percent of customers select their service provider based on specialized offerings.

The survey of 322 users also found that an existing relationship with the provider, the provider’s reputation and round-the-clock support also help.

CompTIA’s research shows that despite the popularity of managed services, providers cannot take the model for granted. They must first educate themselves by taking vendor training offerings and available industry research. Seeking accreditation and adhering to the MSP Alliance Code of Ethics will also help.

With that done, the provider than has to invest itself in educating the customer. And when that happens, you’ll just be getting started.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner and a contributing editor for The Channel Insider. He can be reached at