There are two basic models for providing IT services to small businesses in today's tech landscape: managed service providers (MSPs) and traditional IT providers. They offer a number of overlapping services, but the primary difference is that MSPs offer them remotely over a network, while traditional companies are more focused on on-site support.
MSPs offer new and often convenient options to small businesses that need help with IT, but it is important to consider both the pros and the cons of working with one. While they may be the right choice for some companies, a more traditional local IT company will be the right choice for others.
If you are evaluating your IT needs and considering working with an MSP, keep these considerations in mind. Picking the right provider from the start will save your small business time, money, and lost productivity.
The Pros of Working with an MSP for IT Services
- A fixed-price cost structure. MSPs offer a menu of services and allow clients to pick and choose the ones they most need and define the limits of their contract. Once the contract is in place, it is easy to budget for monthly IT costs because they don't fluctuate. If you don't anticipate your IT needs changing drastically in the near future, committing to a service contract is a convenient way to cover all your bases and avoid unexpected costs.
- Remote support and monitoring. Advanced networking capabilities allow MSPs to monitor your system for viruses and updates remotely and make changes as necessary. That means that the day-to-day maintenance of your IT infrastructure is handled for you, with little need for your time and input. On top of that, if you have a staff that is comfortable working with remote support professionals, they can get help immediately rather than having to wait for a technician to appear on-site.
The Cons of Working with an MSP for IT Services
- Expansion difficulties. If you anticipate that your small business will grow in the near future, you will probably need to increase the capabilities of your IT infrastructure. When it comes time to select hardware, run cables, and set everything up properly, a support professional located in another state is not much help. When you need help in your office, you may find that your MSP has no way to assist you.
- Holes in the support network. Before signing a contract with an MSP, carefully evaluate the terms of the support agreement. In addition to the lack of on-site support mentioned above, you may discover that your MSP only offers help during business hours, is impossible to get on the phone, or treats you like just one of dozens of clamoring clients. Remote maintenance and monitoring are exciting developments, but when you need help is when you are most reliant on your IT provider. Make sure they are prepared to be there for you when problems arise.
Generally speaking, MSPs are a good option for small businesses that are relatively stable and do not have plans for extensive expansion. Small businesses with a rapid growth business model, or a heavy reliance on IT, might find more value in working with a company that can be there in person.
To learn more about selecting the right IT provider or MSP, consult our white paper “The Ultimate Small Business Guide to IT Outsourcing.”