If you think a managed service provider (MSP) is just “the guys who fix computers,” you may be missing out on significant opportunities to support your company’s growth. Sure, an MSP can operate that way, but most also offer a large breadth of additional services such as help desk, virtual CIO, email security, cloud backup and disaster recovery. At one extreme, the MSP can come in and fix problems as you have them. At the other end, it can function as a complete, proactive outsourced IT team including your CIO. Partnering with the right MSP provides the flexibility to choose the level that best meets your needs.
The Reactive Solution
In an on-call or reactive relationship, you receive assistance only when you have problems. This is a low-cost solution in the short-term, providing only exactly the assistance you need when you need it. Long term, however, it can cost you a lot more and slow the productivity of your staff.
It can be like relying on your fire department to rescue you, but not bothering to maintain basic fire safety in your home. In this scenario, systems don’t get updated reliably, servers and equipment fall out of support contracts, and avoidable problems lead to major “fires” that impact business operations.
Better: The Flexible Approach
Better than firefighting, this solution involves outsourcing some functions of your IT systems—such as data backups, cloud file sharing, and managed business-class antivirus software—while retaining some functions in-house or in a reactive mode. Your team lives with the day-to-day IT issues that slow their progress on their work projects while the list piles up until it is justified to call in the MSP. You do have peace of mind that the critical outsourced functions are taken care of.
While this is often a comfortable compromise for many companies, it’s important to be aware of potential hazards. Because you’re not engaging the MSP’s full breadth of services like remote helpdesk and proactive monitoring and remediation, opportunities arise for overlap (inefficient), Band-Aid fixes by your staff and, worse, potential gaps in the system. To address this, be sure to schedule regular updates with your provider to validate that the outsourced functions are being carried out effectively and discuss recurring or nagging IT issues that need attention.
Best: The Full Service Approach
If you’re truly serious about taking a proactive approach to protecting your data and IT systems and keeping a productive and happy staff, it may be time to go with a full-service MSP. This option is the easiest and most convenient for most small businesses who don’t have their own IT staff, while providing the greatest security and growth support. Essentially, a full-service MSP can be thought of as your own IT department. Advantages include:
- Complete oversight and management of your IT and communications systems to ensure your infrastructure continues to serve your needs
- Continuous monitoring to identify and prevent interruptions in service
- Remote helpdesk services to ensure your employees can get immediate support when they need it and on-site support when it is required
- Predictable budgeting options that help you control and manage costs
With full-service outsourced IT, the company owner or IT stakeholder and the MSP stay in sync with each other, ensuring the technology continues to support the business. Partnering with an MSP at this level means the business has an entire IT department at their disposal, without the hassle and expense of staffing and managing one.
Of course, not all MSPs are created equal. When searching for a provider, look for a partner who:
- Offers a range of services that are in line with your business needs
- Asks good questions to understand your business needs
- Can provide references and demonstrates an outstanding track record
- Behaves like a partner, not a vendor
For a deeper dive into understanding the type of MSP solution that will best fit your business, download The Ultimate Small Business Guide to IT Outsourcing – it’s free and a great resource to help you understand your needs and learn more about working with a managed service provider.