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The Stack Archive

Five questions to ask your Managed Service Provider (MSP)

Tue 31 May 2016

Computer engineering

ZulqarnainIqbalZulqarnain Iqbal, Head of Managed Service Delivery at Teneo, outlines five key considerations to discuss with prospective MSPs to guarantee a successful partnership…

When your organisation is growing rapidly or consolidating, there’s little escaping the need to use expert managed services. At some point the board will have to hand over their precious IT to a managed service provider (MSP) – just as a hard-working parent has to put their baby in the hands of a nanny.

But are many managed services simply a poor substitute? Worryingly, CompTIA’s 4th Annual Trends in Managed Services for the U.S. IT industry found a majority of firms thought their managed IT services could be better. Gartner has identified negotiating support and maintenance contracts as a key challenge for IT teams. You wouldn’t hire a nanny without meeting them first and getting references and the same goes for a prospective MSP. Before committing to a service deal, you should ask an MSP five crucial questions:

What are your service standards?

How many contractual terms with your MSP can you cite? If it doesn’t give a well-defined service level agreement (SLA), there’s little obliging it to respond quickly and effectively following major incidents like security breaches. A professional MSP will provide a clear SLA stating what procedures apply and what security standards it adheres to. We insist on such an approach with customers, so that there is transparency and trust in the relationship from the off.

What’s the reporting mechanism?

Fast-growing companies will have different performance outcomes as they set up international operations or rationalise existing networks or plan long term goals; it’s up to your MSP to adapt to them. We wouldn’t begin a relationship without looking at the organisation’s long-term goals so we can make appropriate recommendations. And as your goals will change, check how often the MSP delivers a service review; an attentive supplier will provide a quarterly service report, and even better, conduct face-to-face reviews. We commonly roll out pilots before installing a fully-fledged solution: for a law firm, we initially installed a WAN optimisation solution at one of its offices and its UK data centre before rolling out the appliances on a larger scale. This phased approach allowed us to measure and report back the solution’s successes so that customers can make an informed decision on whether to make a full commitment.

What role do expert engineers play in the service?

Engineers are your crucial day-to-day contacts for driving performance and problem-solving, so find out how many certified engineers your MSP has, their qualifications and what access you have to them. The best providers give you direct access instead of having an intermediary help-desk. Do they man the support desk 24/7 – or outsource it? How quickly you can access the engineer, how does their troubleshooting process work, and what’s the frequency of their updates? In our experience, customers prefer a dedicated engineer that is familiar with company operations, can ‘road map’ customer needs with the in-house team and then carry out agreed recommendations.

Who in your customer community can we talk to?

Ask for references, and your intended MSP should provide evidence of helping companies with similar needs to your own. How much satisfaction do other customers show, and is it enough for you to feel confident that the MSP can meet your needs?

What pricing models do you provide?

The best MSPs work with you to select the pricing models and payment plans that reduce companies’ financial exposure. Examine the pricing models and understand what suits your cash flow. Will a monthly, yearly, multi-year or fixed pricing model suit your finances better? Consider how long the technology will take before it reaches the end of its life and which option works out as more cost-effective. Is there a Government tax break for either option?

Just like a nanny being at the heart of a happy home, your MSP is the driving force behind your organisation’s success, and by asking the right questions you can establish whether you trust it as a capable pair of hands.

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