Managed IT Services
It does not make financial sense for most small businesses to maintain a full IT department or even one full-time permanent IT employee. This often leaves small businesses trying to keep their network running as effectively and efficiently as possible without spending all of their money to maintain it. Constantly evolving technology and systems that require maintenance in order to prevent costly downtime can create numerous headaches for businesses, which is why it is vital for organizations to have proper IT support in place. While there are a number of different IT solutions available, many small businesses are turning to Managed IT Services.
Managed IT Services are services provided by an outside firm or IT consulting company. Many of these services are provided remotely, but on-site and emergency services are also provided as necessary. Taking on a Managed Service Provider (MSP) gives your organization the services that it needs for a flat monthly rate (generally per user or per device), which means that costs for keeping your business running as efficiently as possible come at a predictable cost.
Exactly what services are covered on a managed service contract may vary depending on the provider that you choose, but the broad categories of services that are on a managed service contract are:
- Computer & Server support
- Data Backup & Disaster Recovery
- Network Security
- Remote Network Monitoring
- Strategic Technology Planning
Computer & Server Support
Regular monitoring and maintenance of your organization's hardware is the key to getting the best performance out of your equipment. MSPs offer various solutions to support your computers and servers, including help desk support and troubleshooting, which allows your end users to get their computer issues resolved in a timely manner.
Data Backup & Disaster Recovery
One of the most important things that MSPs do is maintain frequent backups of your organization's data, as this is something that many small businesses do not do on their own. It is essential to keeping your business up and running, as it prevents you from losing important data in the event of a disaster. These backups are often done and maintained remotely, which means that there is no hardware for you to worry about onsite, and your data is more secure in the event of a breach because it is entirely separate from your internal network. Backups should be tested regularly to ensure that they are working correctly, and you should ensure that your MSP chooses the right backup provider for your organization. Cloud backups are becoming the norm, but physical backups may work for your organization as well.
Network security (also known as cyber security or IT security) is even more important for small and medium-sized businesses than for your larger counterparts. Hackers view these smaller organizations as easier targets, as they have fewer resources to dedicate to maintaining a secure network. If you're organization is seen as an easy target, you are much more likely to be the victim of an attack, meaning that its vital for your network to be as secure as it possibly can be. Firewalls, spam filtering, and more go into protecting your organization from a cyber attack, so you need an MSP who has the necessary experience to keep your organization safe.
Remote Network Monitoring
Remote monitoring is a critical part of maintaining your network, as it can often detect minor issues that could blow up into even bigger problems if not caught beforehand. This decreases downtime, saving you time and money. A good MSP will provide 24/7 monitoring so that you know your network is secure, and that many issues will be resolved before they can significantly impact network performance.
Strategic Technology Planning
Many small businesses take an "ad-hoc" approach when it comes to adopting new technologies, sometimes buying the shiny new technology without planning for future needs. This is where IT consulting comes in, as a good MSP will outline a technology roadmap for your organization over time. This means that many of the larger costs of replacing equipment are already in front of you so that they can be budgeted for, and they will help you to properly use your IT budget in order to maximize your business's technology.
Which contract that you choose will vary based on your organization’s technical needs, and the best way to determine that is to take stock of the current resources that your organization has and what areas need more resources. Some questions to ask yourself are:
- What are my company’s IT needs? Are our processes and resources as secure, efficient, and up-to-date as they could be?
- Do we already have internal IT resources? What are their strengths/weaknesses? Where would the business be if they left?
- Are we compliant?
- What are the current costs to managing our IT?
There are many reasons why your company might use an MSP, such as not having your own internal IT team or not having all of the IT resources that you may need. That is one of the biggest benefits of using an MSP – it gives you access to a wide range of experience, certifications, and technical ability for a flat monthly fee. It is much more cost effective than having engineers with the same skill sets and level of experience on staff full-time, especially for small to mid-size companies, as you may only need those advanced skill sets for certain projects and not necessarily for day-to-day operations. It also gives you access to a larger team of engineers. Instead of just one or two IT people on staff, you would have access to all of the MSP’s engineers and the various levels of experience that they each have. There is less turnover this way, and the MSP will feel like an extension of your organization.
Another benefit to using an MSP is that it gives you the ability to focus more on your business instead of IT-related issues. The MSP’s help desk can work directly with end users to get a problem resolved as quickly as possible, and they can also deal directly with vendors to eliminate the need for you as a middle-man, making vendor management more efficient. This means less downtime for your employees and the organization as a whole. The regular monitoring and proactive support that come along with using an MSP will also result in less downtime for the entire organization, saving you time and money. With someone else managing IT issues, you have more time to focus on the most important aspects of your business.
When using an MSP, IT consulting often comes as part of the service offering. A good MSP will make sure that your organization is up to industry standards and is following IT best practices, as well as helping your organization to plan for the future. An IT roadmap is often created, which outlines the big projects & associated costs that will come up in the next few months/years, as well as help to spread out hardware updates to make them more manageable and affordable. These types of documents allow you to fully prepare and budget for IT-related expenses, eliminating many of the surprise costs that can come up if there is not a plan in place for future IT infrastructure. You won’t be able to keep using the same equipment forever, and it makes everything much easier and more transparent when a specific plan is put into place. On top of creating a roadmap, IT consulting helps to make your business more efficient by helping you to eliminate unnecessary applications to streamline business processes, take full advantage of the current technology that you have in place, and keep your entire business up and running at peak efficiency.
The biggest hurdle that comes as a part of using an MSP is that much of the support is done remotely, which organizations that have not previously worked with an MSP may not be used to. It can take some adjustment to get used to not having an IT resource on-site at all times, and visits will often need to be scheduled in advance.
Another hurdle that you may run into when taking on a new MSP is that there may be more costs associated with IT services than your organization may have been previously accustomed to. The monthly cost may be more than you were expecting, especially if you haven't worked with an MSP before, and there are other services such as project labor and hardware that may not be covered under the contract, so these are costs that you should take into consideration. IT roadmaps are created that should address this concern, as the various projects that should be completed will be outlined on a timeline with all of the associated costs, so most big projects will not come as a surprise and will have already been included in your IT budget.
You can still use an MSP. They can supplement the internal staff and provide a higher level of support. The internal staff often handles the day-to-day end user support while the MSP provides any additional services including escalations, monitoring, server support, and IT consulting. They will also work with your internal team to strengthen any areas that may need to be addressed and help them to bring your organization up to industry standards if necessary. Bringing on an MSP in addition to internal IT staff can help your organization to reach its goals.
The onboarding process varies depending on the Managed Service Provider that you choose. It takes about 2-4 weeks to fully complete the process once an agreement has been signed.
The process begins with a series of preliminary steps, the very first of which is that a call is set with the main contact where the full onboarding process is outlined and the expectations are set. This is where the MSP outlines the information that they will need from the client, how long each step of the process will take, and what additional resources will be required. On the MSPs side, an engineer sets up your company in their systems, getting everything ready for data collection to begin. This is also the point in which an onsite onboarding meeting is scheduled.
The next step is the onsite onboarding. The MSP's engineers come onsite to collect information regarding your network configuration, administrative account access, and various other kinds of documentation to ensure that they have the full-picture of how your organization is set up and how it runs. It is also an opportunity for them to meet your team. Remote monitoring agents are deployed during this meeting, giving the MSP access to your network and workstations so that they can assist end users with issues and so that they can make sure that they have information on all of the various devices on your network. This step is also the point in which service starts, which means that monitoring, help desk services, and all other covered services begin.
The third step involves finishing documentation and analyzing the results. Once documentation is complete, the MSP will analyze all of the data that they have collected and use it to identify any issues that they may find. They will then create a plan to address each of these issues, creating a timeline (often called a roadmap) that lays out what should be addressed and when, with the initial focus on the more immediate issues that they may have come across. They will also provide a preliminary budget for these issues so that you know what the associated costs are.
The final step occurs once the MSP has a solid understanding of your network and processes, the documentation has been competed, and roadmaps for the next several months or years have been established. At this point, the vCIO will pull together all of the recommendations and create quotes for them to help with IT budgeting. A meeting will be set with the main contact, and this will also be the first vCIO meeting. This is where the vCIO presents the recommendations and quotes that were created during the onboarding process. The main contact will then take those recommendations back to their organization, and they will either be approved or denied.
How easy is it to switch MSPs?
Switching to a new MSP is a fairly simple process, especially if you choose the right provider. They will work your internal IT team or with your previous provider to migrate services, a process that normally takes about a week. There is often some overlap in coverage here to ensure that your organization is covered on all fronts.
How do I choose an MSP? What questions should we ask to help make the decision?
Your MSP will become an extension of your organization, so it is important to select the right provider and there are a lot of things to take into consideration. While your first instinct may be to look at the costs and compare the various providers you are looking at that way, there are other factors that are just as important as price. You should prepare a list of questions to ask all of the MSPs that you interview and use these as a comparison point as well. Some questions you may want to include are:
- How many engineers do you have on staff? How much experience do they have?
- What services do you provide?
- Do you provide end users with training?
- Can you provide any training to our in-house IT team?
- How much experience do you have working with organizations of our size/in our industry/using the hardware and software that we currently have in use?
- How do you measure success?
Is the onboarding/offboarding of employees a part of managed services?
Yes, both onboarding and offboarding employees is a part of managed services.