How to determine what type of Managed Service Provider (MSP) is best for your business
This is the first part in a 2-part series and is meant to help you better understand your business needs when searching for a Managed Service Provider. Part 2: “How to Evaluate Managed IT Service Providers,” will follow this article. Subscribe to our blog to get notified when it hits the web!
In your search, you’ll find there are many MSP options to choose from but deciding which one is the best fit for your business and technology needs can be the tricky part. It’s easy to feel “option overload”, but don’t get discouraged or blinded by the appeal of well-placed marketing shimmer when considering your options.
This article was created to help you in your search so you can:
- Ask better questions of your MSP interviewees, and
- Assess your own environment to get a more accurate idea of what type of MSP can help you achieve your goals.
So, what type of Managed IT Service Provider is a good fit for your business? Let’s get started.
To answer this question, the easiest place to start is with what you already know, your business. In our 25+ years of providing IT services, we’ve learned that every business has different IT needs. While there may be many variables, most can be boiled down to the:
- Number of employees and their job functions
- Number of locations
- Industry you operate in
- Growth plans
- Current IT maturity, and
- Scope of services
Let’s look at each of these in more detail to help you evaluate your needs.
Your Number of Employees and their job functions
Generally, the larger and more distributed your enterprise, the more complex and sophisticated your IT needs will be. For example, our company, IE, groups businesses by number of employees, like most of the IT industry. If you have 1-10 employees, your needs will be vastly different from a business with thousands of employees. When considering an MSP, identify not only your existing number of employees but also your projected 3-year growth. Human Resources and Senior Leadership usually have these estimates.
Your Number of Locations (and their time zones for operation)
When documenting the number of locations, also note the number of employees and type of work performed there. Identify “knowledge workers” which in IT parlance means workers whose primary function requires the use of a computer and phone. This is a key metric MSPs use to determine the level of effort needed to support employees. It’s also helpful to know the hours of operation for each location by employee type and the various time zones you operate in. For example, if your headquarters is on the East Coast of the USA but you have a distribution center on the West Coast, you need to know how many knowledge workers are at the distribution center and what hours they work compared to warehouse employees.
The Industry You Operate In
The industry you operate in can have a material impact on your IT needs. For example, manufacturing companies may employee a small percentage of knowledge workers compared to total workers. Additionally, shop floor machinery may not be computer controlled, lessening the requirement for network and security. Conversely, businesses involved in R&D, financial services, health services and insurance will likely have more significant requirements due to the nature of the work and importance of protecting information.
Your Growth Plans
Once you’ve gathered the above information, you should analyze projected growth and consider these questions:
- Is your business strategy to grow organically? If so,
- By how much?
- How many additional employees will you need?
- Will the new employees be knowledge workers?
- Where will the new employees be located?
- Will you hire them all at once or gradually?
While projections can change, you’ll want to be as accurate as possible to help you choose the right MSP and structure the agreement to identify cost over the term with the flexibility to change if your projections don’t pan out.
Another growth area is Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A). While these deals are often kept quiet until they’re completed — making it difficult to forecast — senior leadership usually outlines their overall growth strategy. If that involves possible M&A, you’ll want to make sure your MSP and resulting agreement outline a strategy to scale up or down with your business needs.
Your IT Maturity
For non-IT professionals and IT pros alike, gauging IT maturity can be a daunting exercise. Many times, if things are working, people assume their IT department is mature and if things aren’t working, well you know the answer. However, IT maturity is a science and is quantifiable. Simply put, the IT maturity model is a measurement of the policies and procedures for all IT functions and the ability for an IT organization to follow and enforce them with proper oversight and controls. This is important because more mature IT organizations are better equipped to proactively prevent problems and respond more quickly and efficiently in a high-priority event that negatively impacts the business. Understanding business impact is critical to making proper investments in IT. Many firms, including Internetwork Engineering, offer Business Impact Analysis consulting.
High-priority events are business impacting and classified as P1 (Priority 1). To gauge IT Maturity for P1 events, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- How does your IT team or current MSP handle P1 events?
- Is there a Service Level Agreement in place that defines not only acknowledgement of an issue and creation of a trouble ticket but also a defined window for an assigned resource to work on the problem?
- Are there documented troubleshooting steps to effectively identify the issue?
- Are there documented communication and escalation plans to keep key stakeholders informed?
- Are there after action debriefs and closeout documentation to reduce mean time to resolution in the future?
Gauging IT Maturity might seem challenging, but it’s a key contributor to the cost of IT operations and the value IT provides to the business. These questions should help you get started, but there’s a wealth of information on the Internet about IT maturity models. If you still need help, some IT Solution providers, including Internetwork Engineering, offer IT Maturity Assessments (we call ours a Business IT Alignment Advisor). Consider performing an assessment before hiring an MSP so that both parties will know what to expect. This will provide the most accurate pricing. Regardless of the maturity, or existence, of your IT department, you should perform due diligence on the IT maturity of any MSP you’re considering.
Your Scope of Services
Defining your Scope of Services upfront will help guide you to the right MSP. For example, let’s say you’re a small company with 10 employees. You will need an MSP that specializes in small environments and can provide desktop, network, and firewall services, assuming your applications are hosted in the cloud. Or perhaps you have hundreds or even thousands of employees. In this case you may have an internal help desk but need help with the growing complexity of an enterprise network, a variety of security and compliance tools and data center technology like servers, storage, and backups.
The larger your enterprise, the more complex your IT systems. Identifying the exact support required up front will save you time by narrowing your MSP choices to only those that are focused on the services you need. You’ll want to ask your MSP for references that are most like your business using the categories above.
Estimate the monthly Cost of a Managed Service Provider in Your Environment
Once you’ve analyzed your business with the above criteria, you’ll be better armed to identify and engage MSPs to provide the IT services you need. To learn how to evaluate which MSP is right for your business, keep your eye out for Part 2 of this blog series. For now, read our blog, “What to look for in a Managed Service Provider (MSP). This provides a deep dive into MSP offerings and may help you better understand what you want to consider when interviewing MSPs. If you’re curious about the cost of a best-in-class MSP, check out our online MSP pricing calculator.