How to maximize the benefits of an IT managed services provider

IT managed services are attractive to many companies today, but it’s important to utilize the arrangement fully in order to get the most value from your managed services provider (MSP).

That arrangement can range from a MSP taking full operational control of your IT operations to augmenting the existing IT staff who focus on specialized software and systems. An IT manager or CIO also might manage the MSP as if those contracted employees are “staff.”

“For a number of reasons like efficiency and cost effectiveness, more companies, especially those that are midsized, are interested in moving at least some, if not all, of their IT operation to a third-party provider,” says Paul Tuttle, senior technology consultant at Warwick Communications Inc.

Smart Business spoke with Tuttle about the advantages of managed IT services, as well as tips for getting the most out of this relationship.

What are the benefits of managed services?

There’s a revolving door when it comes to hiring and retaining qualified IT professionals. There’s a lot of turnover within the industry, and most business leaders don’t have the expertise to evaluate hires and make sure they’re getting a quality employee. Once you do bring that person in, it can be difficult to support the training and continued education he or she needs to stay at the top of the IT industry.

A MSP not only has the resources and ability to find the right people and keep them abreast of industry trends, it has built-in bench strength ready to plug in as needed. You don’t have to worry about what happens when your IT person goes on vacation, has a sick day or finds a better paying job.

An outside provider deals with dozens of clients. It is exposed to best practices across industries and the latest techniques that can help you make decisions about how you use technology. With the assistance of an expert on software, hardware and configurations, pain points can be solved quickly.

Security is another issue. So much of business operations are tied up in IT that if a relationship goes sour, what’s to keep an individual from doing damage or locking things up when he or she leaves? And there’s a risk even if the relationship doesn’t go bad, because your organization is dependent on one or a few individuals. With a MSP, you spread the risk and protect your company from being at the mercy of one person.

How would you recommend an organization get the most from its MSP?

Take full advantage of the benefits that were discussed when your partnership with the MSP first started. Follow up to ensure that the services and value adds that were slated to be delivered actually were implemented by your organization. MSPs frequently have the capacity to serve as a virtual CIO — not just fixing equipment but also taking your business to another level. Are you engaged in dialog to address the bigger picture?

Make sure you meet with your MSP partner on a regular basis — monthly or quarterly — to review the overall state of your IT operations and issues that came up in the preceding period, looking at how many tickets came through, the time of resolution, etc. The value in your MSP shouldn’t just be delivering service but also reporting on that service and working with you to enhance the maturity and functionality of your network.

You’ll also want to take seriously what the MSP provides in terms of strategic advice, including helping you plan future IT projects and upgrades. Most MSPs proactively evaluate your network, systems, workstations, etc., in order to present a case on outdated workstations or a trending problem on the help desk, along with a solution, what it would cost to implement it and the efficiencies that would result.

Take time to work with your MSP on a clear data backup and disaster recovery strategy, including a step-by-step plan with specific assignments. Then, make sure the MSP tests the backup process and does a sample restore.

You need to invest time and resources into the relationship with your MSP to make sure it’s doing more than just putting out fires. And don’t wait until 60 to 90 days before the MSP’s contract renews to engage. Taking an active role in the partnership with your MSP will pay big dividends by creating a more effective, cost-efficient IT operation within your business.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Warwick