When you contract a managed IT services provider, you’re likely thinking primarily about the proactive and reactive activities associated with support tickets, patch management, system management and technical support. These are the most obvious components of managed services, but there are a lot of other essential tasks going on behind the scenes that contribute to a customer’s stable environment. These less visible and highly essential tasks are often the key to day-to-day success.
So, here are nine things you might not know your managed service provider should be doing for your business.
Information Technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There’s always changes occurring. Your managed services provider (MSP) should be using agile project management to plan out these changes. The goal is to minimize any negative impacts and perform these changes as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Even relatively simple projects (such as deploying a new notebook) require a fair amount of planning. Your MSP must consider the user’s needs, tool requirements, and schedule on top of configuring network connectivity and security, all while minimizing business disruptions and a host of other issues. When it goes smoothly, the customer isn’t aware any of this happens.
They just know they got a new notebook, and it works.
While deploying a new notebook is a relatively simple project, your MSP is constantly managing much more complex projects that keep your business operational.
Strategic and Tactical Planning
Your MSP shouldn’t view your business as just another paycheck. They should form a partnership with you, predicated on developing a firm understanding of what your business does, how you make money, what your standards and practices are, and your broad range of goals and desired outcomes—and how your IT strategy fits into the puzzle.
Once you’ve built this relationship, your MSP should incorporate all of this into their short- and long-term plans for managing and supporting your organization. Being aware of a customer’s ever-changing business gives your MSP the ability to proactively modify their service and response to be more effective. We meet regularly with our customers to review their changing needs.
There are two levels of planning we provide.
The first service comes through our vCIO program. These are virtual CIO sessions that happen once a quarter and are non-technical. We discuss business initiatives, long-term plans, policies, and IT budgets.
The second are delivered by our client relationship managers and engineers and are technical planning, prioritizing, integrating, and training sessions specific to improving and enhancing the client’s IT environment.
If your MSP isn’t providing either of these types of planning and strategy services for your business, it might be a sign they’re not concerned about your long-term health and goals. It may be time to find a new provider.
Security Alerts and Fixes
There’s a lot of time spent staying up on the latest threats and attack vectors. Any security-focused MSP should be constantly reviewing the patches and product modifications issued by dozens of vendors and making sure customer systems are updated.
This is another place where your MSP should have a thorough understanding of your business so they can plan proactive recommendations based on their understanding of your organization and your specific security requirements.
In addition to tracking security and threats, we’re always watching current events. The COVID-19 outbreak is a good example. Several of our customers wanted to improve their remote worker capabilities. We anticipated this need and proactively suggested solutions we believe may be of value to the customer.
Managed services can help your business be more agile in general, but your MSP should be prepared to help you respond to unexpected market forces. When COVID-19 began to dramatically affect your business, did you have to reach out to your provider to ask what your options were? Or was your provider there with you from the start, making suggestions and helping you implement a plan?
Technology is an industry with one of the fastest rates of innovation, and staying current on new and emerging technologies is a must. Our average customer is using solutions from at least a dozen different manufacturers. Each manufacturer can have hundreds or thousands of distinct products. Our customers expect us to be expert on these technologies as soon as they’re released. In most cases we can view beta and pre-release versions and begin training before the products go to market. Our training matrix is rather complex, and our engineers are invested in the training process.
When we recommend a new solution, or an upgrade to an existing solution, we’ve already taken the time to understand the interplay between the technologies. If your MSP is using solutions from the past, that could be a red flag that they’re holding your business back.
Similar to training, we also test solutions in our lab. We do not experiment with our customers—and your MSP shouldn’t either! If it’s a new technology specifically requested by a customer, it comes to our lab first for qualification and quality testing. Only after the new technology passes our engineer review do we consider deploying it. An added benefit of lab testing and QA is to catch bugs and defects prior to deployment.
Our All-Inclusive managed services customers can take advantage of our budget planning services as part of our strategic services. With a solid view on where the customer is at, and what their goals are, we help them understand and prioritize new technologies. Most of our customers want to budget IT spending for a one to three-year period. Our budgeting process can also incorporate Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Return on Investment calculations should the customer require it.
Monitoring Configurations/Predictive Events
Monitoring is both reactive and proactive. The reactive activities are in response to system, network, and security issues stemming from hardware, software, or user issues. Proactive monitoring attempts to identify issues before the occur. This is where your managed services provider should be dedicating a majority of their time and effort. If they’re only focused on fixing disasters and not preventing them from happening, they’re not doing the best for your business.
While it’s not possible to prevent every situation, we’re constantly fixing issues before they occur. The customers are notified that we’re working on an issue, but rarely do they feel any impact. Our ability to address issues before they happen is a major contributor to the smooth uptime our managed services customers experience.
If you’re expecting your MSP manage your environment, your provider should know what’s there and have a system for keeping track of it. A big part of supporting a client environment is knowing exactly what clients have and how each device is configured.
Regardless of whether it’s our engineers making changes, or the client doing something independently, we vigilantly update our documentation. It not only speeds our issue resolution, but also allows our engineering team to share roles and responsibilities for all our clients.
How Do You Know If Your MSP is Doing These Things for You?
If you’re not sure whether your MSP is providing your business with these essential, behind-the-scenes services, it’s likely that your provider is missing some of these elements. While these exist in the background, they have very real impact to your business, and you should feel the effects of your provider performing each of these tasks well.
Still not sure? Ask your provider. If your MSP shies away from this question or can’t provide you with an overview of how they address these elements, it’s likely their services aren’t developed enough to keep your business safe and operating smoothly.
Looking for a new provider? Check out our post, Twelve Must-Ask Questions for Evaluating a New MSP. Looking to understand managed services? Check out our MSP service description, here.
Tim Krueger, PEI