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Understand the Difference Between Breadth and Depth when Choosing an MSP

When it comes to selecting a Managed Services Provider for your business, you want to make sure your MSP can work with a variety of technologies. If your provider’s knowledge has a short breadth, you will be limited to the technologies your MSP knows. So, you want a provider who can service a range of technologies.  

Just as—if not more—important is the depth of your MSP’s knowledge. You want to know that your provider not only knows a variety of technologies but knows them well. 

Finding a balance between breadth and depth in a potential Managed Services Provider might be harder than you think. Before we jump into the importance of balance between breadth and depth, let’s break down each one.  

What is Breadth? 

Breadth refers to the range of technologies a provider can work with and service. An MSP with a large breadth of knowledge will provide flexibility within your business environment. 

For example, any provider you’re evaluating should be able to work with both on-premises infrastructure as well as public, private, and hybrid cloud environments. Even if your business operates completely on-premises due to regulatory requirements in your industry or the preferences of your IT manager, using an MSP with cloud capabilities gives your business flexibility in the event that the cloud becomes a feasible option for your business—and vice versa if you’re operating solely in the cloud and suddenly need on-premises infrastructure.  

Choosing an MSP with a wide breadth of experience means you won’t need to find a new provider each time your business grows and adds a new element to your environment. The same principle applies to technologies and vendors. As technology continues to advance, you don’t want the capabilities of your MSP to limit you. 

What is Depth? 

Depth refers to how well the engineers at an MSP know each of the technologies they work with.  

You want to make sure your MSP does not just have a surface-level understanding of technology, but rather a well-rounded knowledge. If there is a large breadth but little depth, you will find yourself running into problems with your IT environment and facing longer response times if your provider must escalate the problem to a third-party vendor or outsource their engineering talent. You don’t want this. 

Instead, you want your provider to be able to address your IT problems as they arise, and work to drive your company forward. A provider can only do this if their engineers have a solid understanding of the technologies they work with and how these technologies support your business. 

Finding a Balance Between Breadth and Depth 

There are many types of Managed Services Providers. Some emphasize breadth and offer to help maintain your entire technology landscape. Others focus on the delivery of highly advanced expertise for just one specific aspect of your business—depth. A Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP) is one example of the latter. We know it can be tempting to look for distinct, more advanced MSPs to handle tiny pieces of your IT environment, but this can be harmful. A good rule is to work with as few MSPs as possible to thoroughly cover your business. Too many MSPs causes gaps in your coverage, especially if the multiple providers do not communicate well or overlap enough.  

However, this methodology is not the perfect fit for every organization. While we did just advise you to work with as few MSPs as possible to get the coverage you need, there are exceptions where your company could consider more than one provider. If your business is especially reliant on one piece of your environment, it may make more sense for you to find a dedicated MSP for that specific piece of technology—even if they can’t help you with other elements—and use a more general MSP for the rest of your business.  

An example of this might be a customer service organization that relies entirely on their phone system being operational for their business to operate. Such a high level of reliance on the availability of their phone system—like Microsoft Teams—might warrant a search for an MSP that can manage this application more in-depth than a less-skilled MSP who only has general experience with phone systems—even if this provider is a good fit for the rest of your environment. In this case, it may be worth considering working with both providers. But remember, this is the exception. Not the rule.  

You want a provider that does not fall too far towards either end of the spectrum. Look for an MSP that can maintain and optimize your entire technology landscape, and make sure they can do it well. MSPs who are familiar with many different systems but only offer basic operating system maintenance and availability management will not be able to provide the more advanced skills that bridge the gap between keeping systems online and providing extra value to your business. One thing to look at is engineering talent. Do they have senior-level engineers to escalate problems to rather than escalating problems to vendors or outsourced talent? If the company does outsource their engineering, do their practices align with your needs? You will want to find a balance between breadth and depth so your MSP can provide complete coverage for your business, and you can feel secure in your environment. 

Balance. Balance. Balance.  

So, 

Breadth: The range of technologies a provider can manage and service. 

Depth: How well engineers know each of the technologies they work with. 

Look for a balance between the two to ensure complete coverage for your IT environment and try to find one MSP that can provide all the necessary coverage. When it comes to selecting a Managed Services Provider, you want to make sure your MSP can work with a variety of technologies, and you want the assurance they have a deep understanding of each of the technologies they work with. Balance will be the key to your business’s flexibility.  

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