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Questions to Ask Your Prospective Managed Service Provider (MSP)

Jun 22, 2018 / by Tony Marino

Topics: IT Services

computer keyboard enter key says Managed IT Services

You’re not alone—many organizations are finding that maintaining their IT infrastructure is an overwhelming challenge. Typically, the bigger your organization and the more services you offer, the bigger your challenge.

Shopping for a managed service provider (MSP) is often initiated as a cost-cutting measure or as a response to infrastructures that were built ad hoc from the ground up over many years, without a game plan in place. The best MSPs will be able to layer over your existing management services and upgrade your overall system.

You’ll probably recognize when it’s time to outsource your IT operations to a managed service provider. If you don’t, your customers and employees will let you know!

[Read the Forrester Report: Firefighter or Strategic Manager—What Role IT Do You Fulfill?]

What to Look for in a Managed Service Provider

When qualifying prospective MSPs, start by looking for companies that are focused on enabling positive business outcomes for you and your customers and that have the flexibility to support you in multiple ways.

Next, see if the prospective provider can help to streamline your company’s and customer’s operations, provide innovation with new technologies, and drive more IT value to your organization. Effective managed services can also give your company a competitive edge by offering you increased efficiencies and improved internal communications.

Managed Services Options

Once you determine what to look for in an MSP, you will need to assess your service needs. There is a range of service model options to choose from, and it would be beneficial to first assess what you need now and how that may change over time.

At the high end, you might need pure managed services where you fully out-task all elements of your IT management and remediation. Or, if you’re looking for a foundation on which to layer your own resources, consider the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) option. If it makes more sense to augment your service desk with certain features of an MSP’s service desk, you should ask if they support co-managed services. There are even hybrid options, in which the service provider manages your customers’ IT environments and eventually transfers that management over to you.

Whatever your service model, your MSP will be an extension of your organization, so make sure they are able to accommodate your organization’s vision, culture, and capabilities. They’re going to build a joint go-to-market strategy with you, so make sure they have the necessary talent and experience. Making sure there is a good personality fit is key as well since you want them to blend in well with your organizational culture. At the end of the day, you want them to make your life easier, not harder.

Fundamental Questions

Your MSP should empower you to manage complex IT environments. That means on-prem, hosted cloud, and hybrid IT offerings and environments. To help guide your due diligence, here are some fundamental questions to ask:

1. How will you make my organization more proactive?

This is what’s really at the core of the MSP conversation—how they can help you better compete. Can they make you more efficient, more flexible? Can they help you win more? How will they help you enter new markets? You want your MSP to demonstrate how they will drive up your CSAT. That means mitigating your customers’ risk. And the best way to manage out risk is to provide innovative offerings that enable precision monitoring and service assurance, such as root-cause analysis and remediation automation

Overall, your MSP should help you reach your mutual goals and objectives—including closing business. After all, you aren’t making any money operating your infrastructure. You want your MSP to help you create new and enhance existing revenue streams.

2. How will you help me reduce costs and my team’s workload?

When you think about it, this is exactly why you’re engaging them—their expertise on how a well-managed, well-run IT infrastructure is put together and maintained should shine here. Any partnership with an MSP should be bringing you a smoother and more productive environment for your staff. Beware of sales pitches that offer the same set of tools, albeit at a lesser cost. You can do a lot better than that.

3. What is your security posture?

Make yourself comfortable about the level of incident and penetration monitoring they have in place. Ensure that their incident response plan—including service restoration—makes sense and pushes all of the current security hot buttons.

4. How do you handle workflows and automation?

Enabling you to be nimble by leveraging state of the art technology, adapting quickly to emerging market trends—that’s how the leading MSPs can have a positive impact on your bottom line every day. Ask them about automation and machine learning. Not everyone does this and you can leverage a lot of benefits when done well. Ask them too about how they manage remediation and orchestration. What is their product roadmap for the next couple of years?

5. How well do you scale?

You’re going to continue to grow. Can they grow with you? How will they do it? What is their plan if one day you need to onboard a Fortune 500-sized organization? There are many, many tools in an IT operations infrastructure. They all need to demonstrate scalability for you to be successful.

A Partnership for Success

A good MSP will offer intelligent and experienced technology professionals, powerful and insightful tools, and, without exception, employ industry-accepted best practices.

To understand the real value of managed services, you have to ask the right questions by placing the emphasis on your desired business outcomes and understanding the true ROI of managed services. It all boils down to an open, honest discussion. Find out what differentiates them and how valuable their managed services offerings really are. Drill down as far as you need to. And remember just how critical the decision is.

You’re not just purchasing a service, you’re entering a partnership—a partnership as crucial to your organization’s overall success as any that you will enter.

Read the Forrester report to see how proactive you are in your IT management, and learn why taking this more strategic approach will help your business thrive.

 Forrester report on proactive IT management

Tony Marino

Tony is the Vice President of Customer Services at ShoreGroup. He has a diversified background that includes technical implementation and support roles for companies including Cisco and Publishers Clearing House. When he's not focused on delivering exceptional service to his customers, he enjoys time boating and helping breed and raise service dogs.

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