As of this year, there are roughly 20,000 IT Managed Service Provider vendors supporting enterprises throughout North America. Understandably, finding the right one to support your business can be a daunting challenge. One process sure to narrow the field is to issue a formal RFP. The procurement department works with operations personnel and compiles a list of quantitative and qualitative questions. They list their priorities and create a scoring matrix. The MSPs submit their responses with pricing in separate envelopes. The board reviews the responses. Then the client develops a short list of finalists who present their solution and, if necessary, conduct demonstrations. Within these parameters, the best vendor should win the business as defined in the selection criteria. All goes according to plan.
Narrowing the Search…
Unfortunately, small businesses don’t always have the time or resources for such a lengthy and involved process. Especially if they’re operating without an IT department, ongoing problems tend to stack up which affords less time for an extended vetting period. When there is an urgent need to regain operational momentum and eliminate IT roadblocks, the selection process becomes more visceral and driven by emotion. Which MSP can I trust? Will the MSP listen to my challenges, empathize with my current situation, define and deliver the best solution? Which MSP will continue to solve my problems long after the ink on the contract has dried? In other words, are they more interested in the long-term success of the relationship or capitalizing on each transaction?
Obviously, pricing should factor significantly in the selection criteria. Prospective clients should also consider experience and certifications as indicators of consistent, quality of technical support. Beyond those initial points, what clients really want is a sneak peek into the operational bones of the organization and how they’ll manage the support on a daily basis. Below are five core IT managed service provider features that define whether or not your firm will experience technical support as a help or a hindrance:
1. 100% US Based 24 x 7 x 365 Help Desk.
A combination of a globally dispersed workforce in all time zones and the fact that deadlines don’t keep normal business hours makes a fully staffed 24/7 model an operational imperative. In this situation, organizations looking to get IT support on the cheap tend to go off shore. While MSP pricing is great on paper, it’s important to consider all of the hidden costs that come with this solution. Most companies cite language and communication skills as an anecdotal shortcoming for this solution. The real problem tends to be high turnover of the techs. In counties where the labor market is in a constant state of flux, staff go where the grass is greener.
This translates to dealing with technical novices who rely primarily on scripted language versus actual troubleshooting. In this model, support is more “log and route” which means the actual technical troubleshooting and resolution is kicked back to the client’s internal IT department or a higher skill set at a premium additional rate. Plus there’s the cost of end user downtime during a prolonged resolution process.
2. Feet on the Street and a Nearby Throat to Choke.
Although roughly 80% of tech support issues can be resolved remotely, the fact of the matter is there will be times when an on-site presence is unavoidable. So it makes sense to choose an IT Managed Service Provider that has smart hands that it can quickly dispatch to your location. The MSP doesn’t have to be a major corporation with staff in every corner of the globe. MSPs headquartered within a 20-mile radius are ideal especially if their management and executive teams are on hand for oversight and strategic input. Even if you go with a corporate provider that has a massive global footprint, having access to leadership Is key. Without those vested in the success of the relationship nearby, critical feedback may not reach them.
3. Thorough Reporting and Analysis (Continual Service Improvements).
Does your Managed Service Provider conduct monthly operational reviews with your team and analyze comprehensive reports? Do they interpret the meaning behind the metrics, or do they merely email an automated data dump once a month? What tickets have been escalated beyond the help desk (tier 1)? Can remote resolution rates be improved with additional access, training, and documentation? What major changes in the IT environment (open enrollments, O/S rollouts, seasonal peaks related to the industry) impacted the support volume and call types? Your MSP should underscore routing and escalation summaries, incident types, and root causes as well as Service Level Agreements. There is no point in compiling data if it doesn’t tell a story about the IT environment. Less so if it doesn’t identify room for improvement.
4. Provides Technology Consulting.
Does the vendor advocate for CIO solutions that align with your business goals and size or are they merely pushing marked up products at every turn? Services only vendors that remain brand agnostic are ideal; however, strategic partnerships that extend favorable hardware pricing that matches client needs should not be devalued. Are they cloud advocates or do they promote an on-premise server environment? If it’s the latter, ask yourself if each site visit to address a hardware failure, outage, or backup solution is considered a billable incident. What CRM tool, project management software, operating system, and mobile devices will be a fit for your business goals over the long term? A valuable MSP delivers keeps you ahead of the technology curve, identifies which emerging industry tools will support your organization’s “winning horizon.”
5. Defines Industry Best Practices.
An ideal IT Managed Service Provider doesn’t just follow IT industry best practices but sets the standard and lives them every day. That means more than a service desk following the ITIL framework, meeting SLAs, or network engineers maintaining a CCNA certification. Leading MSPs develop and document their own best practices. The compile their own training manuals for their help desk agents, desktop technicians, and network engineers. MSPs capture troubleshooting procedures and support processes, store them in their knowledge base, and share the documentation throughout the organization. That way those lessons learned don’t remain tribal knowledge that lives and dies with the individual technician’s tenure at the organization. MSP processes benefit the client whether it be detailed notes in the ticketing system that an agent can add to the knowledgebase or self-help FAQs accessible to end users.
Admittedly, these criteria merely scratch the surface of the MSP evaluation process when urgency beats deliberation. In the very least they should prompt a more detailed discussion and follow up. Schedule your consultation when you’re ready.