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How to evaluate a managed IT services company

As a business leader, you might be hesitant to make a change with what you’re doing with IT because you don’t have the technical background needed to compare different managed IT service companies. If your goal is to augment your internal IT team, there will certainly be some technical questions that your IT manager will want answered. However, whether you’re looking for a co-managed or fully outsourced solution, what you, as an executive, really need to determine is:

  • Is the provider’s managed services model a fit for you?
  • And can they deliver what they promise?

As you gather the information that will answer these two questions, you’ll be able to paint a picture of what it will be like to work with them and build expectations for the results you can expect.

Build Expectations with the Answers to These Questions

Use the following questions as conversation starters to evaluate your short-list of Managed Service Providers (MSPs):

1. Can you describe your approach to managed IT services?

Every MSP has their unique recipe for delivery of services. What you’re looking for here is a combination of proactive and reactive services. The overall goal of services should be to enable your people with technology and support your business goals by moving along a path of technology improvement.

On the proactive side, the MSP should be guiding you along a path of IT improvement that will prevent problems and build a solid IT foundation on which you can leverage technology. Reactive services respond to immediate issues that affect individual users, a department or your whole organization.

2. Do you have the necessary personnel to provide services?

It takes many different roles to deliver comprehensive services. Ask the provider to talk you through the roles that are engaged with proactive and reactive services. You should expect to have IT support specialists and escalation engineers on the reactive side. On the proactive side, you should see roles such as network architects, security engineers, project engineers, and enterprise engineers, as well as roles for account management, IT consulting and procurement.

3. How fast will you respond when we need you?

Each MSP should have a Service Level Agreement (SLA) for response time, but they might not all call it by that name. Ask how long will it take for a user to get a response when they submit a ticket to the help desk? If the issue can’t be resolved immediately, what’s the follow up procedure look like? What happens if there’s a department or system-wide outage? Build your expectations by presenting different scenarios that could trigger the need for a quick response.

4. How will you help us manage cyber risks?

As you’re evaluating the MSP’s cybersecurity services, keep in mind the fact that no one can 100% guarantee that you’ll never have a cyber intruder. Additionally, cybersecurity includes both technical and non-technical components so managing risks will be very much a collaboration. While the conversation may include mention of some of the security tactics that the MSP utilizes, what you’re listening for is how they’ll work with you to develop a cybersecurity strategy that meets your unique risk profile and tolerance.

Related: Cybersecurity Beyond the Basics: What is Zero Trust?

5. How much will this cost?

Part of the benefit of utilizing managed IT services is having a predictable monthly rate but you could be surprised if you don’t understand exactly what’s included in the recurring fee. As you’re digging into what’s included and what’s not included, some questions you can ask are: Is anything billed at hourly rates? Is onsite support included? Is Tier 3 and 4 escalation support additional? Does this include management of our servers and cloud services? Are there extra costs for security?

6. What’s the contract term?

As you’re studying the MSP’s contract, make sure that the agreement aligns with your discussion about costs. You also want to understand the length of time you’ll be locked into, and what provisions are included if the relationship isn’t working out. If it looks like you may get locked into a long contract, be wary that responsiveness may slip after you get past the honeymoon period.

7. Is there anything we’ll need to spend money on right away?

Depending on the condition of your IT systems, it’s very possible that you’ll need to make some improvements that will make your technology supportable. This could be updating out-of-support software and licensing, or it could be replacing aging computers or networking equipment.

Keep in mind that the overall goal of managed services isn’t to maintain the status quo but to improve. Even if your IT environment is supportable, expect recommendations at around the 90-day mark to get you started on a path of IT improvement.

8. Do you have industry certifications?

If you’re looking for badges and certifications that verify the MSP has the capabilities that they’re describing, ask if they have any third-party validation of their capabilities. You can also look for things like Microsoft Partner status or other vendor specific certifications.

Make sure you ask about the certifications that their pool of employees hold. If these are numerous it’s not just a sign of expertise but that the company supports the professional development of their staff.

9. Will there be people dedicated to my account?

You’re going to have the best experience with outsourced IT services when there’s a lot of communication between your company and theirs. Ask if there will be a main point of contact who will be the go-to resource for questions and status reports? What you’re looking for is an account manager who will be your main point of contact and conduit of information. Additionally, is the MSP going to provide the services of a Virtual Chief Information Officer (vCIO) who will get to know your business and work with you to create IT strategy?

Related: Meet Michele and get a picture of what account management looks like at Bellwether

10. What will our ongoing relationship look like?

When you make the move to managed IT services, you’re moving away from the mindset that you only need IT when something’s broken. An ongoing relationship includes continuous improvement of your IT systems and ultimately digital transformation – that is, the ability to leverage technology to improve your organization and create a competitive advantage. That means that your success is their success and that’s a win for everyone.

Making Your Decision

When it comes time to make your decision about which managed IT services provider you’ll work with, you’ll have a lot of information to review if you’ve gone through all of these ten questions. At the end of your analysis, you should have the confidence to move forward with one of them. If you don’t, keep looking.

Managed IT Services for New Orleans Companies

Here at Bellwether, we support New Orleans companies with managed IT services that enable them to meet modern business challenges. If you’re tired of IT that holds you back, it’s time for something different.

Contact us to schedule an IT assessment.