Managed IT services describe a wide variety of services provided by technology companies of all shapes and sizes.
We see anywhere from 1- and 2-person companies all the way up through the likes of Dell, IBM, and even Best Buy touting their managed IT services offerings.
So what exactly is "managed IT services"?
First, you need to understand the different ways companies handle their information technology (IT). Typically businesses see a need to hire internal IT staff when they reach a certain number of employees (around 50) or a certain revenue level ($5M).
Managed IT services providers (MSPs) work with clients in one of two ways:
- Outsourced IT Services
In this model, the MSP acts as a fully outsourced IT department. The client designates a point of contact (POC) to interface with the MSP. We'll dive into what is and isn't traditionally included in this model in a moment.
- Co-Managed IT Services
In this model, the client has at least 1 internal IT resource on staff. The MSP works together with that person, filling in any skills gaps while providing more specialized services like security, business continuity, strategy, automation, and so on.
That's all great, but we still haven't answered the question: what is included in managed IT services?
The Services in Managed IT Services
As I mentioned earlier, MSPs come in all shapes and sizes - and so do their service offerings.
The core of a typical MSP is usually built around:
- Help Desk: handles all reactive/unplanned problems.
- Strategy: guides initiatives and technology road maps.
- Audit/Alignment: finds risks and gaps in technology (computers, software, etc.)
From here, services can vary greatly.
Most MSPs offer cybersecurity of some sort. And that's where things can get tricky. Security has evolved to the point where you need dedicated resources and specialized skillsets in order to stay ahead of the risks and threats the modern hybrid work environment poses. It truly is a 24 x 7 x 365 job. There are even companies that offer only managed security services. They are called Managed Security Services Providers (MSSPs).
Professional Services/IT Projects
Professional services, sometimes referred to as IT projects, are usually not included as part of a core managed IT services offering. Because IT projects can have very different scopes and requirements, it's difficult for providers to include their labor as part of an "all-you-can-eat" package. Different IT projects need different skillsets, so it makes more sense to scope these projects on a case-by-case basis.
Some providers do projects in a fixed fee model and others scope them out and work on an hourly retainer basis. The benefit of having your existing MSP provide project services is that they should have all the systems properly documented. They also understand your business model and workflows. This should result in projects getting done faster, on budget, and with the desired outcomes for your business. Each project should have a stated business objective or technology problem you are trying to solve. Without that, it will be difficult to know whether there was a good return on the investment.
Cloud services, data center services, business continuity, application development & programming, technology training, and database management are some of the other services that vary by provider.
Depending on the structure and complexity of your IT systems, these may or may not add value to your engagement. So make sure you understand what you're getting for what you're paying with any service contract.
Questions to Ask An MSP
Another thing that differentiates MSPs from one another is how they run their own businesses. So which MSP is the right one for you? Here are some questions you can ask that might be helpful in determining if you have the right partner:
- How does your company provide education and training for your employees? In the IT world, technology changes rapidly. Are the technicians keeping up with the needed skillsets?
- Do you provide a career path and counseling for your employees? This can be a driver for good employees to stay or seek employment elsewhere.
- What are your 1-, 3-, 5-, and 10-year plans for the company? There's a LOT of mergers and acquisitions in the managed IT services industry. It's good to know if you're partnering with a company that has plans to be acquired in the near future. While you may not get an exact answer to this question, the response can be very telling about the future of the company.
- How long have you been in business? The MSP industry is full of startups. It takes time to build processes and cohesive teams that can effectively deliver quality service consistently.
We hope this has been helpful in understanding the managed IT services landscape. In another article, we'll discuss the different ways MSPs price their services and how that can impact the quality and results you receive.