Managed service providers (MSPs) are companies that offer a wide variety of managed services to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), non-profits, and government agencies.
MSPs today deliver most of their managed services remotely over a secure network. At the same time, some MSPs also provide onsite technical support as needed.
Often MSPs offer a range of IT support products and solutions, including:
- Cloud services
- Disaster recovery planning
- Infrastructure management
- Managed printing services
- Network and infrastructure maintenance services
- Security and compliance services
- Software updates and licensing
MSPs typically charge a monthly fee. This subscription model can be cost-effective and doesn't come with the added pressure of massive upfront costs. Furthermore, their managed service offering can also ensure that IT professionals can be made available onsite when troubleshooting is needed or to cover IT staff shortages.
MSPs are popular as they manage end-user systems for clients who want to improve their operations without worrying about extended downtime or service interruptions. This approach also helps companies focus on what's important, their business goals.
What Are the Different Types of MSPs?
Although MSPs make you think of specific segments of information technology (IT), such as cloud computing or data storage, there are all kinds of managed services. For example, some MSPs adapt their managed services offering better align with industry-specific verticals like financial, healthcare, or manufacturing.
Some MSPs offer an option of highly customized services. Others operate as managed security service providers. This includes the remote management of firewalls, real-time monitoring, disaster and recovery, cloud SIEM, and much more.
Some MSPs (including Office 1) offer managed printing services to optimize enterprise print environments. This approach helps organizations outsource their printing, copier management, and maintenance to a trusted third party.
Managed printing services include managing and maintaining printer and copier hardware and software and inventory management of copy paper, printer toner, and more. As automation drives this process, a third party won't need to be physically present in-house to handle this process efficiently.
MSPs first emerged in the 1990s as application service providers (ASPs) who hosted and maintained apps remotely. Since then, ASPs have paved the way for cloud service providers and companies that offer remote support for enterprise IT systems.
In recent years, MSPs have broadened their focus beyond just remote monitoring and management to include network monitoring and security, infrastructure management, mobile device management, disaster recovery, business continuity planning, cloud computing services, cloud storage services, cybersecurity services, and managed print services.
Why Do Organizations Partner with Managed Service Providers?
Managed services can help organizations operate more efficiently by providing them with the tools and expertise needed to manage their IT infrastructure. Smaller businesses typically partner with an MSP because they lack the resources to address their IT needs. However, larger organizations also outsource their IT management tasks to MSPs often.
Government agencies and academic institutions face similar challenges to SMBs and sometimes choose to work with an MSP to help them meet their current and future IT goals. These challenges include budget restrictions, lack of IT expertise, cybersecurity, and compliance management.
MSPs are often asked to help organizations achieve their desired results by filling gaps in their existing systems. Managed services are an effective way for businesses to outsource their IT needs without hiring full-time staff or investing in expensive technology. By outsourcing these tasks, companies save money while still getting the same level of support they would receive if they hired their own IT professionals.
What Are Some Examples of MSP Services?
An MSP typically handles one or more of the following business functions:
- Asset Management
- Backups and Disaster Recovery
- Business Communications, including Email
- Cloud Computing
- Cloud Services
- Continual Optimization of IT Environment Using Relevant Metrics
- Cyber Security Services, including but not limited to Antivirus and Firewalls
- Data Storage
- Device Management
- Employee Training
- Software and App Licenses
- Software Updates and Patches
How Do Managed Service Providers Work?
An initial step in this process involves assessing the current situation within the company. This could include identifying any potential issues or opportunities for improvements. They may also offer many different types of service options customized to your unique needs. For example, they might provide technical help desk solutions, subscription packages, or both.
Maintenance, security, reporting, and other services offered by an MSP are usually defined using a Service Level Agreement (SLA). Performance expectations, response time requirements, and security standards are also part of the service contract.
What is a Service Level Agreement?
The SLA is integral to any service provider's contract with their clients. An SLA is part of a Managed Service Agreement (MSA). It's a contract between a customer and a service provider that outlines what services the provider will deliver and specifies the level of performance expected.
A Service-Level Commitment (SLC) is a broader and more general version of an SLA. They differ because an SLA requires both parties to agree upon the terms of the contract, whereas an SLC only requires one party to commit to providing services.
Managed service providers need SLAs to help manage customer expectations and define acceptable service levels. Customers can also benefit because the contract establishes the performance characteristics of the services, which can then be compared against other vendors' SLAs.
A service provider may offer a single SLA or multiple SLAs depending upon your unique demands. In addition, a service provider may choose to provide a combination of both an SLA and a Master Service Agreement (MSA).
What Are the Advantages of Partnering with a Managed Services Provider?
Managed service providers even the playing field. The moment an SMB partners with an MSP, they have the same tools and expertise that were only available to corporate giants not too long ago.
Businesses are better off concentrating on their core competency in a fiercely competitive marketplace. As MSPs have the necessary expertise to manage processes effectively, companies can outsource those non-core processes so that in-house IT staff can focus on your present and future objectives.
Some benefits of partnering with an MSP include the following:
- Enhanced security.
- Focus on core business requirements.
- Highly specialized and experienced experts who work together to ensure that processes run efficiently and effectively.
- Organizations save money by not having to hire and manage their own IT department or in-house IT professionals.
- Provide immediate access to the latest technology.
- Rapid return on investment.
- Scale up or down according to your changing business needs.
What Are the Disadvantages of Partnering with a Managed Services Provider?
Like anything else in life, there are also some drawbacks to pay attention to. Some key disadvantages include physical presence and scope.
Organizations sometimes find themselves in a bind if they partner with an MSP located in another state or even another country. For example, remote support is meaningless if there is a hardware issue. This makes it important to partner with a local MSP and insists on onsite support in your SLA.
The scope of work provided by an IT services provider rarely covers every single aspect of technology. For example, a managed IT service provider has a list of applications like Microsoft Office, but if you need help with a third-party software issue that isn't on the supported software list, you have your work cut out for you.
As such, you should expect to spend a significant amount of time researching how to resolve issues yourself before contacting a service provider.
How to Choose the Right MSP?
In general, MSPs can provide enterprises with a wide range of services, but you can't just choose any provider. You should only partner with an MSP if they meet your unique business needs.
Consider these questions before choosing an MSP:
- Are they flexible enough to accommodate changes in my business?
- Am I satisfied with customer reviews?
- Are they following a break/fix model?
- Are they local?
- Do I need support for my current systems?
- How much experience does the MSP have?
- Is the MSP willing to invest in training my staff and IT team?
- Is their business model suitable, and is their pricing competitive?
- What kind of technology do I need?
- What is their average response time?
- What is their track record?
- What type of contracts do they offer?
When you're vetting vendors that offer services that can help your business grow, don't undervalue the importance of a strong partner program. A vendor that understands what an MSP does and how they work can make it easier for you to provide services – and grow.