In my normal course of business I come up against lots of folks in our space—some I consider friends, some I consider competitors. Some I don’t consider as being in our space at all. As an IT Managed Service Provider (MSP) I only compare us to others who offer true IT Managed Services. The others are just providing various IT support services.
So what defines true IT Managed Services? I’ll give you my definition here. But first a little background is needed to understand what IT Managed Services is not.
The term IT Managed Services has become a buzzword people use without thinking much about the actual services being provided. When looking for a company to handle their computer needs, often a business owner will solicit bids from several IT Managed Service Providers. Then they base their choice on who they feel most comfortable with and/or who bid the lowest price. The “what’s included” part is rarely an issue. Most people don’t fully understand IT and assume everyone that says they provide IT Managed Services must be providing the same services.
There are three main categories of IT support companies. Many call themselves Managed Service Providers, but few truly are. Let me break it down…
We use this term to describe the operating model where a company waits for something to break, then calls in someone to fix it. It’s completely reactive in nature. If nothing breaks, nothing gets fixed. Many very small and start-up businesses follow this model. On the surface, it appears to be the cheapest. And many small and start-up IT support providers only offer this service. They wait for a customer to call in with a problem, then they fix it. So these are a good fit for each other. If your business is currently using a break-fix service provider, ask yourself two simple questions:
- Is there anything we could do to reduce the amount of problems we have so we don’t need to call in our IT guy as often?
- Since he’s paid by the hour, what incentive does my IT guy have to do the job quickly and get it done right the first time?
Proactive IT Maintenance
To answer question #1, yes, there are preventive measures you can take to reduce the amount and/or severity of problems your computers have. Proactively monitoring and maintaining computers will reduce the overall operating cost and total cost of ownership.
To address this need, some break-fix providers will graduate to offering some form of ongoing maintenance plan. With such a plan, a tech will come onsite once a month (or maybe quarterly) to check on things. They’ll check to see if there were any conditions over the past month that require remediation and will also apply any necessary software updates. If they find any issues that need attention they will likely charge extra to fix those issues.
This somewhat proactive model is better than the break-fix model. But what if something starts going wrong the day after the tech’s visit? Minor problems can escalate quickly. A virus on one computer can spread throughout the entire network. A hard drive that’s showing signs of trouble today can crash tomorrow.
While once a month proactive maintenance is better than never, continuous monitoring and maintenance is better still. Unfortunately, most break-fix IT providers trying to move into IT Managed Services are not equipped for this level of service. But for what it costs to have a tech come in once a month to check things, you can usually get true IT Managed Services from a true Managed Service Provider.
IT Managed Services
The first point I will stress in the term “IT Managed Services” is the word “managed.” This means there is someone staying on top of things, making sure things are getting done. True IT Managed Services will include a lot of automation. We use tools and automation technologies to monitor and maintain systems. But it takes people—experienced people—who know how to use those tools and interpret the reports to manage the services being provided. As for the actual services, they can vary from one Managed Service Provider to another. But at a minimum an MSP should provide these essential IT Managed Services:
- Managed Data Backups/Disaster Recovery
- Managed Patch Updates
- Managed Firewall Service
- Managed Virus and Malware Protection
- Managed Hardware & Performance Monitoring
- Managed Email
- Managed Print Services
I put the word “managed” in front of all these services again to stress the importance of having a person ensuring that these services are in fact being provided. Many businesses, often at the recommendation of their tech guy, install and configure automated software to provide some of these services. Later they find these services stopped working at some point and no one noticed. I have personally seen businesses running free or cheap data backup software that hadn’t successfully completed a backup in months. I’ve seen antivirus software that expired more than a year ago, leaving the business vulnerable to the latest malware. I’ve seen expensive firewalls with out-of-date software—some not even configured properly—providing no protection. And I’ve seen far too many hard drive crashes, most of which could have been predicted and avoided.
More IT Managed Services
There are other services that can fit into the IT Managed Services realm. A good IT Managed Service Provider will also offer:
- Technology Advice/Consulting
- Vendor Relationship Management
- Project Management
- Call-in Help Desk Support
- A Service Level Agreement (SLA)
- Computer Refresh Scheduling
- Flat Rate Pricing
Is Flat-Rate Pricing Really Important?
So why does flat-rate pricing differentiate a “good” IT Managed Service Provider? Well, it goes back to the #2 question I asked earlier: what is the break-fix guy’s incentive to do the job quickly and correctly the first time? In a fixed-rate pricing model the MSP is paid the same amount whether there are continual problems being fixed or there are rarely any issues. Obviously the fixed-rate MSP is more profitable when problems are less severe and less frequent. So their incentive is to keep things running smoothly. Contrast this with the break-fix guy who only gets paid when things break. So perhaps a better question would be: would you rather pay an MSP whose incentive is to keep your systems up, or a break-fix person who profits more when your systems are down?
In future posts I’ll go into more depth defining each of the IT Managed Services I listed above. Until then, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them here or contact us directly.