Comparing IT services providers? Here’s your checklist
Getting into bed with a new Managed Service Provider is, to some extent, a leap of faith. Which MSP you choose to work with not only must have the appropriate technical credentials; there are other vital considerations. Like, are they a good cultural fit for your organisation?
And will they stand the test of time? Perhaps they can meet your needs today, but will they help you to realise your ambitions two or three years down the line?
Here, we set out nine things to help you identify the right IT provider for your business.
Is a varied menu of managed IT services on the table? How often does the MSP update their portfolio? Will they help you to innovate, and do they have the capacity to support your long-term growth?
Fast-forward three to five years, and you don’t want to find yourself juggling other providers because you’ve outgrown your MSP.
You might also like IT Managed Services Glossary of Terms.
Do they keep their own house in order?
If your MSP stumbles and falls, so might you. Ask them about the uptime of their internal and customer-facing systems. And crucially, what technologies they use to secure their data, which, by extension, could be your data. How do they protect and defend their systems from cybercrime?
And do they use Privileged Identity and Access Management (PAM) to safeguard your credentials and provide auditing and compliance? At Content+Cloud, we’re among only a handful of managed services providers to include PAM.
Your MSP should be an exemplar in leveraging technology for success. Because if they’re not blazing the trail, who is?
Do they outsource?
Will any element of your managed service be outsourced to another provider? Your MSP’s partner and vendor network enables them to offer you best-in-class solutions under one roof.
The point here is to check; once the ink dries on your contract, there should be no revelations. If the third-party will play a significant role in your managed service, then you might want to vet them independently of the MSP.
And one other thing; check the MSP’s status with these partners. If they don’t have sufficient clout with them, then any issues you have could be pushed down the queue.
For example, a Tier 1 CSP (Cloud Service Provider) like us works directly with Microsoft. A Tier 2 CSP works with Microsoft via distributors.
Run some straightforward fact-checking; there’s plenty of information in the public domain to give you a good flavour of your potential IT provider. For example:
- Companies House – as well as seeing how long they’ve been in business, their financial health, and their officers, you can check if they previously operated under other names.
- How independent authorities on MSPs, like Channel Futures, Cloudtango and megabuyte rank them.
- Their compliance with best practice, e.g. ISO Standards.
- Their commitment to IT service excellence, like the Service Desk Institute (SDI)
Other good indicators of the quality of your MSP are awards, and, of course, case studies and client testimonials. And if they’re experienced in your sector, better still.
What does the MSP’s client onboarding process look like? Each provider has a distinct approach and blueprint. What technical checks or adjustments are necessary? Will your user-base require training? Is there any support around change management?
What demands will the onboarding place on your time and resources, and what’s the average time to onboard a client?
Ask to be put in touch with another client, ideally in the same sector as you. Understand what their experience was like and if they have any tips for you.
How do they charge for their services? And when breaking up is hard to do
You’re entitled to get what it says on the tin for the price quoted.
For example, on top of the MSP’s monthly fees, are there any upfront costs? What discounts are available for multi-year contracts? And are there limits on the service, meaning you get a surprise invoice if you exceed them? Let’s face it; the words ‘surprise’ and ‘invoice’ are never good together.
Don’t accept a lump sum; insist on a breakdown of the costs. As well as making it easier to compare the provider’s quote with others, itemisation allows you the opportunity to adjust how the service is apportioned.
And much like a marriage, consider the value of a prenup. If the relationship fails, are you locked in for the contract’s duration? Is there a break clause or a penalty for early termination?
So, do consider your exit strategy. Like how you will get your data back, what reverse engineering will be necessary, and how long a divorce would take. If your potential provider can’t answer these questions assuredly (and put them in writing), it could be a red flag.
The best MSPs attract and retain great people. Some questions to ask are:
- Individual qualifications and certificates, e.g. Microsoft Certifications and Most Valuable Professionals.
- Their experience of supporting your sector, core technologies, and infrastructure.
- Employee churn rate. What’s the average tenure?
- What are the criteria for selecting new candidates?
- How is the team made up? At Content+Cloud, for example, our team includes technologists, business strategists, IT pros, subject matter experts and change management specialists. Oh, and three Microsoft MVPs.
- Do they run training and development programmes? You need a team that keeps pace with the fast-moving technology and cyber security landscape.
- Criminal record checks. If relative strangers have access to your data, trust is everything.
The Service Level Agreement (SLA)
Okay, this is massively important, so start by asking your proposed MSP for an example Service Level Agreement. Here are the sorts of things it should include:
- A roles and responsibilities matrix – on your side, as well as theirs. This is the right time to consider what you’re comfortable with your provider handling solo, and where the red lines are when you need to be involved.
- Performance levels, KPIs, response timescales.
- Key contact information.
- Their escalation and complaints procedure.
- Reporting and service reviews – ideally, a high and regular level of transparency and communication.
- Your access to their systems. For example, are your issues tracked in a ticket management system (like ServiceNow), and will you have visibility of their progress?
- Do you have to invest in any kit, licensing, or warranties, and what comes with the service? Does any equipment fall under your ownership, for example, and who is responsible for renewing any licensing or warranties? This needn’t be complicated, but it does need to be precise.
- What data they collect on you. If it’s to measure and improve their services, then hopefully you’re comfortable with that, but they certainly shouldn’t be doing a Mr Zuckerberg on you.
- What measures they have in place to protect your organisation’s and your clients’ data.
- Their IT maintenance and upgrades – how will they communicate them, and how will they minimise the impact on you.
- Worst case scenario planning – we’ve probably had quite enough of this for 2020, but in the event of more misery, mayhem or zombie warfare, the SLA should show their preparedness.
- Contract termination specifics, as mentioned in the earlier tip.
As well as checking what your MSP’s SLA includes, it’s equally important to establish what isn’t. Don’t assume, for example, that backups and disaster recovery are a given. If something isn’t in writing, we will wager a few quid that you won’t be getting it.
What the SLA won’t tell you though is the warm and fuzzy or cultural stuff. If you’re old enough to remember that feeling you had in a phone box when the pips went and you’d used all your credit, you’ll get our drift.
Some providers will be willing to go the extra mile whenever they can. Others will run to a stopwatch. But there’s a balance to be had here; be realistic about investing enough to fulfil your needs. And do draw on your provider’s experience to guide you.
Lockdown and social distancing permitting, try to visit their offices. Are their senior people there to welcome you and make you feel special? Are you introduced to the people who will be supporting you?
And if you can’t make it to their offices, read the runes in different ways. Are they quick to respond to your emails and calls? Do they listen first and talk later? The interest they show in your organisation, and the types of questions they ask should give you a sense of whether they’re a good fit for you or not.
What sets them apart from other Managed Service Providers?
Your potential IT provider’s answer to this question should be very revealing.
At Content+Cloud, what sets us apart from the crowd is our flexibility to tailor our managed services to our clients’ specific needs. And as well as being good at what we do, we love what we do for people like you.
If you’d like a natter over video and coffee, we’re here for you when the time is right. Reach out to us here.
The best MSPs want the best for you; they can be so much more than your IT provider. They can be your strategic partner, guru, and ally.
Trust your instincts; you deserve a provider with your interests at heart and who will answer your questions honestly. In fact, they should be falling over themselves to furnish you with all the information you need.
One indicator of a mature MSP is their willingness to suggest alternative paths and introduce you to technologies that will help you to grow and improve your business. But if you’re simply looking for vanilla IT support for now, that’s fine. Choosing an MSP with a broad range of services at least gives you more choices in the future. They will open the door – should you choose to walk through it, to a world brimming with possibility.