What are Managed Services and how do I choose a provider?

The term ‘Managed Services’ can mean many different things to different people, but what is a Managed Service? In its most basic sense, Managed Services refers to the practice of outsourcing business functions to engage a higher level of professional services whilst reducing costs and streamlining operations.

Commonly it refers to technology and is about managing elements of your IT environment. For example, Managed Services might involve engaging a provider to take care of your Help Desk support, unified communications, or possibly data storage and backup recovery.

A third party who manages your business technology is called a Managed Service Provider (MSP). MSPs can work in conjunction with a business’ internal designated IT team. The two resources can work well in harmony and it doesn’t necessarily need to be only one or the other.

There are a number of things to consider when choosing a Managed Service Provider in Australia. This will ideally be a relationship that lasts for many years and that will be conducive for your business’ growth and smooth operations. These are the things we think you should consider when making your selection:

Capability and evidence of success

Can the MSP share case studies or provide evidence of previous projects? What is their reputation like? Just because a Provider can talk the talk and promise you the world, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re able to deliver. Don’t be afraid to ask for customer references so that you can understand what it will be like to work with the provider.

Location

How important is it to you that your MSP is local or even Australian-based? For some businesses, the savings associated with an offshore team may be worth it. While others feel that having a local provider who knows your area and operates in your time zone may be of more benefit.

Clear agreements

Agreements must be explicit so that both parties understand what their personal responsibilities are. Requirements and expectations will differ between Providers, so it’s best not to assume what is and isn’t included in your Managed Service Agreement. For example, some agreements will include installation and setup of equipment and software, while others assume it will already be ready to go and they are managing a functioning network. Make sure when selecting your MSP you understand the agreement being presented to you.

Strong SLAs

Regardless of what you need your MSP to do, there should be a strong Service Level Agreement (SLA) in place. SLAs clearly set out what the Provider will actually provide in terms of service. They will include recourse for the customer if they’re unable to meet these commitments. Ideally an SLA will be quantitative and measurable. This Agreement should be what gives you confidence in the Provider’s ability to deliver what they promise and to the standard that they promise.

Flexibility

Every business and subsequently their requirements are going to be totally unique. Managed Service Providers need to be able to adapt to each individual customer. For example, you should have a choice of Support options and inclusions and there should be a variety of hardware choices, instead of a one-size-fits-all situation.  MSPs may also be cautious of scope creep, where the work being done starts to sit outside of the agreement. This is understandable as they are only trying to ensure they are paid for the work done. However, requirements do change and businesses do grow, so a good MSP will have some flexibility and an understanding that arrangements may need to be revised.

Company culture

Is the MSP a good fit with your business? You will be working closely in a partnership (ideally) for years to come, so it is important that your values are aligned. Research their core values and ask about things that are important to your organisation such as CSR initiatives and community sponsorship and involvement.

Using a Managed Service Provider to help with your business technology should provide peace of mind and give your team the space to focus on doing what they do best, instead of worrying about managing IT. When deciding to work with a Managed Service Provider, you should feel comfortable asking questions and clarifying the relationship. Ideally it will be a partnership that helps your business thrive for years to come.

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