Having a robust internal IT team can be one of the most powerful and helpful resources a business can have. However, realistically, not all businesses can actually afford to finance them—but that doesn’t mean they can’t gain and utilise the knowledge and skills they provide.
When IT systems become increasingly complex and technical innovation creates demand for skilled professionals, outsourcing managed IT services can help cut costs, enhance service quality, and free up internal teams to work on duties that are unique to their organisation—all without breaking the bank.
Unfortunately, IT outsourcing is rarely an easy task. Even with all the great advantages, drawbacks are possible, and hiring a managed services provider requires considering a series of factors to ensure success.
This article covers the benefits of IT outsourcing and what can go wrong, to provide an objective overview of managed IT services and how organizations can protect themselves when a third-party is in charge of their system and data security. With it, you’ll:
Managed IT services are based on the concept of outsourcing the responsibility of managing and maintaining IT services and equipment to a qualified and knowledgeable third party. You pay a monthly subscription for access to the service, and a third party manages the overall system functionality, infrastructure, and your organization's technical systems.
Often, the term "managed IT services" is used close to "cloud services." However, the terms refer to different concepts:
Cloud services are the software, platforms, and infrastructure that are hosted by a paid third-party service provider and made available to the business and/or its users through the internet. These on-demand services facilitate the access and flow of data to front-end clients, as well as back to the provider’s system, giving businesses powerful tools to store and retrieve data through means they could not otherwise establish or maintain in-house. However, the focus of these services is much more often about connectivity than security and maintenance, which rarely reduces the workload of many business’s internal teams.
Managed IT services, however, not only help businesses maintain and secure their infrastructure, but also include the management of your organization's workload, and can even include the management of the cloud platform you use to deliver your services.
Managed IT services are designed to cover a vast number of needs and responsibilities often reserved for in-house teams in larger organizations. These services provide comprehensive support for most things IT-related, including the following:
One of the most important features of managed IT services, comprehensive cybersecurity includes implementing numerous proactive and reactive security efforts designed to protect the data of the business and its users.
For times in which time is a crucial factor, managed IT services will provide on-demand support for any emergencies as well as alternative options for support for less time-sensitive matters.
A critical piece of managed services, this means that data is properly backed up in several secure locations to ensure that, in case of a disaster, data can be properly recovered and restored across systems.
Actively watching the health and security of your data and infrastructure on
an ongoing basis.
In the case of potential disruption, this ensures that there is a plan in place that allows the business to continue functioning as seamlessly as possible for front-end users, even if there are issues that need to be resolved on the back end.
As businesses grow, so do their software and infrastructure needs. This service feature uses reliable protocols to make necessary updates across the system to maintain security and functionality.
To maintain streamlined deployment and roll out necessary updates and even additional software installation, asset tracking and management standardizes and tracks a business’s hardware and software stack to minimize wasting time on tracking down assets within the greater system.
To provide the best path for a business moving forward, this service feature provides analysis of the current state of the business in relation to what IT or infrastructure-related elements may need to change upon further scaling, including adding or upgrading assets in the hardware and software stack.
Service-level agreements are documents that explicitly outline the terms of service of the partnership—and every good managed IT services provider will have them. These clearly outline the responsibilities of both the business procuring the services and the third-party service provider, so there’s no question as to what each team is required to handle respectively.
Most managed IT service providers offer a wide variety of services, but it’s worth noting that there are often limitations on the degree to which they are covered within a regular maintenance agreement. As you’ll see below, nearly all of these services can be performed, but many come with additional costs and are treated as separate projects.
Most managed IT service providers regularly handle smaller, more routine updates to a business’s established systems. While they can also perform major upgrades to new operating systems, databases, or management systems, these services are not often covered by monthly maintenance and support fees.
Managed IT services routinely cover updates, upgrades, and patches, but the physical installation or configuration of new equipment or major physical changes to hardware or physical network reconfiguration are often billed and undertaken as separate projects.
More often than not, the labour needed to fix failed hardware is usually included, but the parts and outright replacement costs are not. Many MSPs will only include the labour if the machine is in-warranty, as out-of-warranty equipment may take an extraordinary amount of time to repair.
Nearly all managed IT service SLAs limit the support available for hardware or software that extends beyond a set amount of time, such as running multi-generation old operating systems or hardware, such as servers, that are more than six years old.
Changing the physical location of a business and/or its on-site hardware is a huge task and outside the bounds of most agreements and the professional ability of managed IT service providers.
While data backups and disaster recovery are normally a part of managed IT services as noted above, rebuilding after natural disasters such as floods, fires, earthquakes, power surges or failures, or even simple pipe leaks that cause damage, are not covered by standard maintenance agreements.
To see how IT services actually operate in real-life, consider this common scenario.
Robert owns a small but growing manufacturing business that relies heavily on data management and maintenance—but he doesn’t have the resources to hire a full team of IT professionals to help him and his current team to manage it all.
By hiring a managed IT service provider, Robert can continue operating his business and allow his team to focus on business-critical activities while a highly-trained team of IT professionals uses Robert’s established infrastructure to routinely update software, provide cybersecurity to minimize the risk of security threats and business disruption, and provide ongoing support and advice on how to grow his business with his tech stack—all at just a fraction of the cost.
Of course, IT managed services are not a one-size fits all solution. While there are many pros to utilising this kind of service, there are several cons to be aware of as well—all of which need to be considered if you want to make the best choice for your business.
To ensure you and your team get the most out of your collaboration with your managed IT service provider, it’s best to agree on the terms of service before any work is undertaken—and that takes forming a proper service-level agreement (SLA).
In short, SLAs are documents that are mutually agreed upon by the business itself and the managed IT service provider in an effort to detail the responsibilities and expectations for both teams as clearly as possible. This minimises the potential for discrepancies, inconsistencies, and miscommunication between both parties while also establishing a legal basis for mutual operation.
Ideally, a good SLA will include:
Detailed descriptions of the work involved and services rendered for/by each party.
This should denote the times and days the service provider is available for support and service requests, as well as a response time for each type of request, from emergency services to simple, non-time-sensitive requests.
This establishes when and how frequently the service provider will be actively monitoring the system and providing scheduled maintenance.
What services will be reported on, to what degree, and how frequently.
This is an important element that clearly outlines what protocols will be taken in case of a data/security breach, IT-related operational disruptions, and so on, so internal and external team members can respond accordingly.
Whether financial, compensatory work, or the termination of the partnership, this details the consequences for the service provider should they not meet the expectations and responsibilities outlined in the agreement.
This is self-explanatory but covers the technical aspects of the agreement so both parties are aware of the protocols necessary for updating the agreement should either party’s needs or abilities shift.
Picking a managed IT service provider can feel like a tall task, but with the right information, it shouldn’t take more than a bit of research and consideration to make a good decision. While every business’s needs are different, most good MSPs will have these core criteria
To get the best fit for your business, it’s a good idea to have a list of questions you need to ask on-hand, such as those regarding costs, experience, whether they can service your current infrastructure, availability, and so on, so you can appropriately compare your options on an equal basis.
As you can see, there are many significant benefits to hiring an MSP to address crucial IT needs within your business. However, as every business’s needs are different, there’s a lot to know and understand to ensure that you’re getting those needs met by a team of experienced professionals.
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