6 questions to ask when choosing a managed IT service provider

Blog 6th April, 2020

There are plenty of good reasons to work with a managed IT service provider; most notably, the flexibility they offer your organisation.

With a managed IT service provider, you can access the specific skills and capabilities needed for particular projects, as well as rapidly scale up or down as required on a per-project basis. Compared with the investment required to add headcount, managed IT service providers tend to be a more cost-effective and nimble solution to IT needs.

However, not all service providers are created equally. In order to choose the right one for your needs, there are several questions you’ll need to ask – both of your own organisation, and of any candidate providers you’re considering.

Questions to Ask of Your Business First

Start with two questions intended to help you better understand your own needs:

Question #1: What Business Challenges Are You Facing? 

Hiring without a clear understanding of your current challenges is a bit like setting off on a road trip without an itinerary. You may wind up at your intended destination, but you’ll likely miss opportunities to save time and money along the way.

To that end, it’s important that you first understand the current challenges facing your organisation. Start with the following queries:

  • How is your business likely to fare in the event of a global recession brought on by the outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19?
  • How have your financials been trending? Are you facing flat or reduced growth?
  • What inefficiencies exist within your operation?
  • Are you making progress on your technological roadmap, or is your forward momentum being held up by some factor(s)?

Don’t feel that you have to be limited by the questions here. If other challenges are affecting your company, note them as part of this process as well.

Question #2: What Variables Must be Addressed in Seeking a Solution for Your Business Challenges?

Given the challenges you identified in your response to Question #1, which variables will you need to account for in order to resolve them?

For instance, how do the specific challenges at your organisation affect the level of support you’ll require (either in-house or through a managed IT service provider)? Do you need 24/7 or out-of-hours support? Will you need specific technical skills to resolve them, or do you need to be able to receive responses within certain timeframes?

The type of organisation you run will also influence your requirements. For example, do you:

  • Have your entire staff on-site, or do you have remote workers or people on the road?
  • Own your company outright or operate a franchise business?
  • Run a manufacturing company with significant specialised technical requirements?
  • Serve a multilingual staff or customer base?
  • Lead a global organisation or run a much smaller team?
  • Have access to an existing IT team?
  • Need to keep cost challenges or other budget limitations in mind?

Only after you’ve asked the above two questions relating to your business challenges should you start looking outward and interviewing potential managed IT service providers.

Questions to Ask a Potential Managed IT Service Provider

Question #1: What Services do You Provide? 

As in any field, managed IT service providers vary widely from one company to the next. 

For example, they may be full-service providers who offer fully managed IT and infrastructure environments, or they may be specialists in services such as IaaS or end-user services (such as service desk, desktop management, desk-side support, or other solutions that support customers’ staff). They may offer end-to-end capabilities, or they may offer only single-point solutions.

You should qualify whether or not each solution from your potential pool of service providers truly matches your business’s requirements (both as they are now, and as they may evolve in the future).

Question #2: How Invested are You in My Business and Our Relationship? 

A good managed service provider will want to invest in your relationship, essentially functioning as a key pillar in growing your business. Think about it this way – being able to improve your IT operations and your end-user experience results in the time you can use to focus on driving top-line business performance. 

However, not all MSPs understand what it takes to engage in a long-term partnership, rather than a more limited services contract. These high-level engagements require a strong degree of unity in order to ensure a comprehensive understanding of your business, which is needed to identify the right levels of investment in staffing as well as the technology that will deliver the best performing service levels.

Done correctly, these relationships are more cost-effective than carrying out the same initiatives internally. But this won’t happen by accident. Truly invested partnerships don’t come from “dime a dozen” tech shops. Rather, they come from providers who are committed to establishing long-term engagements that drive business performance, which can be determined by their length of time in business, if they have strong client references/testimonials, and also their financial backing.

Question #3: How are Innovation, Strategic Thinking and Proactivity Embedded into Our Service Contract?

Say you contract with a managed IT service provider in good faith, but over the course of your engagement, the direction of your project needs to change to match shifting market conditions. How will your provider respond?

The best MSPs understand that the complexity of tech projects can rarely be captured by black-and-white contract terms. Instead, they plan ahead proactively by embedding the capacity for innovation and strategic thinking into their engagements.

As an example, your provider may allocate resources to strategic workshops that allow you to work together on innovative ideas within the scope of the existing contract. They may plan for proactive maintenance, based on their assessment of your current systems and setups.

Again, these things don’t happen by accident. They happen when you select a managed service provider that understands how to plan for much-needed real-world flexibility from the start.

Question #4: How Will You Use New Technologies like Automation and AI to Help My Business?

Most managed IT service providers are actively using technologies such as these already. But often, they’re doing it for their own benefit, such as by reducing the cost of their sales. 

But will they look for opportunities to incorporate these new tools into your project? Will they use them to support not just your company, but your company’s customers as well through improved customer experience?

Look for a partner that isn’t just using new technologies already, but that’s happy to share their knowledge in ways that enhance their clients’ businesses.

Question #5: How Stable is Your Business?

Transitioning from one IT provider to another isn’t just an investment in costs. You are also investing in the required time for the transfer of development and critical project knowledge.

And with the recent impact of world events on businesses, this question has become more relevant in 2020 than ever before.

With that in mind, make sure that you can rely on the MSP candidate you eventually select to be around to support your business for the long-term. While few providers will give you detailed access to company financials, you can gauge their financial security and business longevity by a few factors:

  • How long have they been in business? If they’re newly started, they may not have the staying power to weather the coming financial storms or underperforming projects.
  • Who have they worked with before? You don’t have to see Fortune 500 logos on an MSPs website to consider them valid. But if you aren’t able to find evidence they’ve worked successfully with any broadly known, reputable or household name companies, they may represent a riskier proposition for your project.
  • What types of clients do they work with? Has the provider worked on projects in your industry before? If so, are they able to refer you to past customers? Industry-specific knowledge isn’t necessary, but it can help projects run more smoothly and successfully.

Question #6: What Does Your Onboarding Transition Program Look Like?

Be wary of any managed IT service provider that won’t offer insight into what their onboarding process for your company will look like.

The first days and weeks of a new project represent a critical time for all parties to get to know each other, get each other up-to-speed, and establish the timelines, workflows, and processes that’ll drive the project’s overall success. Disorganisation here is a sign of missed deadlines and poor communication to come.

Instead, ask for enough information to better understand their implementation processes and expected timings. If a provider candidate can’t offer this during a sales call, they’re likely to be significantly less organised when the project kicks off.

Get the Answers You Need When Interviewing MSPs

The list of questions above represents a great starting point for most companies, but it’s far from comprehensive. Add to it based on the specific needs of your company, the requirements of your project, or any unsatisfactory experiences you’ve had with providers in the past.

Build your list of questions, and then look for providers who are happy to answer them all. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed through this process. A good managed IT service provider will be more than happy to offer as much information as is needed for you to be able to confidently sign their services contract.

Contact us if you would like to discuss how Harbour IT can assist you with your managed services.

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