Anytime you outsource a service – be it IT, HR, or accounting – you are effectively establishing a partnership with the vendor. In exchange for the value of their expertise, scale, efficiency, or cost savings, you give up some degree of control. Their internal issues become your issues in terms of staffing, cyber security, and business process maturity. It’s essential to ask the right questions now to help you uncover any potential issues.
As you consider partnering with a Managed Service Provider (MSP) for some or all of your IT support needs, you might be wondering about the potential challenges of the managed services model. Not all MSPs are created equal. There are “low-maturity” and “high-maturity” providers. (Learn more about this distinction and discover which one is better for you.) Let’s review the top 4 challenges of the managed services model.
Staffing: Capacity, Expertise, and Stability
When evaluating an MSP’s service capacity, leaders often ask the wrong question. Instead of asking about an MSP’s number of employees, you should ask about their end users per technician ratio. How many users does each help desk technician support? It may seem counter-intuitive, but you are looking for a vendor with a higher ratio.
Lower-maturity MSPs tend to have a lower technician ratio – say 150:1. While that might sound like a good thing, it’s really a symptom of a noisy, reactive IT environment. This MSP must have a lower ratio because its users experience a lot of issues.
Higher-maturity MSPs often have ratios of 500-700 users per technician while still providing an excellent user experience. They can do this because they continuously align your IT with best practices to reduce the chance that users need support. You can gut-check the health of the vendor’s ratio by asking about their average time to issue resolution. Faster is better. Also, inquire about their customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores.
Last, in the areas of staffing, there is an extreme shortage in the IT labor market. Get a sense of the MSP’s stability by asking about their employee turnover rate and how they structure their staff. Look for vendors where each technician plays a specific, well-defined role – not one where each technician does a little bit of everything. It’s easier to train new staff members to perform a specific task such as help desk, cyber security, projects, etc. Low turnover and well-defined roles translate into a better experience for you as a client.
Cybersecurity: MSP’s Internal Maturity
MSPs are known for offering cybersecurity solutions to their clients but often neglect their own internal security. This makes MSPs a prime target for cybercriminals, who know they can access thousands of downstream devices through a single breach.
As a potential client, you must look for evidence that the MSP takes its internal security seriously. Do they have a third-party audit of their security regularly? Do they engage with a third party to actively monitor their security? Do they have adequate cyber and professional liability insurance?
It's also important to inquire about client segmentation. Will a breach in one client's environment compromise the security of all clients? Does the MSP use separate admin credentials for each client? Do they implement multi-factor authentication for accessing client environments? Are each technician's admin credentials unique or shared?
By asking these questions and prioritizing a provider's internal security practices, you can ensure the safety of your own business and data.
Business Process Maturity
If IT is strategically important for your business, it’s also vital to evaluate the strength of your potential MSP partner in terms of its business process maturity. Are they running a healthy business? Do they set and hit goals? Do they track key performance metrics related to their business? Are they profitable?
MSPs are often led by someone who was once a great IT support technician with zero business training. They are great at solving individual technical problems but don’t know how to help you think strategically about your IT. Their own business feels chaotic as they race from fire to fire. You’ll feel it through unplanned upgrades, excessive downtime, and recurring issues.
Your MSP should be a partner who helps you improve your own business planning process. They should help you establish and track IT metrics related to efficiency, security, continuity, compliance, and productivity. They should partner with you to establish a quarterly planning rhythm related to IT initiatives that lower risk and improve productivity. Things that will help you unlock innovation, increase your agility, and take full advantage of your sizeable investment in technology.
Fit: Culture and Expertise
When it comes to hiring an MSP, it's crucial to find a partner that aligns with your company's culture, philosophy, and industry norms. Is your company culture process or results-oriented? Task or employee-centric? Professional or parochial? Open or closed? Your MSP's culture should be similar to yours.
For instance, an MSP with high maturity will help you establish IT-related policies and standards. If you set a standard to replace PCs every five years with a full manufacturer's warranty, are you willing to be held accountable to that standard, or will you try to extend the life of a device that hasn't caused any issues yet? Would this be a problem for your MSP partner?
In terms of industry experience, MSPs either specialize in one or two market sectors or work as generalists who cater to many industries. Specialists usually serve clients across large geographic areas, while generalists focus on local clients. Do you think your MSP must have experience in your industry, or is it a bonus?
If your business is IT-dependent and you are considering the managed IT services model, it’s crucial that you consider the MSP’s staffing, cyber security, business maturity, and cultural fit. MSP relationships typically last a minimum of 3 years and often much longer. Break-ups can be tricky. Yet, for many small and mid-sized organizations, the benefits far outweigh the challenges. The right MSP partner can bring tremendous synergy to your operation. Happy hunting!
Avoid Managed Services Challenges with a Proven Partner
EpiOn is a high-maturity MSP focused on delivering Measurably Better IT. Serving Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and points in between. Our approach is built around the Measurably Better ITTM Framework that empowers innovative business leaders with simple metrics to help reduce risk, increase security, improve productivity, and fully leverage their IT investment. We believe that IT should be all about helping you achieve an Outcome with clear metrics and a shared definition of success. We specialize in full-service outsourced IT as well as co-managed IT. We also excel in cyber security, cloud solutions, and voice-over-IP for an additional layer of security. Our customer-focused framework strives to understand the unique needs and challenges of each client in order to provide the solution that’s best for them. Our framework and commitment are why we consistently rank among the top IT firms in the world.