Post 22 May

8 Questions to Ask Prospective IT Service Providers

8 Questions to Ask Prospective IT Service Providers

In essence:
Although some IT service providers wait for your call, some are quite pro-active.

To maintain a positive working connection, it’s critical that the engineers who will be interacting with your team directly share the same communication preferences.

Consider seeking legal advice from a lawyer with experience in IT service contracts if you’re having trouble understanding contracts and pricing.

Busy business owners frequently lack the time, expertise, and financial resources necessary to hire an internal IT manager. Yet, they have a lot of cloud apps to manage and significant client data to protect.

If that describes you, you probably want to work with a managed service provider MSP to determine your needs, cater for them, and continuously manage your IT systems.

According to David Carlson, VP of managed services at Sirius, one of the biggest IT resellers in the world, “[the IT service provider] is a key function that touches practically every element of your organisation, from business development to finance, marketing to operations.” “You’ll want to make sure you’re selecting the correct provider for your business and that you know how to monitor their efficiency throughout the relationship,” the author says.

The three companies who went through the evaluation and selection of an MSP in the previous year are interviewed below. They may provide advice to business owners looking for the ideal IT partner because their lessons learnt are still fresh in their memories.

1. Does your mission align with ours?
Andy Mark serves as the chief financial officer CFO of QV Investments, which is an investment management company. He is also a member of the management committee for QV and is in charge of the organization’s financial, administrative, and compliance duties. Goals were the main thing his team looked at while assessing potential MSPs.

Mark explains, “We want our partners to comprehend our organisational goals and support us in achieving those goals. To understand our role in assisting our partners in achieving their goals, we also want to know what their aims are.

In those initial discussions, QV highlighted how the prospective MSP’s job would fit into the objectives of the company, according to Mark. In return, the MSP made note of metrics that are significant to them such as response time and identified actions QV might take to improve team performance and KPIs. Better QV solutions as a result, according to Mark.

In the end, he continued, “we are working with our MSP, and our successes are tied.”

Each organisation has its own unique goal-matching procedures, of course. For instance, a digital marketing company looking to create a unique CRM would be complementary to an MSP looking to create its own IP. Partnering with companies that have similar goals will help an MSP that wants to service twice as many users see organic revenue growth per customer. Moreover, MSPs are acquiring more vertical expertise, thus they frequently seek out partnerships with companies operating in a certain industry.

2. Are your workflows and best practises compatible with our requirements?
When Judy Hubbard assumed her position as COO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeast Ohio in September 2020, she was immediately faced with coordinating the merger of two divisions of the charity. When hiring internal IT staff wasn’t an option, she looked for a proactive MSP.

We weren’t seeking for a transactional MSP, stated Hubbard, but rather a true partner. “We didn’t want a provider who only answered help desk inquiries,” said the customer.

Hubbard didn’t want to create a help desk ticket and then wait 48 hours for an email answer if two systems that needed to merge stopped “talking to one another,” for instance. She was interested in learning if her MSP has a history of first call resolutionopens in new tab supported by a well-established, efficient workflow with proactive monitoring and designated people to call for prompt support at each step.

As this was going on, Mark was worried that his future MSP’s procedures wouldn’t mesh with his own. His resources were already depleted because he had just one assistant. In order for Mark and QV to solve problems quickly, it was crucial that their potential IT partner had the same communication preferences and work processes. For instance, QV would coordinate with the vendor, internal and external software developers, its MSP with reference to hardware, and other stakeholders including internal staff if it were planning a crucial system upgrade. He can better plan the project and decide when each group should participate by being aware of the procedures for each of those groups.

According to Mark, “We want to understand [a possible MSP’s] technical expertise, how they communicate internally and internationally, how they develop their teams, how they educate their customers on their ever-changing [industries], and how they approach integrating with our workflows…

Request the standard operating procedures SOPs and workflows of prospective MSPs: Are there any manual steps that can result in mistakes and a loss of time, or is everything automated? Do they adhere to a ticketing system, or are they more flexible?

Peter Chen, the CFO at Volk Optical, a manufacturer of ophthalmic devices, found that last item to be particularly crucial.

Some MSPs, according to Chen, are more motivated by a ticketing system. “Rather than considering the technology as a whole, they take a reactive and ticket-based approach. It was crucial to comprehend how the MSP genuinely operates.

Some MSPs are only called in to fix broken things. Passwords are lost by employees, VPN connections are lost, or servers break. Others oversee all systems, technological processes, and vendor connections and contracts and are service-driven. Then there are “virtual CIOs,” who work with you more collaboratively and directly to determine how technology can support your corporate objectives and get the results you’re after.

According to Chen, Volk “needs a vCIO, not a ticketing system.” “We wanted more than a break-fix shop; we wanted an IT partner.”

3. Do the people who matter regard you as an authority in my areas of interest?
You want to be sure that the MSP’s clients and the industry both see them as experts.

Finding positive LinkedIn recommendations is simple, but if you’re looking for the real story, those won’t help you much. Instead, look up on Google whether the company has had high-profile speaking engagements with other organisations or been highlighted in the media. Speaking at one’s own conference or webcast does not qualify. Check to see whether they belong to a peer group; this is frequently a sign that they are exchanging best practises and absorbing knowledge from other MSPs.

You will need to directly request some information from the potential MSP. Get their customer satisfaction ratings by asking. Ask them to explain any unusually low scores if you notice them. Was there a communication breakdown brought on by a poor fit? Was the team unable to offer the required knowledge? Did they have to charge for the service in excess of what was agreed upon, leaving the client with a nasty taste in their mouth?

Ask to see the client lists from the previous three years. Look at the number of new clients the MSP has acquired each year as well as the number of lapsed clients. A high rate of client churn is a red flag.

Choose an MSP whose clientele has requirements that are comparable to yours. Find another CPA on the list if you work for an accounting firm. This, together with the MSP’s qualifications more on them below, will enable you to determine whether they possess the regulatory expertise and skill set necessary to serve your organisation.

When looking for an MSP for Volk Optical, Chen says he investigated the clientele of potential partners. Volk works in both the manufacturing and medical device industries, so Chen looked for an MSP with clients in both to ensure that they had real-world manufacturing experience and were familiar with HIPAA regulations.

Next, request case studies from MSPs on clients with requirements comparable to yours. For instance, Hubbard required a partner with experience managing mergers, so she requested a case study of a client her MSP had assisted with the procedure.

4. Is your team accessible round-the-clock?
Carlson suggests inquiring about the number of resources in a possible MSP’s network operations centre NOC. Do they employ their own staff members or 1099 contractors—less devoted resources—in their work? You want a team that is accessible 24/7 in the NOC and at the help desk, especially for enterprises with numerous time zones.

Several businesses claim to be monitoring networks around-the-clock, 365 days a year, but Chen believes it doesn’t actually mean much. “What should I do if I require a person beyond business hours? Due to the fact that our organisation operates across multiple time zones, we were in desperate need of 24/7 availability.

5. Are you qualified in the fields that interest me the most?
Inquire about the compliance certifications your prospective MSP holds, such as SOC 2 compliance opens in new tab, and whether their compliance status is audited.

According to Carlson, the SOC 2 security standard mandates that MSPs demonstrate a wide range of processes and procedures. Small MSPs might not have gone through the auditing process because it is not a simple effort.

Although MSPs without SOC 2 accreditation might be less expensive, you must decide if you’re ready to risk your security.

The ISO 27001 accreditation, which calls for an information security management system to enable MSPs to secure things like financial information, intellectual property, employee details, and information transferred to third parties, is a little less stringent.

Since there isn’t a single certification programme for standards like HIPAA, it could be difficult if you work in a regulated field like healthcare or financial services. A customer list might be useful in this situation as well; use it to determine whether the MSP has the relevant experience.

You can also ask technology providers or distributors to show you third-party certifications. The majority of the time, internal certification training and exams are used by a vendor or distributor to make sure the MSP is certified to represent their goods or services. Move on if an MSP is unable to give any qualifications pertinent to your field or minimises their significance.

Not only the MSP company needs to be certified. The engineers working on your project should also hold the appropriate certifications.

We rapidly came to the conclusion that one issue with some of the bigger MSPs was that we were unsure of the calibre of the engineers we would be receiving, according to Chen. Examining qualifications played a deciding role.

6. Can I meet the engineers working on my project?
Be sure the engineers you’ll be working with not only possess the necessary technical skills but also fit with the culture of your business. No amount of credentials will compensate for a technician who lacks customer communication skills.

In our evaluation of MSPs, we “took care to proceed beyond conversing with the sales rep,” adds Hubbard. “To make sure it was a good fit, we brought in the engineers to talk to the folks who would actually be working on the project.”

While the sales or executive teams of the MSP will be the subject of your initial discussions, the technicians will be the ones you deal with on a daily basis. Meet them to determine if they communicate similarly to your employees.

I consider the sources of the engineers’ education, adds Chen. “Because the majority of our workforce is blue-collar, having a local who could relate to our workers was crucial.

They need a someone they can relate to if they are having issues on the factory floor, not some Silicon Valley computer scientist.

Maybe the core value of your company culture is diversity. Will engineers with a range of backgrounds be working on your project? Ask your MSP about the dress policy; you definitely don’t want ripped jeans where consumers can see them if they expect to see work clothing in your office. Do your staff often strike up a casual discussion with coworkers? If so, seek out an MSP that isn’t constantly focused on business.

7. Exactly how do you set your prices, and is it flexible?
As already stated, MSPs exist in a variety of forms. Several varieties have different pricing schemes: Some MSPs have hourly rates. Some people use their own calculations to determine a set monthly rate. Some charge extra for tasks that are outside of the most fundamental scope of service, such as setting up a new server or integrating new cloud applications. Some charge per hour, while still others charge by device, user, or hour. Regrettably, there isn’t any general guidance on the best pricing structure to use. Your requirements and resources will determine how.

Remember that occasionally the seemingly inexpensive alternative will end up costing you more in the long run. If an MSP promises you won’t require many hours per month and charges a low hourly rate, that could come back to haunt you if you encounter problems or decide to upgrade your technology. While per-device costs are lower than per-user costs, it may appear more cost-effective to pursue this strategy, but what happens when each of your users owns an iPad, a laptop, a desktop, and a phone? It totals out.

The pricing system, according to Chen, “was a tough thing to figure out.” I favour set rates. I don’t want to spend time managing unpredictable expenses. An major factor was the billing’s simplification.

It’s important to be adaptable and to anticipate unexpected.

According to Hubbard, “I needed to know the full cost [of my MSP] up front.” “I didn’t want a managed service provider that would try to squish me into their business model. I required a flexible individual who could adapt to our requirements.

8. Does the contract include clauses that are significant to me?
The MSP promises to certain quality standards and a list of the services it will offer is contained in a service level agreement, or SLA. It covers information like how much server downtime is acceptable each month, how frequently backups are anticipated to occur, or who is responsible for a security problem. It also may outline how the MSP will set things right if its team fails.

Carlson advises carefully reading the termination clause in your MSP contractopens in new tab. A precondition that defines how long the MSP must resolve problems before you can terminate your contract and how long you must pay any outstanding costs on equipment or products is frequently included in your termination clause.

Ask the MSP who should have cybersecurity insurance as well opens in new tab. Unless they are very tiny or very new, the majority of credible MSPs have their own cybersecurity insurance. This is crucial because it guards against losses brought on by cybersecurity incidents. Recognize the MSP’s obligations and what would occur if it had to reimburse you for a security incident.

You “don’t want to be on the hook for something you weren’t aware of,” Carlson advises hiring a lawyer with knowledge of IT service contracts.

The length of the contract should also be carefully considered. They can last anywhere from a few months to many years, with the majority falling between 12 and 36 months. A longer-term contract will likely result in a price reduction, but you risk being tied to an MSP you dislike for many years. Additionally keep in mind that the MSP has the authority to raise your prices after your contract expires, just like any other service provider. Perhaps you shouldn’t repeat that process every six months.

One interpretation: According to Chen, his team “didn’t want something too long-term, since we wanted the MSP to know that they need to strive to maintain the relationship.”

Under your contract, you also have area for bargaining. For instance, the majority include a beginning date and an effective date the day you sign the contract and start the onboarding process, respectively when the SLA and monthly recurring charge come into effect. Onboarding, which frequently entails a one-time, “outside-of-scope” price, comes in between. You might be able to work out a deal by proposing to join up for a longer time if you don’t want to pay that charge.

The conclusion
Selecting an outsourced IT provider may be more difficult than it first appears, but once you discover the perfect one, it may significantly improve how you support your team, clients, and expansion plans. Long-term time and headache savings can be achieved by doing the legwork up front. Never be hesitant to push back if a potential MSP isn’t providing you with the information you require or to ask further questions until you are confident in the responses. You’re giving your managed services provider access to all of the information and details that are vital to your company. Make sure the fit is appropriate.