What is a Managed Services Provider?
There seems to be a lot of confusion about what a Managed Services Provider (MSP) is! Some people think it’s a vendor manager. Some people think its a group that runs software agents on the workstations and servers at customer’s offices. Still others, think MSP’s continually backup all the Company’s data to “the cloud” and can quickly and painlessly recover any file, spreadsheet, user account or any other valuable object someone deleted.
In fact it’s all these things and more. Its certainly proactive and a clean break from “IT Consulting” which conjures up images of a fat guy showing up with a backpack and Starbucks cup when someone can’t print. (no offense to fat guys or Starbucks).
So to help educate and inform here is Affirmed System’s list of “MSP Must’s”
1. Managed Service Providers MUST monitor their customers networks, servers, phone systems, workstations, firewalls, routers AT ALL HOURS. Even 5 minutes to midnight New Years’s eve or at 10pm on the 4th of July during the fireworks SOMEONE must be on call to receive alerts, or be sitting at “big screens” getting alerts in real-time. Companies live and die these days on productivity - and that is why they hired you Mr. or Ms. MSP. If they wanted to call an IT guy when they realized their network was down they wouldn’t pay you every month to protect them from that!
2. Managed Services Providers must fully backup and protect all customer “assets”. Servers & workstation OS images, files, databases, network configuration files and have a clearly defined daily process to insure MULTIPLE people are responsible reviewing backup progress and success. There will be a spreadsheet someone in Accounting CRTL+SHIFT+DELETED and YOU will be asked to recovery it quickly from the most recent backup. Just as important to daily backups - you should plan and test total a systems recovery at an offsite physical or cloud based infrastructure. Even if you just keep 10 Amazon EC2 instances on standby for your team to test recoveries to - the experience and knowledge to do this again, quickly, is what makes you a managed services provider. Figuring out your total disaster recovery strategy the day you customer’s server room is flooded or had a fire will not help them get back online quickly…
3. Managed Services Providers must keep an effective inventory and security policy in place to insure all customer assets are well tracked, warranty statuses are updated and phone numbers are handy for hardware and software assurance contacts. If you have a server warranty, you need to have a central portal or repository to find Service Tag’s or Serial numbers, out of band management card IP Addresses and login credentials, phone numbers to call to gain hardware assurance. Time and time again you will be tested when something fails, so keep all this information handy. Waiting until “all the server’s lights are red” is a bad time to start googleing “HP Business Support 800 Number”.
4. Managed Services Providers Must have an effective, easy to reach help desk that is staffed with qualified experts who can actually resolve issues. An answering service IS NOT A HELP DESK. I’ll say it again, because there seems to be some who think otherwise - “AN ANSWERING SERVICE IS NOT A HELP DESK”. Having your frustrated, valuable customers call into even a pleasant, well rehearsed offshore national or recording service is NOT an effective way to ask customers to gain support. This will only show you have HUGE gaps in your coverage and are not “on the field with a full team”. Many MSP’s literally walk out of the office and forward their desk phones to an answering service. Truth be told - our sales team will eat your lunch on this fact alone every day of the week. Some of our best and most loyal customers have come over to our MSP program for this reason alone. Be warned.
5. Managed Services providers must listen. Its not enough to just automate IT and standardize IT. You’ll be need to do that anyway just so you can keep up with all the proactive issues you monitoring is finding and have a good framework that serves all customers equally. You must also be responsive and timely in handling the basics and the not so basic requests that make each of your customers unique. The best managed service providers can slip in a powerful framework while still maintaining trust and the absolute guarantee - you are not just “some IT Company” but THEIR IT company. And that’s why they work with you.
6. Managed Services providers must innovate. Its not enough to copy what’s going around in the industry. Or load canned alerts into your MSP Platform and hope they’ll catch viruses, smart HDD alarms, raid-card failures and such. You need to dig deeper and find the fresh approach THAT THE PREVIOUS IT FIRM AT YOUR CUSTOMER DID NOT. You may not find all their issues during your “integration survey” or even on your “MSP services roll out”. But through constantly being aware of what great new technology options benefit YOUR customers you will be greater than the sum of your parts. You will find ways to continually improve as you innovate. The reason for innovation…