Your business’s technology ties into nearly every aspect of your daily operations, so it makes sense that you’d want to get the highest return on your IT investment.
Many small businesses are becoming aware that they have options around how to structure their IT strategy. They can follow the traditional path of maintaining an in-house IT program with dedicated IT personnel, or they can pass the responsibility to a managed services company.
If you’re like most small business owners, you may have heard about managed services but you don’t fully understand what they are, why so many small businesses are using them, and how to go about making the switch.
That exactly why we wrote this article.
By the time you’ve reached the end you’ll know everything you need to know about managed services, so let’s get started.
What are Managed Services?
Before we get into the benefits of managed services, let’s get clear on exactly what managed services are, as well as how they differ from traditional “tech support” companies.
Managed services, delivered by a Managed Services Provider (MSP) are the remote management of your entire IT program (or a portion thereof).
Managed services providers and tech support companies (as well as some value-added resellers) often get mixed up, and understandably so. On the surface, they appear to offer relatively similar services. However, once you take a closer look, they’re actually quite different.
Managed Services vs. IT Support
For starters, managed services deliver a mutually agreed upon level of service for a set fee every month. Tech support typically charges by the hour or sells packages of hourly support.The term “Managed Services” designates that the service being provided is ongoing and that a set list of responsibilities fall to the provider every month. The key difference is that managed services are part of a proactive approach to IT support, where tech support is typically used as a reactive measure.
MSPs typically act as an extension of a small business’s IT department—or replace it entirely—as they take on the responsibility for your IT as compared to a traditional computer support company that gets called into fix your problems.
SLAs (Service-Level Agreements)
Another key difference is that managed service providers typically work under a predetermined SLA, or service-level agreement. These SLAs are a contractual agreement that defines the exact level of service that can be expected, as well as the performance and quality metrics that will be used to track that service.
Some managed service providers provide tiered SLAs that offer different levels of service. Others create custom SLAs based on the unique needs of the customer.
Who Uses MSPs?
While many enterprise-level businesses utilize managed services, the ideal MSP customer is the small- to medium-sized business.
This is largely because these smaller businesses may not have the capabilities to maintain a full-scope IT department and typically have underperforming IT systems. Managed services are a way for these smaller businesses to obtain expert-level IT service without the cost of maintaining a full in-house team.
Benefits of Managed Services
Unless you’re already a tech-savvy business, one of the biggest issues you likely face is the continual evolution of business technology and the ongoing activities required to stay competitive and operating at your highest level.
That’s everything from maintaining a secure system, keeping software updated, to simply ensuring your IT personnel is delivering consistent value. The reactive IT strategy that most small businesses have in place is costly and time-consuming, and inevitably takes away from their core business strategy and their employees’ ability to perform at their full capacity.
Managed IT services deliver a wealth of benefits without much in the way of drawbacks. As a small business, this is simply an opportunity you can’t ignore any longer.
They can help you focus on your customers and real business needs without worrying about the latest and greatest software, security disasters, or high-priced technology replacement costs.
Let’s take a look at some of the most important benefits of managed services and how each of these can impact your business. This way you’ll be able to determine if managed IT services is a good fit for your business.
1. Decreased Costs
Let’s start with a benefit that every small business owner can appreciate.
The initial investment in almost any new technology you implement is high. When you consider the costs to research, update, and maintain that technology, it’s no wonder that so many small businesses are operating with outdated hardware and software.
That said, the cost of operating with outdated technology is one that continues to grow over time. Performance from your employees continues to decrease and more resources are required from your IT personnel to fix problems. The vast majority of small businesses are able to save (often significantly) over alternative methods, while being able to put the responsibility on the shoulders of the their MSP.
Utilizing managed services also allows you to budget properly on a monthly or annual basis, without having to account for emergency purchases and multiple software or hardware upgrades.
Finally, there is the cost of regulatory compliance. If your business is in the financial, retail, education or health care industry and you are tied to specific regulatory compliance, your managed IT service provider can establish a compliance program, typically for a fixed price, that handles security risk analysis, vulnerability assessments, and other requirements, eliminating much of the need to do this in-house.
2. Always Up-to-Date
Does keeping up with current technology feel like a never-ending task? Are you using outdated technology because staying current requires too much time and money?
If so, you’re sacrificing your security and productivity and increasing the costs of maintenance.
With most quality managed service providers, you’ll find that they provide their customers with the latest and greatest technology. In the dog-eat-dog world of managed services, it’s a must for survival, which is an advantage to you as a customer.
Software updates are done automatically and hardware is replaced as soon as your MSP determines there is a benefit to doing so. This allows your employees to continue working seamlessly without being encumbered by problems associated with outdated technology.
What’s more is that this is all done without any effort whatsoever on your part or that of your IT team.
It also means that you’ll be able to take advantage of the newest, cutting-edge features of this technology and never worry that your competitors are realizing a technical advantage that might help them outpace you.
3. Flexibility and Scalability
As your needs change, your managed IT services can change with you.
During periods of growth or downsizing, providers can scale your services up or down. This would be the case in retail during the holidays, the mortgage industry from April through September, or if you’re gearing up to host a big conference with thousands of attendees.
There’s no sense in paying for the additional hardware and software (and potentially extra facilities) if they are only being used part-time. That’s a definite overinvestment, especially when the money can be put to better use elsewhere.
Managed services allow you to invest in the right technology for your business today, without worrying about what you business will look like in a year (or even a few months).
4. Support, Stability, and Continuity
When it comes down to it, most small businesses dread IT issues because of the quality of support that most tech vendors or even in-house IT teams deliver.
A good managed IT service provider is available for support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you’re experiencing an issue, there’s no need to scrounge around for a phone number of the IT guy who “isn’t available until Thursday”…or waiting until office hours.
Quality managed service providers are able to offer far greater support than virtually any product vendor or tech support team. That means exceptional service no matter how big or small your problem, no matter when it arises. That said, not all MSPs are created equal, but we’ll help you determine how to choose a highly effective provider in the next section of this article.
Furthermore, given that managed services deliver a proactive approach that works to address problems before they arise, the stability of your service will be better than nearly anything you can maintain yourself.
Finally, most quality managed service providers offer business continuity plans that allow you to keep operating at full capacity in case of emergency. In the event of a cyber-attack, internal error or natural disaster, your data will be safe.
There is essentially no down time. This allows you to continue on with business as usual, even if it is from a location other than your brick-and-mortar office. It also allows your IT team to be redirected to other needs in the wake of such a disaster.
5. Data Security
You’ve heard and read about the horror stories of data breaches and the compromising of business and customer information. It can be devastating to any company, not only in terms of the dollars required to rectify the situation and quickly put new protocols in place, but the bad press and reactions from your customers.
While you may believe that you are immune, either due to the nature or size of your business, you couldn’t be more wrong. The threat is very real, and necessitates that businesses—of all sizes—take the steps to shield their data from cyber-security breaches.
Using a managed IT service can simplify your headache by establishing sophisticated security protocols, securing your network, keeping those protocols up to date, providing secure backups in multiple locations, and allowing for the aforementioned business continuity.
6. Increased Productivity
We’ve touched on this benefit in the list above, but we’d like to reinforce just how important it truly is. A reactive IT strategy can lead to decreased productivity in multiple ways. Managed services eliminates these issues entirely.
First, business technology evolves rapidly, which means that new tools and features are continually being released. This tech is that which typically gives your employees the ability to perform at a higher level and your business the edge to outpace the competition.
Instead, most small businesses prioritize IT investments and choose to operate with technology that allows them to “get by.” A good MSP will help you get much more benefit from the technology investments you have already made. They can provide you with trainings, lunch-and-learns, how-to documentation, a variety of offerings that support the optimized use of your existing assets. .
Furthermore, the amount of time spent in creating, maintaining, and optimizing your IT strategy can take away from your business’s ability to focus on its core competencies. That means energy is diverted from delivering the ultimate experience to your customers and growing your business.
We get it, maintaining a sophisticated IT strategy can be costly and time-consuming, but that’s why managed services have become so appealing. Everything is handled for you, meaning your focus remains on other key business activities instead of IT issues.
While your business activities are refocused, you still get to operate with top tier technologies that allow you people to operate more efficiently and effectively than ever.
How to Evaluate a Managed Services Provider
Not all MSPs are created equal. Now that you’re clear on exactly what managed services are and why they’re so important for small businesses like yours, let’s take a quick look at how to evaluate providers.
You’re looking for a provider to partner with, not a vendor to set you up with services. Many value-added providers will simply implement your services and only provide additional service when problems arise. They’re responsiveness may not be all that great either.
Instead, you want to partner that is always looking out for your best interests. You’re looking for an MSP to act as a highly efficient department of your business, essentially replacing the need to have an extensive team of IT experts (or an IT team at all).
Be sure that whoever you’re considering to provide your managed IT services has a vested interest in delivering a proactive IT strategy and keeping your small business operating optimally.
While we’re on the topic of strategy, a quality managed service provider is one that works to establish a highly effective IT strategy based on your unique business needs.
Some providers have one-size-fits-all solutions that they try to pawn off on their customers as the right fit for their business. An effective provider is one that evaluates the individual needs of your small business and creates a custom solution to fit that need.
Furthermore, a good MSP will continually be working to optimize the performance of your technology and provide your business with the greatest possible results. That means getting your technology to work together as a single system rather than a jumble of disparate pieces, and working to get the most out of as little investment as possible.
Like in any industry, there are those managed service providers that try to undercut the competition by offering lower prices. Unfortunately, those prices typically mean far less value to the end user—you.
Rather than shopping purely on price, look for providers that deliver the greatest level of value for the cost, or the highest ROI. That means finding an MSP with a fair price that still delivers top-of-the-line tech and exceptional service.
4. Full-Scope Provider (Flat Fee)
Some MSPs specialize in providing a specific type of IT service, such as security. That may sound like a good option if you determine that you’re currently only in need of a boost in security, but think about the big picture before making a decision.
Your IT strategy or budget may only call for security services now, but once you see the benefits of the MSP realized in your business, you’ll likely want to expand into other managed IT services. That means dealing with another vendor (or multiple additional vendors) and that works against the simplicity that hiring an MSP delivers in the first place.
Instead, hire a one-stop-shop that call fulfill all of your current and eventual IT needs. These types of providers will typically be able to provide a greater benefit to your business at a lower cost as you add additional services into the mix, all the while simplifying your IT program as much as possible.
5. Always Advancing
One of the most important benefits of managed services is that your small business is always on the cutting edge of technology. As such, one of the things you’ll need to evaluate about your managed services provider is their ability to ensure you do so when appropriate. No need to be cutting edge for the sake of it. Change is expensive and sometimes not in the best interest of the customer.
Ask them directly about how they keep up with industry trends and the ever-changing landscape of technology. As them how they determine which technologies they recommend and why. A true expert will be able to give you a clear answer about their abilities and why they provide the solutions they do.
6. Customer Service
The whole point of investing in a managed service provider is that they’ll handle the IT activities they’re hired to handle with flawless performance. If you have a question or an issue arises, they’re there to support you. That means providing remote monitoring 24/7/365 and delivering the on-site support you need when you need it.
But great customer service means more than being there for you when problems arise. It means always working to provide the ultimate benefit to your business. It means thinking of ways to improve your technology and the way you operate so that you don’t have to.
If your provider isn’t a trusted ally that’s continually working to support your business on every level, they may not be there right provider for you.
7. Track Record
Finally, a quality MSP will have a great track record. They should be able to provide you with examples of how they’ve supported small businesses like yours in optimizing their entire IT strategy or give specific examples of how they’ve remedied the issues you're facing.
Managed services provide serious benefits to small businesses with very few drawbacks. If you’re ready to see how a leading MSP can support your IT strategy and get your technology aligned to support your business goals, be sure to schedule a conversation with one of our IT experts today.