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This is the fourth blog of an eight-part series intended to help small and midsize organizations understand what they should expect from their Managed IT Service Provider (MSP), recognize signs that it may be time to switch, and what they should look for in their next MSP.

Most organizations outsource their IT to a Managed IT Service Provider (MSP) because they need access to the expertise and experience to address the tactical issues of today, as well as advise on how to meet their needs in the future.

Many MSPs do fine fixing legacy application and infrastructure issues. But when it’s time to address anything beyond that they come up short lacking the experience, credentials, certifications, and IT management tools required to enable your go-forward success. And that’s a problem when considering the strategic and operational importance of IT to your business. The best MSPs help you implement the best technologies that support your business objectives, ensure system uptime, reduce operational costs, and mitigate security and business continuity risks.

So, why are some MSPs falling short?

There are 3 reasons why your MSP simply doesn’t have the required depth or breadth of skills:

  1. They Have A Shallow Bench of Talent – Every MSP requires a team of service coordinators, technicians and engineers to address every issue that falls within your Service Level Agreement. Ideally, the talent bench should have all the skills to make the MSP your single point of contact for any IT-related issue, regardless of the size or IT complexity of the client. But some benches are lighter than others, with fewer techs, gaps in skillsets (especially in areas like cloud and security), or techs that have less experience than needed, or worse – all three!
  2. They are Technologists, not Strategists – Nearly every MSP starts the same way; an IT pro takes advantage of an opportunity to take care of the IT for one or more small business customers and an MSP is born. But it takes a mature MSP with years of experience and growth to have more than just the technical know-how to manage and maintain your IT environment. The right MSP also understands how technology plays a role in the growth of your business and has the proficiency needed to advise you on how to leverage the right technology that will empower strategic changes in the way you operate today and in the future. 
  3. They Aren’t Evolving with Technology – We’re living in a time where the way a business needs to run to remain competitive can change quickly.  Digital transformation, cloud enablementcybersecurity, collaboration technologies, backups, disaster recovery, and more provide opportunities to evolve your business and ensure it remains operationally excellent. If your MSP isn’t keeping up and evolving themselves, offering services that leverage newer technologies and building expertise, eventually your needs will be too advanced for your current MSP.

For your business to evolve and thrive, your Managed IT Service Provider needs to be a few steps ahead to properly provide strategic advice on opportunities and threats, what should come next, and required IT investments. Then they must be able to manage and maintain whatever they recommend.

So, how can you tell if your MSP lacks the required depth or breadth of skills?

Use the following questions to better understand whether your current MSP is missing the mark or is ready to take your business to the next level:

  • Do I see my MSP as a complete “one-stop shop” for everything IT that our organization needs? MSPs with deep and wide skillsets should be able to easily address your needs.
  • Is my MSP making ongoing recommendations on how to take advantage of newer technologies that align with our corporate strategy? There’s a fine line here. Your MSP should be aware of your budget and operational constraints and should make recommendations accordingly.  You should never feel you are being “sold” something you don’t need or doesn’t fit your budget.
  • Does my MSP have customers that are already leveraging modern technologies more advanced than ours? You should be aware of at least a few clients.
  • Does my MSP leverage industry-accepted best practices such as ITIL as the basis for how our business’ technology operates? Ideally, you should be hearing some mention of where your MSP is getting the standard policies, processes, and configurations they use.
  • Does my MSP have internal staff with the skills, IT system management tools, and specific expertise that address skill and system gaps that exist within my own IT organization? It’s critical if you augment your internal team that your MSP has the skills to off-load routine tasks (e.g. patch management, helpdesk) or complement your team with specialized skills that you don’t have in-house.

Questions to Ask Your Next Managed IT Service Provider

When you are looking for a new MSP with the necessary depth and breadth of skills to advance your business, use the following questions to help identify one that has what you need:

  • How would you go about identifying new technologies that we can take advantage of to evolve our operations? While there’s no specific correct answer, you want to hear something that conveys this is a core competency of the MSP and they have a standard process for recommending technology upgrades based on your strategic goals and budget constraints.
  • Would you provide a few examples of clients with more complex IT needs than ours and how you helped them transition? You want to hear detailed accounts of how they strategically and tactically worked to shift a customer to more modern enabling technologies.
  • Tell me about your technical staff and how it’s made up to address our needs both today and in the future. Ideally, you should be hearing about a technical staff that includes tiers of technical skill, perhaps a development team, members that are experts in cybersecurity and cloud enablement.
  • How are your support teams organized to ensure we always work with people that are familiar with our environment?  There’s nothing worse than speaking to someone new every time there is an issue (something we all experience in our personal lives when we try to resolve issues with our cell phone or cable TV services). The best MSPs organize around dedicated “Care Teams” to ensure the best and most personalized service.

The right partner is one that isn’t challenged by your needs and has the right depth and breadth of technical and customer support resources. They act as a trusted IT ally and help you identify opportunities to take your business to the next level, rather than to simply manage and maintain an aging network.

In our next article, we’ll take a look what happens when you feel like you’ve lost trust in your MSP to do the right thing, what the warning signs are, and how to make sure your next MSP doesn’t disappoint.