What is managed IT service?

“As a definition, Managed Services allow a business to offload IT operations to a service provider, known as a Managed Service Provider (MSP). The managed service provider assumes an ongoing responsibility for 24-hour monitoring, managing and/or problem resolution for the IT systems within a business.”

The business of today looks much different than it did even 10 years ago. Entire databases and irreplaceable files are all stored on electronic devices. Companies depend more than ever on IT.

You may be familiar with the traditional method of repair called "break-fix": something breaks, you get someone to fix it. Looking at this model we can spot its shortcomings. All business owners have very likely experienced them firsthand. Systems are only serviced when something has already gone wrong: a critical computer has a virus, the server is down, important files are missing. This puts everyone into a frantic state, scrambling to repair a business-critical problem that is losing you money and keeping staff from doing their jobs. And most times, third-party IT support won’t be available until hours or even days later.

This often forces employees or management to try and take care of issues. Our friend Bob knows this situation all too well...

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Managed service helps prevent, rather than react to, issues long before they happen. Managed service providers see important details of your IT operations 24/7, not only when they are on-site to fix a problem. Instead of minor issues building up to a business-disrupting problem, proactive support ensures you won't lose time, money, and sanity to IT nightmares.

Having an MSP is having a full IT department on-call and watching for issues round-the-clock. This is why so many companies are switching to a managed service model to change the way they do business.

History of managed services

Understanding the how and why behind managed services allows a clearer picture of its usefulness.

Computer systems make immense strides each year. Yet the tools to service changing systems have had trouble catching up. Companies managing small networks in the past were hindered by a lack of tools to help with problems. Networks developed as simple systems, usually built and worked on by a self-taught technician. Maintenance was break-fix only. When something went wrong, the technician would come and fix it when he was able.

Advanced support people then developed procedures to come on-site periodically and review infrastructure, looking for hints of big problems. The trouble was the service technicians could only see what was happening on the day they were there. If something popped up in the future, they would never know about it unless informed by the customer. Then it was back to the break-fix method.

Along with this troubleshooting inefficiency, backup problems and other errors continued to occur. The only professional test of backup systems happened on the check-up visit. This could result in days or more of missed backups. This system was also prone to human error. Technicians tried to be accommodating and spent time correcting user symptoms instead of addressing the underlying issues.

This inefficiency created a constant uphill battle for technicians. They tried to put out fires as more continued to spring up.

Managed services begins with Fortune 500 companies and their huge networks

As large companies began to have large networks, they paved the way for managed services. IT vendors began to add new and better ways for systems to signal problems as early as possible.

The first systems to take advantage of this technology were complex to manage, geared only to large networks, and too expensive for small businesses.

Luckily, by 2005 systems matured and smaller companies started to use this technology. This began the widespread managed services movement.

The managed software that is in place today allows providers to work towards two major goals:

  1. Alerts come in for potential issues in real time, when or before they happen.
  2. Every alert received is something important that needs to be addressed.
With this model of reporting, issues are fixed before becoming huge problems. This allows MSPs and technicians to get away from the "firefighting" method of repair. They can instead truly manage networks to ensure maximum up-time and reduced risk.

The benefits of managed IT service

Large and small companies alike need technology to operate. As reliance on IT grows every year, the means to support it must evolve as well. Unfortunately, many businesses may not have the resources to manage ever-growing networks. Small IT teams can become overwhelmed with keeping everything up-to-date and running well.

And without an IT person at all, small issues often fall on whoever in the office is best with technology! Once again, our man Bob knows how this goes.

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It is so easy to fall behind with important things such as backups, patches, updates, and security. This increases the odds that you'll face an IT outage or other huge issue that will affect your business. Imagine if your entire email server, customer relationship management system, financial setup, or network went down. You would likely face substantial productivity and revenue losses. Employees unable to do their jobs, and everyone scrambling to fix these major issues. It's a huge detriment to any company. Managed service prevents these situations.

Managed services also create a change in the way a business deals with its technology. Break-fix repair relies on waiting until critical devices fail, then rushing to fix them as the company suffers. A business operating under managed services, however, focuses on prevention rather than reaction.

In today's business environment, no one can afford the risk that comes with reactive maintenance. Organizations are dependent on having a reliable IT system.

Furthermore, having many vendors responsible for different parts of your system puts you in the difficult position of figuring out which to contact when needed. Business owners do not have time for this!

With traditional repair, the only way for an IT support company to make money is if something goes wrong for you. This is a double-edged sword. If they do the job too well, they will go out of business, which happens to about 80% of all small IT firms.

So many IT companies are promoting managed service because it puts us on the same page as your business. We partner with our clients to become their complete IT department. Service providers become invested in your success - a win-win situation for all.

The major benefits at a glance:

  • Increased efficiency and productivity - Many companies that turn to MSPs are accustomed to tracking and responding to issues as they happen. After switching, most businesses are shocked to learn the inefficiency of prior issue management systems.
  • A true partner sharing risks and responsibilities - The goal of an MSP is to deliver on contracted services; measure, report, analyze, and optimize IT service operations; and become an irreplaceable catalyst for business growth. Managed service providers assume leadership roles. They enable risk reduction, enhance efficiency, and change the technology culture. For companies with internal technicians, they can introduce new technologies and processes.
  • Better understanding of infrastructure and needs - Little things make a big difference in the efficient management of a company’s IT infrastructure. Unfortunately with owners’ busy schedules, these things can fall by the wayside. Managed service providers are always looking for helpful updates, patches, and upgrades. MSPs can also create a list of what technology is tied to critical operations. This ensures we can assign different service priority levels on a true needs basis.
  • A full-time, complete IT department at a fraction of the cost - Most small business owners live and die by proactive management. They just haven’t had the budget, resources, or access to be proactive. A managed service provider gives business owners and overwhelmed internal IT staff affordable support, monitoring of critical components, data backup and disaster recovery, network security, custom software solutions, and technology evaluation and planning.
  • Access to important historical data - Your MSP's tools are constantly monitoring the performance and capacity of your system space, database size, network bandwidth, and more. That information gets stored as historical data. Clients have access to this data and can use it to analyze trends in performance associated with a specific device or database. As a result, they can make informed decisions about future IT needs.
  • Freed-up resources and a renewed emphasis on core business - Both business owners and internal IT staff would much rather focus on revenue-enhancing tasks like product development or improving operations. This is one reason routine tasks are often neglected, which becomes detrimental later. Often misportrayed as a threat to internal IT staff, MSPs can instead relieve them of mundane maintenance, repetitive monitoring tasks, and day-to-day operational duties.
  • Timely patch and update management - When IT staffs are too busy with firefighting responsibilities, patch management is one thing that tends to fall to the back burner. This can leave an organization at risk for downtime, security vulnerabilities, and incidents that a vendor may not support when patches are too far out of date. MSPs handle patches and software so that they remain updated.
  • Reduced downtime and risk - Because of the ability to track and rectify problems before they happen, downtime due to IT issues becomes almost non-existent. There is rarely the risk that your business will be unavailable. In turn customers will view you as reliable and organized.

Managed service costs

Surprisingly, managed services actually cost less on average than break-fix repair. Not only in monthly expenses, but when factoring in the cost of downtime that comes with the old method. A break-fix company must drive back and forth to customers and is always in firefighting mode. Remote monitoring, maintenance, and the prevention of major issues allow a managed service provider to operate far more efficiently.

We've often seen that someone on staff who isn't an IT person is tasked with handling minor issues to avoid paying support fees. Not doing their real job equals both money and productivity waste. And when this person is in management, the cost is even greater. Should Bob the business owner really be spending any time on tech issues?

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Using break-fix support, rush fees and after hours/weekend support to handle emergencies adds up. A managed service company can prevent issues before they happen, and handle most service remotely. The MSP can thus offer a “better” service without charging more.

The cost of managed services and renting hardware from your provider instead of buying (known as Hardware-as-a-Service [HaaS]) can even factor in as a business/operating expense. This allows most companies to deduct costs from their taxes to save even more money. These deductions aren't available with the old break-fix model.

Managed services are generally priced on a flat-rate monthly basis.

Depending on the services included, pricing is usually based on the number of devices managed. This makes it easy for a business to get the exact service they need, without paying for more than is necessary.

Features like on-site support and device leasing can even be added to offer a comprehensive support package. Here at Techvera, we perform a full consultation to determine needs and create a unique, personalized package to fit our clients. Any reputable service provider should perform a thorough consultation before giving you a quote.

To summarize the cost benefits of managed IT service:

  • Minimal downtime = no lost productivity or profits
  • 24/7 monitoring means potential issues are caught and prevented
  • No rush or after-hours repair fees
  • Flat-fee, fixed-price contracts ensure predictable OPEX and lowest Total Cost of Ownership across your systems
  • Businesses that switch decrease their overall IT support costs by as much as 30-50% on average

Choosing a service provider

Deciding who to trust with the entire scope of your business' IT can be daunting. In the modern age, businesses live and die by the quality of the technology - and by extension the IT team - that backs them. This makes it important to choose the right MSP for your needs, with the qualifications and experience to take your company to new levels.

These tips will help boost your confidence and ensure you're getting the most for your money when shopping for an MSP or IT consultant.

Trustworthy, professional managed service providers will:

Ask the right questions and design a solution just for you

How can someone improve your business if they don't know anything about it? There is no one-size-fits-all in the world of technology. Even two businesses with the same number of employees in the same industry will have completely different IT needs. A good MSP or consultant knows this. They will ask probing questions to help determine the correct approach for your unique goals.

Do you want to scale production? Improve customer service? Reduce downtime? You may not think technology can affect many of these goals. Yet a credible IT support provider knows that technology has ripple effects throughout an organization, both good and bad. A technology plan must support and enhance whatever your vision may be. Don't trust the guy who knows exactly what you need without asking a single question.

Make sure your consultant will learn your goals and craft the right solution.

Have extensive skills and experience beyond break-fix

Having skills that go beyond installing a hard drive is crucial. To proactively maintain an entire network of servers, computers, peripherals, software, services, and devices requires many years of experience and high-level knowledge. MSPs need to have a deep understanding of business processes and industry best practices. Far more than traditional break-fix where repair skill is generally enough.

When interviewing a potential managed IT service provider or consultant, go beyond questions about certifications or staff size. Ask about scalability, staff with specific skill sets, proactive versus reactive support methods, and what they view as best practice.

You want to hire the organization that knows how to implement technology to improve your business and has the expertise to make it happen. Avoid the provider that will only fix issues as they occur without looking at the bigger picture.

Offer 24/7/365 monitoring and support (both on-site and remote)

A good managed service provider knows that computer issues don't take holidays. They should watch your systems and resolve any problems regardless of the time or date.

Some IT service providers will only be available during certain times/days, only include remote support, and charge you extra for on-site visits. While remote monitoring and service is great for many problems, there are occasions where an IT provider needs to come on-site for a fix or audit. These situations should always be accounted for in your plan. Ensure that you know what you're paying for and that it covers all current and potential needs.

Demonstrate consistency

Maintaining consistent results and delivery is key. Your potential managed service provider should be able and willing to share examples of their policies and processes, and show how they translate to different business environments. If they can't explain what they do, how they do it, and why it is effective, then you'll want to question their validity. This also applies to current partnerships. Good MSPs are happy to share details of their managed clients and how they have helped their company. If their success and client satisfaction metrics are inconsistent (or non-existent), you may want to rethink hiring them.

Take a forward-thinking, technology-based approach

You would think that a company offering technology management would default to a modern, technology-based approach, right? But many IT firms are stuck in the past, offering only reactive issue fixes and legacy processes.

As managed services have become more commonplace and in-demand, lots of IT companies have jumped on the bandwagon claiming they offer MSP support. These are generally glorified break-fix contracts without proactive monitoring and support or business improvement plans. You will only see them when something is already wrong and they won't do much, if anything, to prevent issues or look at the bigger picture. Many also don't pay attention to IT industry trends and advancements which could restrict their clients to lagging behind competition.

Ensure that any potential MSP company you interview offers:

  • Proactive monitoring to detect and prevent problems before they spiral out of control and cause downtime, data loss, or other disruptions
  • Sophisticated capabilities such as modern detection and alert systems, prioritization of tasks, scaling potential, automation, and a comprehensive web-based user portal
  • Regular audits of their knowledge base, procedures, and offerings to ensure you're always getting the latest and greatest support available

Support multi-vendor and -device environments

The IT infrastructure of today looks much different than even 5 years ago. The typical office will have many desktops, laptops, servers, mobile devices, and software all from many different vendors.

A managed service provider should design a support plan that encompasses all your technology. They will also be the ones responsible for contacting these distributors as needed. An MSP who has good relationships with multiple leading vendors is ideal. They will be kept abreast of new vendor offerings before the general public and can design upgrade paths that harness emerging technology.

However, it is important to find out if your IT provider is vendor neutral. If they are contracted or partial to using only certain vendors' products, some offerings may not necessarily be right for your business. A good MSP should always focus on selecting the technology that provides the best results for you.

Beware of impostors

Some companies market their product as a managed service, but are actually trying to take advantage of the "managed services" hype and sell you an inferior package. Providing true managed services requires a large investment in both technology and expert staff to operate properly.

Some companies offering "managed services" are selling you a beefed-up break-fix service. They will merely dial-in/remote access your systems to fix problems on your network. They do no proactive maintenance or monitoring, and are offering break-fix services without a site visit.

Ensure that you're getting what you pay for with any IT company, and don't fall for impostors.

Which type of IT service do you have?

If you answer "no" to any of the following questions, then you are utilizing a break-fix methodology to maintain your network, and may benefit from a managed service provider without costing you any more:

  • Do you find out immediately if your data backup fails to run?
  • Do you know which equipment on your network is aging and might need replacing in the next 6 months?
  • Do you know if your server and all your desktops have the latest antivirus updates installed and are functioning correctly?
  • Do you know if the latest security patches are installed on your network?
  • Do you know who the heaviest internet users are, and whether they are downloading large files which can slow down the network, or accessing inappropriate web sites?
  • Do you know which PCs are running out of memory, affecting user performance?
  • Do you have one number to call for all your technology service requirements?
  • Do you hear from your computer guys before there is a noticeable problem affecting your technology?

Take awards and industry recognition into consideration

We also recommend checking out the annual MSPmentor 501 list put out by Channel Futures. Every year they rank the top 501 managed IT service providers around the world. Any of the companies who make the list are known as reputable, successful, and innovative. If the provider you're interviewing has made the list, that's a pretty solid sign you can trust them with your IT needs. Here are the MSP 501 2016 and MSP 501 2017 lists.

We hope this guide helps you in deciding whether managed IT support is right for your business. Just be careful - once you do switch, you may get back more time than you know what to do with...

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Managed IT