IT Managed Services: What is it? Do I need it?
IT Managed Services can mean different things to different people and organisations. At the core of an IT Managed Service is a set of key elements that set it apart from traditional IT Support or internally managed departments. So, what are IT Managed Services?
The history of outsourced IT Support has moved from break-fix IT Support into Pro-active IT Support and evolved into managed services.
For businesses looking to outsource some or all of their IT management, it can be tricky to navigate and understand which of these services are being proposed. For instance, a service provider of IT support can approach IT management in a pro-active manner to include elements such as patch management and monitoring, but does this instantly qualify as an IT Managed Service?
The IT systems and associated management of today’s modest SMB setup requires Resource and Management applications to ensure organisations meet their overall objectives.
Most organisations now rely heavily on IT to provide their products and services, so even mild disruption to staff can have an impact on productivity and general output.
Below, we have identified the key elements that are critical to be incorporated into an IT managed service.
1. IT Service Desk (aka Help Desk)
The service desk is responsible for IT incidents and service requests, i.e:
Incidents = “My printer was working yesterday but is now not working”
Service Request = “I need a new user set up for my company”
The service desk is available at a minimum of core business hours, but increasingly we are seeing a demand for 24/7/365 access to this element.
Finally, the service desk (help desk) should be backed by some guarantee, such as SLAs that will set the right expectations e.g. initial response and time to fix issues.
The NOC (Network Operations Centre) is responsible for the pro-active maintenance and monitoring of IT systems - not to be confused with the SOC, which is responsible for all things IT security.
The NOC helps to ensure your IT systems are running smoothly and preventing problems from occurring.
Due to the nature of this element, this typically should be delivered on a 24/7 basis or include an alert/escalation process to ensure critical issues are dealt with when they occur.
In most instances, the NOC is also responsible for the pro-active maintenance elements that are critical, including patch management and other automation policies.
3. Vendor Management
Most small and midmarket businesses engage with multiple 3rd party software/hardware vendors to provide either industry-specific or general applications.
It is vitally important that these vendor relationships are managed well to ensure the most value is obtained from them.
As part of a true Managed Service, the provider should engage with the 3rd party vendor to ensure the IT systems and infrastructure are aligned with the expectations of the 3rd party provider.
Ongoing, the provider should, where possible, handle interactions between the customer and vendor to enable the customer to focus on their core business.
4. Telecoms and Data Communications Management
Another key area that can be overlooked is the day to day management of data and telecommunications providers.
Some MSPs (Managed Service Providers) operate as telecoms and data comms suppliers and typically supply services through a Partner arrangement. Regardless, if the MSP is providing this service or not, they should ultimately be responsible for the day to day management of these relationships.
An example of why this is key would be, an internet outage has been detected by the MSP, the NOC then informs the customer that their internet is down - by this time the client would likely already know they have an issue (unless they have automatic failover connections) and this issue then needs to be reported to the wholesale provider i.e. BT, Virgin etc.
The most efficient way to approach this situation would be for the MSP to conduct initial triage while checking with the wholesale provider for any formal outages. At the same time, a separate communication is made to the client to inform them of the issues and provide regular updates from thereon.
The Managed Service Provider is also best placed to advise on connectivity and telephony options for the client and should strive to ensure the client is receiving value for money.
MSPs typically maintain multiple revenue streams to grow their business. The supply of both IT-related hardware and software has long been one of these critical revenue streams.
The official term known for this type of supplier is VAR or “value-added reseller”. There should be particular emphasis on the “value” element in favour of the client.
Simply supplying a laptop or desktop PC at a marked up rate does not represent value. MSPs should be demonstrating the additional value that is added with these purchases to warrant transaction.
In today’s world with online purchasing, it’s very easy for organisations to purchase directly from manufacturers, or by the many online retailers. Some examples of where value should be added include:
- Advisory support – Ensuring the client is purchasing the correct equipment for their needs.
- Handling – Receiving goods to be prepared prior to being shipped to the customer. This reduces delays that may occur, such as if the client received the goods first and then contacted the MSP to let them know its arrived.
- Returns – If a problem is discovered with the purchased item, part of the value should be that the customer can hand the hardware back to the MSP for them to deal with from thereon.
- Inventory Management – Good MSPs have the ability to manage an inventory list of items purchased through them for their clients. This removes the hassle of managing renewals or forecasting when equipment should be replaced.
- Credit – Leveraging good credit terms between client and MSP can avoid releasing cash at the time of purchase, which is typically required with online retailers.
- Pricing – It isn’t always the case that an MSP can obtain the best pricing. The hardware/software market has become extremely competitive in recent times. Procurement in general for MSPs tends to be a smaller part of their revenue, and these do not attract high margins. A healthy relationship between client and MSP would normally have an unwritten understanding that the MSP will always try for the most cost-effective solution.
6. IT Security
The explosion of IT Security incidents in the past 10 years has meant that no matter the size of the organisation, IT Security is a problem. MSPs are traditionally engaged to take care of IT infrastructure and provide the help desk facility.
The approach needed for successful IT Security Management requires different resources from those employed for traditional IT Support.
Service providers should be actively adding security services and offerings for their clients and ideally treating these separate from the IT support elements.
MSPs should be able to advise on all areas of IT security, and where required engage with specialist suppliers to fulfil any gaps.
The term SOC (Security Operations Centre) is now commonly known and supplied to businesses big and small.
The SOC's responsibility is to monitor, detect and respond to suspicious activity detected with the customers IT systems (cloud or on-premise).
The MSP should also be able to advise the client on best practice and understand where the most risk is associated with the client.
How do I measure my ROI on Managed Services?
Outsourcing your IT to an MSP should be seen as an investment in your organisation’s growth and future, not just another expense.
As one size doesn't fit all with Managed Services, it can depend on your service arrangements with the MSP - however, Managed Services should always have a positive impact on your organisation, helping your business become more streamlined, boost productivity and assist with growth.
How streamlined are the services?
Technology should help streamline your services, so how quickly does the MSP get your users back up and running, minimising downtime? Managed Services should provide dynamic support with strategic planning to help streamline processes and increase productivity.
Your IT Managed Services partner should be proactive with their approach to managing your technology needs. If you need to adjust the services, whether that's scaling up or down, your MSP should offer solutions to help make the service better for you if there's been a change in circumstance.
Your MSP should be an extension of your business, helping to modify your IT infrastructure whether your organisation grows or wants to downsize. Your Managed Services Provider should show that they're a partner that's dedicated to helping your organisation progress and achieve your goals.
Working with an MSP can greatly benefit your organisation as you have an expert in your corner at all times - MSPs work with a variety of businesses, large and small, therefore they have a broad knowledge of software, hardware and other solutions.
It is priceless having an expert on call to share their knowledge and help you and your users get the most from the technology you use, as well as introduce new technology that can help your business flourish.
Your MSP can provide free training for your users, helping them to feel more confident with the tools they're using.
When partnering with a Managed Services Provider, you have an IT help desk that's there for you 24/7. If you're unsure of the return of investment, try comparing the costs of hiring the expert technicians, missed days from annual leave or sickness, the cost of third-party software or repairs and the cost of downtime to your business.
Managed Services Providers are there to support your business, to help it run smoothly and allow your users to do their jobs without interruption, 24/7/365.
Depending on the services you've purchased, they also help protect your organisation from cybercrime. They are the experts in their field and they can share this information with you, to help you improve efficiency, productivity and communication, which in turn can assist with growth and even your bottom line.
Understanding the costs of IT Managed Services
There are many factors to consider when pricing an outsourced Managed IT Service, especially when every organisation is unique and has different needs, there is no "one size fits all".
This is why you may not find complete, transparent pricing when searching for a Managed Service Provider. (MSP)
We understand how frustrating this is, which is why we have created our IT Support cost calculator to help you understand the costs, as well as assist with budgeting for outsourcing your IT Support needs.
Average support plan costs from a reputable and professional IT Support company in the UK can range from around £38 - £100 per user per month. In most cases, no two providers offer the exact same set of services. This can be confusing if you are trying to compare offerings when evaluating multiple new IT providers support plans. It is always best to discuss with the IT company exactly what is included and as important, what is Not included in their support plan so you are able to have a clear understanding of what you are getting for the per-user price.
When paying for general IT support by the hour rates can vary typically from £75 - £125 per hour. These hourly rates can increase when out of business hours work is required or more experienced skillsets and resource are needed.
We created an IT Support cost calculator to give you an estimate on IT support costs based on 3 levels of support services. The calculator can also show you how much you might save in comparison to hiring a team of internal IT resources.
The benefits of working with a Managed Service Provider
“Business owners who outsource IT support generally enjoy stable systems, lower maintenance costs, more uptime, and less worry.”
IT systems are a key asset for any organisation, which require ongoing investment and maintenance to perform efficiently.
For most organisations, IT resource can be one of the biggest expenses - it can easily spiral quickly in the face of an IT crisis or even when trying to ensure that the latest support and expertise is available.
So, what are the benefits of outsourcing and working with a Managed Service Provider?
Cost SavingsBy paying for a service as and when you need it, rather than having a team contracted full time, you can reduce your IT spend. In addition to this, capital spend is freed up for other internal investment, and MSPs can help you identify areas where you could potentially save money, to attract and retain your business.
Access to a broad collective of expertiseOutsourcing your IT resource gives you access to an entire team of experts, many of whom may be more specialised and senior than those your organisation could afford to employ on an individual basis.
Free up internal resourcesOutsourcing your IT allows your internal teams more time to focus on your core business.
Manage Risks More EfficientlySmall, in-house IT teams can find it challenging to deal with issues such as security, migration, and maintenance - often resulting in significant downtime. MSPs are on top of best practice, industry developments and industry threats, better placed to provide a lower risk, higher performance service.
Tech FlexibilityOutsourced IT gives you access to a wider range of resources, allowing you to benefit from them without directly investing. From the latest software to better alternatives for your key IT needs, you have the flexibility to pick, choose, and upgrade from a much broader and more advanced selection.
Transitioning to IT Managed Services
Once you’ve made the decision to outsource, it’s time to select a provider – and you will have plenty of options.
New IT providers crop up at a dizzying pace, but they’re certainly not all equal – or even competent.
Anyone who has a history of troubleshooting their friends’ computer woes can start-up an IT support company, but that doesn’t mean they have the breadth of knowledge and experience you need to effectively manage your entire IT environment.
So how can you find an IT company that is right for you and your business?
How to maximise your transition to an MSP
There are a few steps you should take to ensure you get the most out of your move to Manage Services, which we have outlined below.
Step 1 - Evaluate your IT needs
Evaluate your current and future IT needs - talk to your in-house IT team or an IT consultant to help identify your organisation's needs, such as Cloud Migration or Cyber Security Solutions.
When choosing your MSP, make sure they have the right specialists for your requirements, allowing you to get the best-in-class service for your organisation.
Step 2 - What are your compliance needs?
Depending on your organisation's industry, you may need additional services to ensure you are reducing risk and remaining compliant.
When choosing an MSP, check that they have experience or even specialise in your sector, or have IT experts with experience managing compliance in your industry.
Step 3 - How does the MSP view technology in relation to your business?
The most common shortcoming for an outsourced IT provider is not technical expertise – it’s business acumen.
Ask potential providers how they will manage or recommend technology in light of your specific business goals, and what strategic approach they take to technology as a business tool.
Ask for specific examples of how they have merged the two in the past. A business-savvy provider who gets to know your business is much more likely to point out technologies that can provide you with cost savings and enhanced efficiency.
Step 4 - Flexibility: Explore their communication and management philosophies
Do they have a set communication process? Are they prepared to adjust services and projects in light of feedback from your team?
Will they proactively manage their relationship with you, conducting periodic reviews of your technology and recommending improvements and upgrades, or are they going to sit back and wait for you to come to them?
How easy will it be to scale your Managed Services as you grow? Or will you be able to scale back if you no longer need as much assistance or have a change in circumstance?
Technology is constantly evolving and the needs of an organisation can change - it is important to have an MSP that will create a bespoke service for you that can be scaled to ensure you get the service and support you need.
A truly effective Managed Services Provider will do more than just fix what is broken. You want a service that understands your organisation and goals, proactively helping you reach them.
Using these steps to guide you, you'll be able to select a provider that will be an asset to your business for many years.
What to expect from an Outsourced IT department
Managed Service Providers provide a viable option for businesses looking for support with everything from emerging technologies to better resource management, and finding IT solutions that enable growth.
These services are delivered off-site and are provided on a sliding scale, from the most basic monitoring to a fully managed IT resource package.
The objective from an MSP is to keep your IT running smoothly, reduce risk to your business and ensure your technology is aligned with your business objectives.
So, what can you expect from an Outsourced IT Department?
Depending on what your organisation needs, solutions can vary - some of the different options can include:
Fully Outsourced Service Desk
Providing unlimited remote and on-site support for incidents and minor service requests. The service desk is teamed with experienced technicians from 1st to 3rd line support, allowing for easy escalation of tickets if and when needed.
They should be aligned with industry best practice, such as ITIL and CompTIA and specify their core hours, such as 7am - 7pm Mon-Fri.
A fully outsourced service desk works just like an internal team would - proactively monitoring and managing your IT environment to ensure potential issues are detected before any negative impact occurs.
Co-Managed Service Desk
This type of service desk fits as an extension of your internal IT team, allowing you access to an experienced team of engineers, technical consultants and support specialists.
Having a Co-Managed Service Desk helps you bridge the gaps and provide an effective service - improving efficiency and releasing the burden of daily maintenance tasks.
Furthermore, a Co-Managed Help Desk gives you access to the MSP's toolset - you'll be able to utilise a variety of software you may not have been able to either afford or even knew existed beforehand, helping to grow your organisation and reduce costs.
24/7/365 Service Desk
More organisations are requiring a 24/7/365 service desk, especially those that have offices or conduct business in multiple time zones.
Having a 24/7/365 service desk as part of your Outsourced IT Department provides you with Service Level Agreement support to help you no matter what time it is.
They should be ITIL compliant and provide you SLA response and resolution times so you know exactly what to expect.
Dedicated Service Desk
A dedicated service desk is perfect for organisations that have a high volume of daily support requests, complex environments or specific requirements and SLAs.
This service can range from having an experienced engineer at your site full time to a team of technicians from the Managed Service Provider's office that are dedicated to your account.
The dedicated service desk is similar to having your own in-house team, except you have access to the MSP's experienced and senior technicians.
NOC | 24/7/365
The Network Operations Centre is a centralised location where the MSP's technicians can supervise, monitor and proactively maintain your IT environment.
This can range from Hardware and Patch Management to Endpoint Protection and Critical and High Server Alerts to help keep your IT up to date and running smoothly.
Additional services can include:
- Computer and Server Support
Maintenance and monitoring, as well as protection against the most pressing tech threats
- Remote Network Monitoring
Minimising downtime and providing a troubleshooting service
- Data Backup and Disaster Recovery
Regular, reliable back up with storage off-site and no hardware investment
- Network Security
The most up to the minute security protection, from spam management to firewall management, to insure against issues such as viruses and hacks
- Custom Software Solutions
Bespoke technology solutions designed for an individual business and its very specific needs
- Technology Evaluation and Planning
Effective IT strategy based on a comprehensive network and setup evaluation to optimise IT spend