Small and medium business increasingly are turning to managed services providers (MSP) to meet their technology needs. However, in many cases it is without a clear understanding of the expected outcome.

Mighty Oaks, like others, has been providing these types of services for nearly fifteen years. Over that time there have been many changes, the most prominent being the transition to cloud.   This is changing what managed services is all about and how these services are being delivered.

We still encounter small and even medium size business that manage their technology internally or are support by a one person service provider. Despite investing significant resources in IT and other related services these organisations tend to be operate with only “out of the box” setups and frequently are using a small fraction of the capabilities available. Given the complexity of technology today organisations need access to a team with diverse skills and expertise.

Today business are looking for two key outcomes from their service provider: (1) a user experience that allows staff to focus on their goals and (2) to drive innovation making their business more competitive.     To achieve these outcomes there are certain attributes that an MSP provider must not only have but which they must excel at.

Cloud

Until recently it was quite common to find that most organisations, with more than a few employees, had at least one small business server. That is starting to become the exception rather that the rule. Cloud services such as Office 365, hosted accounting and line of business software are displacing the needs for traditional on premise server hardware.

Where are these servers going? They are not disappearing. In some cases they are owned and hosted by the MSP, third party cloud provider and in other cases they are owned and operated by the supplier of the software. By physically locating servers in purpose built data centres with proper emergency generators, multi-carrier network connections and sophisticated environmental controls, overall reliability can be increased and in many cases costs reduced.

Employees are becoming more mobile, they are working more and more on the road or from home. They are looking for a user experience that is not tied to their desk and provides the data they need when and where they need it.  

MSP providers need to be effective integrators and managers of cloud services. Some services will run on your MSP providers’ private cloud while others on third party providers such as Microsoft. In a cloud based environment what becomes critical is a deep understanding of the security constraints to ensure data is protected, the skills to integrate systems across multiple service providers and the expertise to ensure the overall solution is secure.

Security

A good MSP provider is one that understands the security and regulatory constraints in your industry.   This starts with the basics of being able to deploy anti-virus, firewalls, and data encryption. But it goes beyond that to the security strategy for the organisation. As technology moves to the cloud your service providers needs to create wide area networks that interconnect your cloud services, your on premise workers and mobile works in a seamless network.

Mobility

Today more than ever staff are mobile, they work from home, customer locations, the office, hotels or a nearby coffee shop.   While on the move they need access to company data, the ability to collaborate, share and interact. This does not come without its own risks. Security threats are significant and even more so as the organisation becomes less tied to a traditional office. An MSP provider should have a strategy to deal with and manage a mobile workforce. This strategy should include everything from remotely locating lost mobile devices, remotely deleting critical company data and having to handle purging of company data from personal devices when employees leave the company.

Understanding your Business

Does your MSP understand your industry? Will your MSP be the trusted advisor that ensures you end up with the correct technology to drive innovation in your business?

Some of the questions you may want to ask:

  • If you work in the medical sector: Does your MSP understand the integration issues with the provincial patient management systems? The security constraints around patient records?
  • If you are in retailer: Does your MSP understand the issues around PCI compliance, what information needs to be filled to minimise your liability for fraudulent transactions? How to make a tradition “bricks and mortar” business work with e-commerce? How to effectively use digital signage?
  • If you are in engineering: Does your MSP understand CAD/CAM technology and product life cycle management software?
  • If you work in transportation: Does your MSP understand the logistics of working with delivery management solutions?
  • If you are in food processing: Does your MPS understand food safety records requirements, supply chain management solutions and inventory management solutions?

Selecting an MSP provider should be about driving innovation into your operation. After all, that is why as a business you’re investing in all the technology and associated services.

E-Mail

Many small business that have e-mail servers that have never been properly or fully setup. The key reason: technology such as MS-Exchange are intendent for enterprises, after a business buys in to the technology it requires significant and costly human resources to understand the organisation, workflows shared resources and collaboration needs. It is both a matter of understanding the business needs and technology that is needed to get the most from the technology.   Frequently only the bare minimum work to get the solution running as expended. The organisation never fully benefits.

E-mail systems are quickly becoming communication systems integrating: voice, messaging, video conference and collaborative spaces. To gain the most from the technology you need an MSP that can bring together all of the elements and provide the training and guidance on how to effectively and securely collaborate.  

With the advent of the cloud this is changing. With dedicated professional teams focused on making the backend technology work, it means an MSP has time to focus on understanding the organisations operational needs and creating the correct collaborative environment. A very different skill set that what you find with many tech companies. Does your MSP have those skills?

Network Operations Centre

When you sign on with an MSP provider, one of the first things that should happen is agents being installed on all your equipment.   These monitor the performance of every piece of equipment and feed back into your MSP operations centre.   From the operations centre the MSP should be able to manage updates to all of your systems, detect and take action on system failures before your staff even notice a problem.

Help Desk

Your MSP provider should provide a help desk that is there for you. Equipped with all the tools to remotely connect to your systems.   Good MSP providers in-source the help desk function to control the quality of support experience and ensure staff are trained in the tools.  

Fixing Computer Hardware

Fixing failed hardware is far less important today. The key reason being if you pick the correct brands to begin with, the failure rates of computer gear should be extremely low. Today most computers reach the end of their useful life never having a hardware failure. While an important capability this is far from the key driver is selecting an MSP provider.

Making it All work

When it comes time to choose an MSP, the key considerations should be outcome and the ability of the MSP to deliver on the potential that the technology has to transform your business by improved collaboration and the ability to identify and deliver on the opportunities to drive innovation into your work processes.

 

Written by Elder Matias, CEO Mighty Oaks., Reprint from Millenium Micro Magazine (The IT Magazine for Small and Medium Business) Supper 2016 p. 18-19 

Currently unrated