(Originally published in Small Business Computing, September 25, 2009)
Technology insiders tend to throw around technical terms and business jargon, assuming people outside the industry understand what it all means. By its nature, technology vocabulary is often confusing and complicated, and insiders often add to the confusion by over-complicating things. To help add a sense of clarity to the confusion, each month, Laurie McCabe, a partner at Hurwitz & Associates (a business consulting firm), will pick a technology term, explain what it means in plain English, and then discuss why it may be important to you. This month, Laurie takes a look at managed services.
What are Managed Services?
Managed services let you offload specific IT operations to a service provider, known in tech parlance as a Managed Services Provider. The managed service provider assumes ongoing responsibility for monitoring, managing and/or problem resolution for selected IT systems and functions on your behalf.
Managed services providers can offer services such as alerts, security, patch management, data backup and recovery for different client devices: desktops, notebooks, servers, storage systems, networks and applications. Offloading routine infrastructure management to an experienced managed services professional lets you concentrate on running your business, with fewer interruptions due to IT issues.
Managed services providers usually price their services on a subscription basis. Depending on the services they provide, pricing is usually based on the number of devices, with different packages priced at different levels. Some provide customer support onsite when required. Basic services often start with a monitoring service, which notifies you of problems, which you resolve on your own. At the upper end of the spectrum, service providers offer fully managed services that cover everything from alerts through problem resolution.
Typically they perform an initial assessment of your current IT environment and management requirements to help you decide what services and service levels you need.
Why Should You Care?
Just like larger companies, small businesses need technology to operate efficiently and to compete effectively. But as reliance on IT grows, the resources to support an increasingly complex IT environment may not. In many small businesses, IT resources are scarce, and can be quickly overwhelmed with the day-to-day responsibilities of keeping the IT infrastructure that the business depends on up and running.
If you fall behind in keeping up with things such as backups, patches and security, the odds are that you’ll face an IT outage or another problem down the road that will negatively impact your business. For instance, if your e-mail server, customer relationship management system, financial application or network goes down unexpectedly, you face substantial productivity and revenue losses as a result.
MSPs act as an extension of your IT department, taking care of routine IT infrastructure monitoring and management around the clock—freeing up your IT staff to focus on higher-value projects. By proactively monitoring and maintaining your systems, an MSP can help you avoid many technology problems in the first place. Should an issue occur, an experienced MSP can troubleshoot and resolve it more efficiently.
Unlike traditional outsourcing situations, where you surrender complete control of your IT assets, you decide what you want the service provider to take care of, and what you want to handle. You retain full visibility into the process and management of your systems. In addition, the MSP subscription model gives you more expense predictability than a consultant-type time and billing model.
What to Consider
MSPs offer a wide range of different services. Many focus on managing specific areas and functions, such as storage and related management services, or desktop management and help desk services. Some provide management services for server hardware, operating systems and middleware, but limited support for applications such as e-mail. Many provide onsite services as required, but may have limited regional or local coverage areas.
If you are looking for more comprehensive services, including alerts, monitoring and management services for a wide range of client, network, servers and applications, Dell offers ProManage-Managed Services for SMBs. The service offers small businesses a choice of service levels, priced on a per-device, per-month basis. Most services are provided remotely, but Dell and its channel partners supply onsite service when required.
With so many different types of MSPs and offerings, the MSP label can be a confusing one. So, when considering managed services, think first about your requirements. How satisfied you are with the level and quality of support that you have today? Where are the gaps, pain points and inefficiencies in IT infrastructure management? How do downtime, outages and other problems impact your business?
With these requirements top of mind, evaluate MSPs that map to your IT, business and budget requirements and provide a flexible, proactive approach that can adapt with you as your needs evolve.