Monday, June 17, 2013

What is Managed Services, Exactly?

Somewhere out of the blue, "computer consultants" started calling themselves "managed service providers." Managed Services are now offered all over the place.

What is Managed Services?

Are all Managed Services the same?

How do big, national corporations like Best Buy and Staples differ from the small I.T. consultants I've always dealt with?

These are great questions. Here's a little advice to help you navigate the modern world of computer consulting.

What is Managed Services?

As a blogger and author in my field, I've been helping to define this topic for about seven years. (I am the author of ten books and thousands of blog posts on managed services.) Precise definitions vary, but here's my take:

- Managed Service covers the maintenance of your technology for a set monthly fee.
- The health of your computers is monitored and alerts are sent automatically when something goes wrong.
- It normally includes applying all critical patches, fixes, and updates to your computer systems automatically.
- It provides preventive maintenance for your computers and networks.
- In many cases, work is performed remotely, so you don't have to wait until someone can come out to your office.

- Most managed service providers also use a "Ticketing" system so that they can keep track of all work. With this, you can be sure that your issue is never lost or forgotten. The MSP (managed service provider) can track hundreds or even thousands of requests at once and none is ever forgotten.

You might wonder why preventive maintenance is so much better than the old way of delivering service. Here it is in a nutshell: Less Downtime.

When you or I call tech support, the first question you are likely to get is "What version are your running?" This is true of all computer systems. Next, you'll be asked to update everything to the latest version. In fact, some places will say to update to the latest version and call back if the problem persists.

The reason you apply all these updates is that they actually fix things! With very few exceptions, modern computers work best when everything is updated to the latest version. SO . . . Managed Services guarantees that your computers are UP more of the time because all the patches are applied in a timely manner.

Monitoring is the Key to Preventive Maintenance

In addition to just keeping your systems up to date, a Managed Service Provider will monitor your computers and receive alerts when something is wrong - or about to go wrong. In the old days, we checked systems once a month to make sure everything was good and computers were not failing. Now we have tools that can monitor critical functions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Automated monitoring can then create Service Requests. A technician receives an alert and goes to work. We often know you have a problem before you do.

It is no exaggeration: A good MSP will often find issues, create a service request, and fix the issue before you know there's a (potential) problem!

Managed Services Means Predictable Expenses

One of the key features of a Managed Service Agreement is that the maintenance of your systems is provided for a flat monthly fee. You still pay for Adds, Moves, and Changes. But maintenance is included.

For example, installing new software is billable. But as soon as the software is installed and working, then it is covered.

If anything was working and stops working, you MSP will fix it for no additional charge. This makes your I.T. budget very stable and predictable.

* Note: The specifics of managed services vary widely, so check with your MSP.

Picking a Computer Consultant in the 21st Century

So what do you look for in a Managed Service Provider? Here are a few things to start with.

1) They should monitor and patch all of your equipment.

2) They should provide reporting that makes sense to you. You probably don't need and wouldn't read a 200 page report every month. But you should at least get an email that tells you the health of you backup system, your servers, etc.

3) They should have a ticketing system. They might have another name for it, but it's a way to create a service request so that you can track how they're doing to address your problems. Great systems automatically create service requests and allow you to create them by sending an email to a specific address, or by using an online portal.

4) They should have a strong emphasis on backup and disaster recovery. With some of the natural disasters we've seen lately (e.g., Super Storm Sandy), millions of businesses were without power for weeks. Will your business survive that? BDR (backup and disaster recovery) is critical.

5) They should have a standard contract and you should be able to review it.

6) At least one person on their team should be able to talk business talk as well as computer geek-speak. Every specialty, including your business, has its own language. Someone needs to translate.

7) You should feel comfortable with the person you're dealing with. You should never feel like a stranger. In small business, business is about people. In any business, we work with people we know, like, and trust.

What About the Big Corporations?

In the last five years or so, many large corporations have realized that there's a lot of money to be made helping small businesses. So many of them have jumped into the market.

Large corporations have an experience that most small businesses do not have: They believe that they can do anything if they throw enough money at it. So they believe they can jump into managed services by simply offering up their services and hiring a massive phone bank of sales people to bring in the customers.

But providing the service is another story.

As large corporations, these "big boys" don't really know how to provide the kind of individual attention that small businesses enjoy. They are good at selling products, but challenged when it comes to services. Here is a very common pattern:

- Jump into the business. Advertise a lot.

- Sign up clients

- Realize it's a lot tougher and less profitable than they thought to provide individual service

- Standardize their processes

- Cut staff and other expenses to increase profit

- Drop the service altogether because it did not reach the desired income targets

When I talk to managed service providers at conferences about big corporations getting into managed services, the reaction is pretty universal: "Bring it on." We like it because these companies introduce more businesses to the concept of managed services. Then they fail to deliver and we now have a larger pool of potential clients who know the (potential) value of managed services.

I appreciate your feedback.

If you want to know anything else about this topic, please post a comment or email me.

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Disclaimer: There are many flavors of Managed Services. Interview your local MSP about the specifics of the programs they offer.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is one technology that I would love to be able to use for myself. It’s definitely a cut above the rest and I can’t wait until my provider has it. Your insight was what I needed. Thanks

  3. Always check your agreement while selling a business if there are any exit or cancellation fees involved. If a sale goes wrong or your circumstances change, you might want to rethink the sale.

  4. THIS Handled Providers have grown very popular inside recent years. Among the good reasons is actually that they can take up some sort of custom and accommodating technique. Firms are or else pushed to decide on a normal alternative that may be acquired by means of quite a few companies on the market.

  5. Really an informative post. There is no doubt that getting the managed services solution may seem like costing the companies but it saves the organisation from incurring additional cost in the shape of hiring the IT personnel. Managed service providers are not only responsible for maintaining the systems but they can help in backing up the systems, networking and many more.