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Going Digital: MSP vs. the Cloud

Did you know that it takes 4.3 people to cover a position that needs to be manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

You are encountering the need for digital transformation for your business. Digital transformation knows no size -- SMBs and enterprises alike are all trying to keep up and grow as fast as possible. Unfortunately, digital transformation growth also means staffing, expertise, and budgetary growth.

So how do you deal with the realities of getting the resources you need to manage your growth? You could go to cloud services and offload some of the jobs to the provider. You also have another choice, working with a managed service provider (MSP) who manages your infrastructure.

What is an MSP?

An MSP is an outsourcing partner who acts on a proactive basis providing management services. The MSP is responsible for your business's operation and functions as manager, while improving operations and reducing expenses. An MSP is an alternative to organizations that perform break/fix or on-demand outsourcing. The MSP also has staff with in-depth expertise to deal with planning and operational issues beyond those that can be handled by the business.

The business owns or has direct responsibility for the systems and networks being managed by the MSP, though. The business and the MSP are contractually bound with a service-level agreement that defines the performance and quality metrics of their relationship that need to be delivered by the MSP.

DIY or a MSP?

A managed service provider offers a number of advantages over a business doing it for itself. An MSP is managing the resources of multiple businesses and therefore has the scale with a lower-cost point. It can be cheaper using an MSP then internal IT staff.

There is always the issue of the IT budget. The more money you put into staff, the less capital you have for infrastructure. By opting for the MSP path, you can shift IT funds away from operating expenses, thereby delivering greater budget flexibility.

The MSP can also offer increased efficiency. They usually operate with best practices, standardize what they do, perform analytics, and use automation wherever possible. These can be done by the business but unless you are really large business, you often don't have the staff, resources, or the budget.

Another value is that the MSP has access to skills that are not available to you. Or the skills may be available, but you can't afford them.

The service-level agreements (SLA) from a MSP can be better and more enforceable than the SLAs you can generate internally. MSPs also have a way of measuring the SLAs and determining where the deficiencies are. It may even lower your risk when implementing new services. Finally, a MSP may improve your security, business continuity, and compliance management.

Thinking MSP

As soon as you consider outsourcing all or part of your IT functions and responsibilities, you worry about risk and you look for trust. There are a number of points you should consider when selecting a MSP:

  • Research the MSP to determine the skills they have and their experience delivering their services.
  • The MSP needs to have a proactive technology-based approach to delivering the services. Break-fix mentality doesn't work. Ask what types of automation are used by the MSP that help reduce human intervention (possible errors) and improve the quality of service and productivity.
  • There are plenty of standards in IT. Look for the MSP's alignment with the best practices and Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) standards.
  • Since a lot of this work is based on the expertise and knowledge of the MSP staff, learn about their knowledge management.
  • Determine the visibility you are offered for monitoring their service delivery.
  • It is very likely you have more than one vendor on your premises. Has this MSP managed those vendors and have the necessary experience? Does the MSP have strong relationships with those vendors?
  • You may have IT and network resources that cover a wide geographic area. Does the MSP have the services locally available where you have resident IT/network facilities?
  • Inspects the SLAs. They should not be goals, but rather, mandates. Look into what happens if the MSP does not meet requirements. The SLAs may not be that enforceable. Make sure the SLAs cover a wide range of performance metrics, not just simply reliability and availability.
  • Digital transformation means that you are constantly looking at new technologies and new ways of doing business. Develop a relationship with the MSP that allows you to add, delete, or modify the relationship as you move into more digital transformation.
  • Can the MSP act as a consultant, helping you look at new methods of innovation? Are they constantly looking forward to technological developments that can be added to the MSP arrangement?
  • As with any business, is the MSP financially stable? What is their present reputation in your industry?

Any arrangement you have with an MSP should have a time limit. You may not like this idea, but you must consider what happens if the MSP does not deliver what they promise. You have to look at how to migrate to another MSP or bring back the IT functions into your organization. You should also be investigating cloud services that may eliminate some of the services provided by the MSP. Overall, what you really want is a flexible, affordable, contractual arrangement with the MSP.