Questions To Ask A Managed Service Provider

Dorota Gibiino 09 September 2019

So, you just got hacked and had an almighty row with your existing IT provider. This combined with a few awkward network outages on-premise last month and the fact that your contract is up for renewal in three months, has got you looking at a new provider. Hey, it happens all the time.

Choosing a managed service provider is an important decision as we all know; choosing the right provider and the right solution can increase business productivity and efficiency. If you don’t do your homework and make the wrong choice you can waste hard-earned cash and introduce below average tech choices which will in turn radically reduce productivity and cash off the bottom line. In this post, I have taken a look at the right approach to help you go courting a Managed Service Provider. This will hopefully give you the advantage and aid you in comparing the parties like for like and help you to make a more considered and structured decision on the future of your IT strategies.

I've put this into three distinct categories; Quality of Service, Business Ethic and Technical Excellence:

Quality of service

1. What do they do internally, and what do they outsource?

This is, I think, one of the most important questions. Many organisations like to think that they can give you an end-to-end solution, and indeed some may be able to depending on what is being outsourced. Speaking from a channel perspective, I know that even the largest Managed Service Providers can’t run and maintain every legacy solution and as such outsource that part of the contract to a specialist third party. But will all MSPs tell you about that? It is essential to check all ends of the contract before you buy. The more transparent the service delivery, the better especially if you are an SMB / Charity or even a small corporate. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing to outsource part of a contract to a specialist and it happens all the time in storage and off-site backup solutions. It’s just essential to know who is handling your data and where it’s being stored.

2. What do you get for the money?

Common in the Managed Service Provider world is a flat rate all-inclusive quotation. This works if you are changing from a Cap Ex model to a Monthly recurring Op Ex Model of pricing. Often it is pitched as “all you can eat”, and in this case it is essential to ask for an itemised outline of the contract including everything. Otherwise you could find you have small but expensive gaps in your support. It’s quite common for some providers to not include or have to pay extra for certain ancillary services that you might not see. If this is all new for you, make sure you don’t get swallowed in the headline pitch and leave yourself open to extra costs in support or services.

3. What was their biggest client-facing issue?

This can be a very difficult but fair question to ask your MSP. Hopefully they will be able to discretely (typically they are under NDA so can’t discuss names) give you a full account of a service outage and how they dealt with it. If they sit back and twiddle their thumbs while saying they have never had a serious outage, they are either lying or have only recently set the company up. Neither bode well. We all know that outages happen for various reasons and if your provider can’t talk about that honestly then where is the trust at the beginning of the relationship?

4. How will they reduce your costs?

There is always a common misconception around MSP’s that they will save you money off your bottom line. Technology for technology’s sake is normally a bad thing, and with this form of overkill deployment the client often isn’t fully aware of the solution, implementation and what effect it will have on the workflow. The real question is, will the MSP cost less than doing it yourself? Typically, this is a yes and hence the pain of your IT infrastructure goes out of the window to a competent Managed service model. However, in many cases, IT spend actually goes up! With the introduction of new workflows and increased productivity though, you will see the cost outlay increasing your return on investment. Sometimes fundamental increases in IT outlay will increase profits but be very aware of what you are signing up to and how it might impact on your business.

Business Ethic

5. What do their facilities look like?

This is a classic. Please use this as an opener as you will be surprised at what comes back. Everyone can write a fantastic slick website, but do they actually have an office? Home businesses might have attractive pricing, but will they be around in a couple of years’ time? On the other end of the spectrum an MSP with lavish and needlessly costly Wall Street or Park Lane offices could be charging you over the odds just to keep the real estate. Let’s face it, some companies need to be sitting in a central location in a major city but just doing a sanity check is never a bad thing.

6. What’s the engineer to staff ratio?

This is a deeper-seated question than it might first appear. It’s not actually about the engineering quality, more the ability to serve your needs. I liken it to mirroring. If you are looking to partner with an MSP, do their skills fit your size? Will you be jumping into a faceless service desk environment or will good old Bob from last time be your sole report? Both have their merits and I hear it so many times that “The existing provider has grown larger than and we don’t get the same level of support that we did a few years ago when we signed up”. The other is “We chose what we thought was a niche, boutique provider only to find out we are 10 times larger than them and they can’t cope with the volume of tickets”. That’s assuming they have a ticketing system. So choose wisely, as let’s face it the large corporates will always side with the tried and tested (and a tad expensive) Accenture’s and Computacenter’s of the world. The harder choice is coming down to the Charity and SMB market space where there are a plethora of quality providers. My one thought is that Mirroring is key to a successful IT strategy and choosing a provider that not only offers you’re the right service but fits your size and shape moving forward is critical.

7. Are they part of an ecosystem?

Arrrggghh!!! Ecosystem is a new buzzword, that is here to stay. As I mentioned earlier, no service provider can do absolutely everything by itself. The best way to broach this question is to ask whether they have specialised partners for the more intricate and technical solutions that you may need in the future? If they align with poorer Software/Hardware/Service providers, then this might well indicate that their own in-house technical acumen is seriously limited. In some cases, partner status is easily achieved but seeking references is always a good step if you're going to align your forward strategies with the current provider.

8. Do they have references?

A managed service provider can claim all manner of amazing things and outstanding benefits by on-boarding to their service. But what you really need is a set of customers to talk to about day to day events and experiences and find out if the provider delivers what they claim. If they can’t. Really simple walk away!!! Spending the time waiting for the references before making the decision is really key and well worth the effort.

Technical Excellence

9. What are their core competencies?

The most vital check is validating the list of service providers certifications against your goals, aspirations and technical needs. For example, if the managed service provider offers key services in one area, such as Microsoft, and the core of your business is based around Dev/App’s running on Linux then it won’t be a marriage made in heaven. It is also good to discover what their on-boarding and training of staff is like. It’s a simple thing, but many companies don’t ask the question and simply judge the MSP by badges and logos on their website or on their proposal. At Primenet we recently went through the Amazon Web Services (AWS) certification and can provide both business and technical abilities as a managed service provider. Multiple engineers have to sit gruelling exams before getting the partnership status, and the process involves continual e-learning to stay up to date. For the record, I am now a certified technical AWS Business Professional as a result of this. So, do make sure to check your chosen MSP, as this is a fundamental requirement to the relationship flourishing.

10. What is their disaster recovery/business continuity plan?

Does the managed service provider practice what they preach? Do they have a plan in place? Let’s face it, if their services are down because a hurricane whipped through their central London office how are they going to support you if they don’t have systems in place to be up and running in a separate environment? This typically gets met with various answers but if you don’t get a concrete answer, then seriously think again.

As I’ve said, choosing a managed service provider is an important decision for you and your company and I hope you’ve found this list helpful. It’s essential to be fore-armed when talking to a potential new provider, but hopefully now you will go into those meetings armed with the best knowledge to make a great decision for your business.

If you would like to talk to Primenet about our Managed Service Provider Solutions, contact us today!