Ten Questions to Ask a Potential Managed Services Provider

Two professionals sit down with a managed service provider to discuss doing business together.

The first step to switching to managed services is sitting down with a provider.

Managed Services can be an asset to any company, big or small. They present a cost-effective solution to IT and add an extra level of security for your business’s data. A Managed Services Provider (MSP) can offer your company a number of digital solutions ranging from unified communication solutions to server security.

Before you start working with an MSP, or any provider for that matter, you should sit down with them to find out what they are really bringing to the table. This week, we are outlining ten basic questions you should ask a potential Managed Services Provider before signing a contract.

1. What happens if/when my infrastructure goes down?

Unfortunately, in today’s cyber-centric world, an IT disaster is practically inevitable. When investing in Managed Services, it is essential that you find a provider that is prepared for disaster. Any MSP worth its salt will be ready to talk to you about a disaster recovery plan (DRP), including the recovery point objections (RPO), and/or recovery time objections (RTO)  that you want to set. In laymen’s terms, they will either have a recovery policy in place, or they will be ready to work with you to create a customizable plan. If the Managed Services provider does not have an answer it is time to move on to the next.

2. What services are covered under my contract, and what lies outside of it?

Asking this early on is the best way to protect yourself from hidden fees down the road. Having a clear idea of what you need is going to save you a lot of time because Managed Services providers can differ on how they provide services (some have all-encompassing suites and others offer services a ’la carte). Lay out exactly what you are you looking for from a provider, and then have them clarify how they are going to charge you for it. Don’t accept one lump sum. Insist that they break things down for you. Find out if they put limits on services, such as the number of times a week you can call the help desk or the number of devices covered in a plan. You do not want to be hit by surprise fees at the end of the month.

3. How will you ensure that we are a part of our IT experience?

The last thing you want is to be ignorant to what someone else is doing with your digital infrastructure. Make it clear to the Managed Services provider at the beginning that you expect to be included in the goings on of your company’s IT.  MSPs want you to be involved and will have set procedures on how to keep you in the loop. If not, there are some standard practices you can ask about:

    • Reports: Are they included in your service, and if they are how often will they be provided (quarterly, monthly, weekly etc.)?
    • Meetings: Do you want to set up recurring meetings with your MSP as a way to stay up to date?
    • Admin Portals: Some MSPs provide admin portals where you can go to get a quick snapshot of what is going on behind the screens. Often, depending on the service, these portals will include user management controls.
    • Troubleshooting: Do you want your MSP to come to you when there is a problem to propose solutions, or do you just want them to handle everything? Maybe there is a middle ground that suits you? This is the time to iron out those details.

    4. How will your services help support the growth of our business?

    A large part of any enterprise is growth. When deciding on a Managed Services Provider, you want to choose a company that will make expansion easy. As you evolve, you will naturally accumulate more staff, so you want an MSP that will make it easy and affordable to add new workstations, employee accounts, or locations. Depending on your industry, you may want to look into scalable services as well as, to accommodate increased data. It is better to be prepared for development now than to be held back in the future.

     5. Will your services keep us at the forefront of technology, or will they impede us from moving forward?

    Technology, like your business, is set to change. That is why questions four and five are closely related because you need a Managed Services Provider that is adaptable to both growth and change. A good MSP should have an affordable plan to ensure your company is as up to date as possible.  If they don’t, they stand to be a potential deterrent to you in the future. It isn’t enough for a Managed Services Provider to offer you today’s cutting-edge technology, you need to be sure that they will keep you on that cutting edge.

    6. How often do you update, or perform maintenance on your infrastructure? Will that result in downtime for my business?

    A Managed Services Provider who doesn’t adequately care for its own infrastructure may nor care for yours properly.  This question will give you an insight into the level of attentiveness you might

    A managed services provider checks a set of servers with a tablet.

    If a Managed Services Provider can’t take of their own infrastructure, they certainly can’t take care of yours.

    expect from the MSP. At the same time, you need to know if maintenance and updates will affect your productivity. If there is downtime, will the MSP alert you ahead of time, and how? Furthermore, take this opportunity to confirm with your MSP that there will always be a way to contact them with these types of concerns. You do not want to find yourself in a position where your managed service is down and you cannot reach your provider.

    7. Where is your helpdesk located, and what is coverage like?

    Helpdesk solutions are one of the most popular Managed Services offerings out there today.  All helpdesks are not created equal though, which is why you need a clear picture of what an MSP’s particular service will look like. For example, you may want to ensure that the helpdesk you use is U.S. based, or that it isn’t in an area prone to natural disaster.

    Additionally, it’s important to know what the operating hours are for the helpdesk. You should have a 24/7 helpdesk service because technology never sleeps, and neither does commerce. If your entire email network goes down on Christmas day you are going to need to call the helpdesk, and if no one is there because you didn’t invest in a 24/7 helpdesk system, you are going to be kicking yourself.

    8. What are your data ownership terms?

    If there is anything we learned in 2018 it is that we all need to be more aware of our data. This goes double for professionals, especially those in industries that deal with other people’s personal data. The best way to gauge how a Managed Services Provider is going to handle your data is to ask them “what happens to my data if I leave your company?” If they turn squirmy on you, that should be a big red flag. There should be no uncertain terms about who that data belongs to at the end of the day. That includes metadata.

    While on the subject of data, see if your MSP is planning to collect any behavioral data and if so what they plan to do with it. Remember back at the start of 2018 when everyone found out that Facebook had been selling personal information? Well, Facebook isn’t the only company that does that and more likely than not you aren’t going to want an MSP selling behavioral data harvested from your company. On the other hand, a provider may just use that data to improve their services, in which case it may not make a difference to you at all. Either way, your organization’s data is precious and you absolutely have to know what an MSP plans to do with it before you just hand it over to them.

    9. What is your team like?

    A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so when evaluating an MSP you will want at least a basic idea of the kind of “links” they employ. Here are some things to look into when discussing a Managed Services Provider’s team:

        • Is it a small team, made up of IT experts and security engineers, or is it a large team made up of sales reps, customer service agents, and a few experts sprinkled in?
        • Are they focused more on customer retention or onboarding new clients?
        • What experience level does the team have? Are you their first client or have they been in the game for years?

    Another great thing to ask a possible MSP about their team is “How do you evaluate employee candidates?” An MSP that stands behind their staff won’t have any problem divulging their hiring process.

    10. What sets you apart from other Managed Services Providers?

    It is always tempting to start negotiations with this question, which is fine, it is a good question. It is also something managed service providers are asked a lot so they will have the generic answer they always use ready to go. The benefit of ending with this is that the more substantial questions that you led with will have forced the MSP to put some thought into their answers. You are more likely to receive a genuine answer by saving this question for last.

    If you still feel like you are getting a canned response, push a little harder, and force them to dig a little deeper. Why them? What makes them different from the dozen other MSPs you could choose from? If they haven’t provided some already, request some customer testimonials. The best representative for a service is an existing customer.

    The OTELCO Cloud and Managed Services team.

    The OTELCO Cloud and Managed Services team in their Portland, ME office.

    Choosing the Right Managed Services Provider

    At the end of the day, your institution runs on technology. That infrastructure, and the data within it, are arguably the most important parts of your organization. When sitting down with a potential Managed Services Provider you deserve straightforward, well thought out answers as to why you should be trusting them with such an essential piece of your organization. If at any point you feel like the MSP sitting before you is being overly vague, or worse dodgy, with their answers you should be concerned. Most of all, follow your gut because you know what is right for your business.

    Managed Services Consultation

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    This obligation-free assessment can help you:

    • Establish your existing technology environment.
    • Determine your business’s unique technology needs.
    • Find the most cost-effective solutions.
    • Gauge your ability to manage those solutions.

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