Making the Right Decision.
20 Questions to ask your next Managed Services Provider
1. How big is the staff? There’s no one best answer to this question but their size should match your needs. Whether you are too large for them to handle or too small to get recognition, you will be underserved. Ask the prospective MSP what their ideal client looks like and see if you fit the bill.
2. Who are their partners? No service provider can do everything by itself. One that has high-quality partners to call on for specialized tasks will get you through tough situations better. Their connections are also a sign that other tech businesses take them seriously.
3. Do they have references? Any company can say good things about itself. What you want to know is what others say – ideally clients with first-hand knowledge. If you can’t, that’s a red flag. No time to chase down references? Check their Better Business Rating and Google reviews for objective third-party information.
4. What is the pricing structure? Does the meter start every time you call? Does every request for help incur a charge? It’s important to have a very clear understanding of what is and isn’t included in your service so that each monthly bill won’t be a surprise or worse, a shock.
5. What are your cancellation options? Cancellation options are a critical aspect of any MSP contract, and not all contracts have the same terms. Whether it’s short term or a longer duration, be sure the terms are clearly spelled out before signing any agreement.
6. How is support initiated? You need to understand how support requests get made. Does the MSP respond to email and phone calls or is there a service portal for opening tickets? Is it a simple process or a lengthy one? Do all service requests have to come from a designated person in your organization or can any user request support?
7. How is support provided? You should understand how the MSP will address those requests. Is support given via telephone or will consultants come on-site? Can the MSP remotely access your infrastructure and workstations so repairs can be made without interrupting your day or workflow?
8. When is support provided? Is the help desk available when you need it? After-hours support is also a crucial factor. Some vendors only offer support during typical working hours, some offer complete 24/7/365 support, and some fall somewhere in between. And be sure to get familiar with rates for emergency service.
9. What is the response time for support? Look at what the MSP is committing to in terms of response times before you sign on. Response times are different than resolution time frames – the latter refers to how long it will take to resolve an issue, and certain IT issues can be complex and unpredictable.
10. How does priority impact response times? If your issue is mission-critical, do you move ahead in the line? Or are tickets resolved in the order they are received? You should understand how priority and response times are defined and assigned. You’ll also want to know how you can communicate urgency when something is critical.
11. How does the MSP handle patching and upgrades? Patching is something most MSPs can do, but implementation strategies differ. Will there be server downtime? Or can they perform work behind the scenes without interrupting your workflow? The MSP should be willing to balance your needs against the security needs of regular patching.
12. Will you have an Account Manager? This feature is too often overlooked when assessing an MSP relationship. Are your requests just referred to a large support pool, meaning you are just a number? Or will you have someone dedicated to you and your account that you can go to for things like billing questions?
13. What is the plan for initiation and onboarding? It’s of critical importance that there be a strategic onboarding plan in place, and you should have a very clear understanding of that process before you sign up. Specific dates, duration, and downtime should be addressed and agreed upon.
14. Does the MSP understand your industry? Most MSPs’ engineers understand the standard technologies. But what about your business-critical systems? Do they know your particular vertical and specialized software? Do they have the deep knowledge and experience needed to get you back up and running with little to no downtime?
15. What compliance frameworks do they support? How important this question is, depends on your business. If PCI, HIPAA, or GDPR compliance is important, you need a managed service provider with the tools and certifications to assist and support your requirements.
16. Are they able to scale? If you have big plans for growth, you need a provider that can keep up. A provider that prides itself on its small-company culture might be fine for some kinds of customers, but one that even hopes for exponential growth should look for an MSP that can deal with the challenges that will offer.
17. What outside services will you need to have? This may not be a problem; you just need to know if you’ll have to go elsewhere for certain things. If they don’t have relationships with recognized vendors, you may be responsible for sourcing your own laptops and other hardware.
18. What do they do internally, and what do they outsource? No one provider can do it all. It shows good sense if they outsource some tasks, but you have to be comfortable with what they share with a third party. In some cases, such as contracts which deal with classified data, the arrangement might not be acceptable.
19. How will the MSP reduce your company’s workload? The right answer to this question depends on your expectations and willingness to pay for them. What tasks do you want the provider to take over? Will it provide full network maintenance, or will your in-house staff retain important responsibilities? There’s no one right answer, but there’s a right answer for you.
20. How will they improve your company’s efficiency? You want more than a “break-fix” service; if that’s all they do, it’s not managed services. You need to know what kind of help they’ll offer for long-term improvements in your technology. The MSP should anticipate and prevent problems so that you have fewer crises and less downtime.
There are many MSPs out there today, but if you take the time to ask the questions outlined above, you’ll find the right one that aligns with your needs and goals and will help you succeed.
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