Guide to Managed IT
Introduction to Managed IT Services
In today's modern era, regardless of the type of business you run, it is imperative you have someone to support your IT.
Some organizations are equipped with an IT department. However, your small or medium-sized business may not be able to hire a complete staff of qualified IT specialists in-house.
As a result, you've most likely settled on leaning on an entry-level IT engineer. The problem is they won't know how to fix every problem that emerges.
Or, you've determined that option isn't going to work and are attempting to manage your IT infrastructure on your own.
However, you are not an IT specialist. The time you spend learning and managing your technology diverts attention away from what you do best: operating your business.
The good news is that many business executives turn to Managed IT Services when they are in this predicament.
This guide is for you regardless of whether you're familiar with the term. Or, how it might address your company's IT issues. This page will let you know for sure if Managed IT Services will work for you.
Whether you have no idea what Managed IT Services are or need answers to your most pressing queries, we have put our most essential material about Managed IT Services in one spot for you to get a thorough grasp of this IT solution.
Chapter 1: What are Managed IT Services
So nowadays, regardless of the work you do, you probably rely on a number of different technologies. Should these technologies get too complex or just fail on you, you'll need help supporting them.
Now some businesses can afford to bring on an entire IT department, but if you run a small or medium sized business, bringing aboard a full IT Staff may not be feasible. Even if you hire an IT engineer, that one person likely doesn't have the bandwidth to put out every fire. Long term planning, maintenance, and strategy are likely going to be too much for that lone IT warrior. Believe me, I've been that guy.
Save yourself time
Now you might've even come to the conclusion that one IT staffer doesn't really cut it, and you plan on handling things yourself. Which is great, until you realize you're not any sort of Bill Gates after all. Setting up staff email addresses is taking what precious little time you have from, you know, actually running your business.
Well since neither of those are ideal, what does that leave? Well, the good news is there's a solution out there: IT Managed Services. Something many other SMB spaces have turned to with fantastic results.
So, what does that mean exactly? Great question!
In simple terms, Managed IT Services involve an agreement providing your organization with ongoing support for a flat monthly fee. That fee will vary depending on your organization's needs. We will get into that in Chapter 5.
Onboarding a whole IT team for a fraction of the cost
When your organization hires an MSP, instead of having an internal IT department, the MSP essentially becomes your IT department. Don't think of an MSP as an outside vendor but rather an extension of your business. They're now your CIO, IT Manager, and all levels of IT Support Staff. The position of your MSP is to help ensure you equip your technology is to support your business' needs.
Via their MSP, Small and Medium businesses now have access to Sr Level IT Staff that may not have been feasible otherwise. Your business will receive a combination of both remote and on-site support. With the expansion of remote work, an MSP is in a great position to support your staff regardless of geography.
The vast majority of IT requests and support issues we've found can be handled remotely. This offers MSP clients a speedy resolution about every 4 out of 5 times. The remaining issues get a tech dispatched to a client's location to be resolved in person. It's that level of personalized service a reputable MSP will provide. We would like to provide a primary resource to each client account with our team on hand to back them up. In the event a primary technician is unavailable, an MSP has additional staff available to handle the load.
Your MSP always has a pair of eyes on your IT infrastructure. Ideally with a number of automated processes and alerts. This way the most important maintenance tasks are done automatically and immediately alert the MSP.
There are a few ways your MSP keeps tabs on all of this without the need to physically be where you conduct your business (especially helpful in a hybrid work environment), and the primary means is via a Remote Monitoring and Management, or RMM Tool.
RMM is effectively what we, as an MSP, use to keep tabs on your environment 24/7. This set of tools and processes is what we'll use to keep everything up to date. It will alert us when something may not be doing so well. A first line of defense against cyberattacks. It will also serve useful in letting us know when any of your systems experience an issue. Or, is just in need of some routine maintenance.
Next, your MSP will employ a suite of tools including Antivirus, Email Protection, Firewalls, and Web Filtering as part of their Endpoint protection efforts. These, as well as other tools to detect and neutralize threats before they can cause damage. This is the foundation of the multi-layered security framework required to protect from the evolving new cyberthreats out there.
Finally, one of the biggest benefits of working with an MSP is staff redundancy. You get access to a qualified technician to assist you with your IT needs. Backed by a full IT company to ensure you're always able to receive that support when you need it. In-house staff will inevitably have some valid reason as to why they may be unavailable. Fortunately, an MSP will have backup technicians, and full documentation ready for when issues arise. When your primary resource is not able to immediately hop on and help, you can rest knowing you still have coverage.
So, with remote monitoring and management tools, your endpoint protection suite, and a team of engineers available to tend to your needs at any time, those are the foundations an MSP lays to take care of your essential IT needs.
Chapter 2: Implementing Managed IT Services Effectively
Now that you've got a basic understanding of what managed IT services are and how an MSP delivers those services, you're wondering what's next? You probably have several thoughts in mind as to how something like this could work for you. Let's get into some of those ideas and focus on how you can effectively implement managed IT through your organization.
MSP's will offer a number of different options tailored to your specific business. Often, your MSP will be your sole source of IT support. In other cases, they assist your Internal IT team handle the tasks they don't have time for or expertise in. We typically refer to this as Co-Managed IT. It's both the internal IT and MSP teams sharing duties to support IT for an organization. There are plenty to choose from in either scenario. Your MSP will work with you to draw up an agreement that best satisfies your IT requirements.
The most common scenario for small to mid-sized businesses is to have the MSP act as the primary means of IT support. You normally don't have any dedicated IT staff. Although, it comes in handy to have at least one tech-savvy person for relaying requests. Having someone who knows where things like cables and accessories are stored is great.
Your contract with your MSP will indicate which services they provide and set the foundation for your relationship. Although each contract is different, there are some important aspects you should expect from an MSP.
3 Key things you should expect
Number 1: Expertise
You'll get real technical expertise that you wouldn't have access to otherwise. The exceptional ability to work with technology is typically what an MSP is founded around. The MSP's staff should have the right attitude of wanting to help their customers make the most of their tech. They'll also have the extensive experience necessary to make that happen. They'll be able to address your questions while providing you with the top-notch service you deserve.
MSP staff will have a varied degree of skills, and the best part is you get access to all levels of IT help as you need it. Anyone who's made the cut to work in IT will be able to solve most basic issues. Those are typically referred to as Level 1 support. If there's a problem requiring a more advanced set of skills, those could be considered level 2 or 3 issues. Think along the lines of Security, Advanced Networking, Integrations, or other complex system's needs. For the most part, MSP's will bring on Level 2 or better technical staff. While still being able to handle simple things, higher level IT Engineers address items more efficiently, resolving that much faster.
Number 2: Service Customized Just for You!
Sure, your MSP agreement is a legally binding document, but the right MSP will come up with a plan to deliver their services in a way the works best for you, the customer!
We've found that by assigning a primary engineer to each client, they're able to provide a familiarity and level of understanding that you can't get from a rotating team of techs coming in and out of your environment. Your primary engineer gets to know you and your business. They have your processes and details thoroughly documented. Overall, they seem to address your needs and resolve issues in a timely manner. A client can expect both in-person and remote support from their primary resource. This allows the individual to become familiar with their environment, processes, and support needs. This engineer builds a relationship with their clients. They make sure the rest of the staff have the support necessary to service the client when they're unavailable.
Finally, Number 3: An MSP means access to 24/7 support.
Now we can all agree that IT emergencies don't always happen during regular business hours. Murphy's Law tells us these things are more likely to take place in the middle of the night. Although some of these things can wait, many need to be addressed immediately before serious damage is done.
Your MSP should be available to address your IT emergency regardless of day or time. Whether it's an on-call engineer, or an outsourced emergency network, you're never left out when the unexpected strikes.
The one thing to keep in mind is that not all agreements will include 24/7 support. Sometimes they're charged as a separate line item. If you're unsure, you can always check with the team with whom you're speaking to. They advise what'll be involved in getting that off-hour emergency support.
All these factors allow your MSP to handle IT requirements from simple administration to unique implementations and issues. Now, if you want something other than having them handle your company's IT entirely, you've got other options.
Maybe you just want remote support for when issues arise. This is a popular one lately with staff being more spread out or working from home. There are options where you can just have your devices monitored and kept up-to-date. These options can lower your monthly recurring costs, but are not flat-rate and you will incur additional charges if you need hands-on support.
Now even if you do have in-house IT support, there are still a number of ways to utilize a Managed Service Provider to help fill in the gaps in areas your internal team can delegate out.
MSP as a gap-filler
For one, an MSP can provide some temporary IT support via supplemental staffing services. We've helped a number of clients who were transitioning and required some regular, ongoing assistance in the form of an on-site IT presence. Organizations change, people leave, but the rest of the staff will still need support, and your IT partner is there to help. There are certain things you just can't do remotely and a pair of qualified tech-savvy hands are necessary. Whether it's just for a few days, weeks, or months, whatever you need - an MSP can fill your IT staffing needs until your internal team is in place.
Another option is to go with what is typically referred to as Co-Managed IT where your Internal IT Department contracts an MSP to handle specific aspects of the environment.
It's simply not possible for a single IT staff or small IT team to be everywhere at all times. No matter how great they are at their jobs, there are likely areas where an MSP's experience and skills will prove useful. Business utilizes this by having an MSP provide expertise in areas they don't have in-house. They leverage this relationship to provide a more comprehensive set of services and support to their staff. Perhaps your internal team is great at providing things like desktop computer support, but they're not quite as adept at tuning your Wi-Fi coverage so that all areas get strong coverage. Well in a case like this, you can turn to your MSP's networking team to fill in both the knowledge and wifi coverage gaps!
Speaking of networking expertise, some companies turn to MSP's to just monitor their networks and provide alerting and assistance in getting things back up and running should issues arise. Some of our clients count on us to prepare their computers for new hires or when existing staff need their devices refreshed. As well as ongoing monitoring, security, and hardware support. There are many possibilities when it comes to Co-Managed IT, and the majority of Internal IT teams can really benefit from the assistance these arrangements provide.
Chapter 3: Benefits and Drawbacks to Managed Service
We find the best way for a business to have a robust and scalable technology infrastructure is to outsource a big chunk, if not all, of that work to a trusted partner. I've got four big reasons why, and I'll list them here now.
Benefits of Working with an MSP
#1: You have a 24/7 team dedicated to supporting your IT needs
Without being repetitive, your business needs IT support and having a partner capable of providing it whenever you need it is a pretty major benefit. Internal staff go on vacation, get sick, and have other commitments that will render them unavailable. Having an agreement with an MSP alleviates those gaps in coverage.
MSP's leverage a number of skilled technical staff members with exposure to numerous technologies. Along with the people, the IT provider will maintain detailed records on all aspects of your technology infrastructure. This includes records on staff, devices, processes, software, and platforms used. If the individual who typically helps you isn't available, one of their colleagues can step in for any issues.
#2: You'll be working with Real IT Experts
As someone who runs an MSP, you're not going to get far unless you really are a master of your craft. We've got to hire and regularly train staff with already a great deal of technical knowledge. Keep in mind, an MSP gains a lot of expertise by working with a number of clients across different industries. This sort of expertise is not something a small IT team can pick up from a single environment.
This sort of expertise can be leveraged to help your business in multiple ways. You can certainly leverage this to help you handle your day-to-day IT needs. The real benefit is utilizing that knowledge to help streamline business processes, increase stability, and keep your environment secure.
You'll also be gaining the sort of expertise and wisdom to help you as technology and your business needs evolve. Your MSP can certainly help you with new IT projects as your business needs dictate.
Most importantly, you have a trusted partner who really gets to know you and your business. You gain an ally in helping you achieve greater business efficiency through the use of technology. With the expertise your MSP provides, you really do gain an extra advantage in growing your business.
#3: Cost-Effective IT Expertise
Not only are you getting some of the best IT expertise available, you'll be getting a better, more predictable cost. Which is not the case with any of the other common ways of receiving IT Support. That or scramble to find someone to fix things when they break, and even then, there's a loss in productivity.
For what you'll pay for a typical MSP contract, you couldn't even staff a single, capable help desk tech. Mid and Senior level IT staff are going to run substantially more than an outsourced provider. Let's also factor in that you're not paying taxes, training, and benefits for your outsourced techs. All the while, still getting up to the most senior staff to deal with the entire range of IT requirements.
#4: Hiring an MSP is far more flexible than hiring in-house
Hiring in-house certainly lacks the adaptable nature of outsourced IT. You likely have HR and other requirements when hiring internally. You'd need to consider their fit in your organization and the "soft" costs of bringing this individual to your team. Not to mention finding this person likely has some costs in terms of time and other advertising and recruiting costs.
You also have to consider the ramifications of hiring someone and the labor laws surrounding their employment if things just don't work out. With an MSP, your contract is laid out so you always know what to expect and the costs associated. If you need additional services or support, their services will scale to fit your needs.
Potential Drawbacks of Working with an MSP
In reality, working with an MSP is not an ideal fit for every organization. Some organizations just aren't a fit for one another in all industries, and Managed IT Services are certainly no exception.
While almost any business can achieve great benefits working with an outsourced IT company for many of the reasons previously highlighted, here are a few drawbacks that can potentially come up when you work with an MSP:
#1: You don't always have On-Site, Hands-On, IT Support
When you outsource your IT, you do give up having that "IT Person" standing by at your office ready for when an issue arises. Yes, that person can have a lot of familiarity with your systems and staff.
That's not to say your MSP won't have as firm a grasp on your IT needs as an in-house person, but they won't be there until a need arises. This can be a bit of a culture shock initially to staff used to having that instant, on-site assistance.
The good news is most problems can be resolved remotely and quickly. If you do require on-site assistance, your MSP will be there to provide it as quickly as possible. Besides, who really wants to see the IT staff every day? They usually stuff them way in the back of the office, far away from the rest of the team. If businesses actually wanted to see the IT people, they have a funny way of showing it. 😉
Rest assured, you’ll still get that in-person assistance from an MSP; it just won’t be every day.
#2: You may need to overhaul some of your equipment
Many SMBs bring aboard an MSP to get their technology running smoothly. This often presents a challenge when a prior provider did not work to keep things up-to-date. Even worse, the company's priorities didn't include updating their technology. To provide the best possible service, the Managed IT company is going to need equipment that's up to the task.
Your MSP certainly wants to bring everything as current as possible. This is the real win-win for both your organization and your technology provider. The more efficient equipment is far better maintained going forward. Plus, your staff can do their best work without their technology holding them back.
If this isn't something your company is neither willing nor able to commit to, hiring an MSP may not be the best choice. You certainly can, but it wouldn't necessarily be the best choice on your end.
Older, outdated equipment will take longer to support and still possibly not yield the results you're hoping for. Meanwhile, you're still dealing with issues that still can only ultimately be resolved by upgrading.
So ultimately, bringing aboard an MSP without being dedicated to having up-to-date equipment and solutions will be a problem for both your company and the provider you hire.
#3: MSPs Work Best for Specific Sizes of Companies
The ideal client for the fully managed, entirely outsourced IT services MSP's provide typically range starting around 10 staff, ranging all the way up to 200. Full transparency, if you're on the smaller side, unless you're really willing to adapt to the standardized way an MSP will implement best-in-class solutions for your team, it won't be an ideal fit.
This is the range we've found will typically benefit from the expertise an MSP provides, but not quite being the right size to bring on an Internal IT team.
Now just because you fall outside this range, don't fret, you could still benefit from Managed IT. If you're a larger business, you could definitely find ways to leverage an MSP in a co-managed IT arrangement. If you're smaller, growing, or highly tech dependent, working with an MSP can help you manage your business without worrying about your technology holding you back.
Chapter 4: Is Managed IT the right choice for your business
Every business is unique, and there really are no "one-size-fits-all" solutions in life and technology management is no exception. Let's get into some general criteria and types of businesses to guide you in this decision-making process. Ultimately, the goal is to help you determine if your company would benefit from employing the services of an MSP.
So, while there are many scenarios where an MSP can help, after years of doing this, here's who benefits most:
Best Fits for Working with an MSP
Best fit #1 - SMB's
Yup, small and medium businesses really can take their technology to the next level by leveraging a solid technology provider. We're talking generally about the 10-200 staff range, give or take.
Look sometimes even Senior Executives can get stuck bogged down in technology responsibilities in these organizations. That's definitely not the best use of their time nor skillset. It could work for a while but eventually this can turn into a bottleneck stunting your business growth.
While many try and hire an in-house technician to handle these needs, that individual can come up short. Furthermore, hiring an entire team can be complex, time consuming, and cost-prohibitive.
By bringing an MSP into the fold, they get nearly all the benefits of an in-house tech. Additionally, bringing the redundancy, proven systems, and senior-level expertise needed to adeptly deal with all their technology needs.
Best Fit #2: You have a Large Staff but with a Smaller Number of Computer Users
Most likely, you'll have a per user contract with your MSP. Which applies to the number of users the MSP is to support. It's possible a number of your staff will not require the use of a computer, or the need for support. In this case, they wouldn't be subject to charges for your MSP. Essentially, if you have a relatively small office staff, but a large staff overall, Managed IT can still be a good solution for you.
There are a number of industries that can fall into this sort of criteria. Think of Restaurant and Hospitality, Construction, Transportation, and Manufacturing, just to name a few.
Best Fit #3: Businesses in Regulated Industries
One of the benefits we discuss when working with an MSP is the extensive expertise you gain. This is because MSP's work with clients across multiple industries. Now an area of expertise a Managed Services Provider accumulates comes with working with companies in the same industry.
By working with some specific niches, providers will become highly knowledgeable with a number of specific regulations. For example, as we serve a number of clients in the medical field. We've become very knowledgeable in regards to HIPAA compliance. We've formed a partnership with a service that ensures those regulations are met, even those not related to IT. Finance has similar regulatory needs. As an MSP with specialists in that space, we ensure our clients receive the highest level of support and expertise.
Look, skilled IT engineers are always in high demand and finding ones with industry-specific knowledge can be particularly difficult. An MSP can be your all-in-one solution, regardless of complex requirements.
Poor Fits for Working with an MSP
Now that we've gone over the ideal MSP candidates, let's talk about the other side. A bit about candidates that may not be proper fits for managed services. While Managed IT can be a great fit for a wide range of companies, across most all industries, there are just some that aren't a great fit. Here are three in particular right now.
Poor fit #1: Companies too big or too small
Particularly too small or too large companies may not be in a position to benefit most from outsourced IT. When you're an army of one or just a few, you may not want to warrant the additional, recurring expense. Conversely, when you start hitting triple digit staff sizes, it may be time to consider some in-house IT staff. Possibly with a provider supplementing that staff with co-managed IT services. This way you get the benefit of the near instant response from your staff, plus expertise, redundancy, and maintenance an MSP.
Poor fit #2: Companies who rely on outdated equipment
Look I get having an attachment to that comfortable old pair of jeans you're never quite sure will make it through the next wash. Technology is not like an old pair of jeans - you can't wait until they disintegrate before you replace them.
Even if you think you don't need the upgrades your hardware and software vendors are telling you that you need, you're putting yourself at risk when you delay.
Now whether you believe you need those upgrades or not, an MSP will not be willing to put their name and reputation at risk. They won't support technology that's essentially past its expiration date. Not only does it make the MSP's job that much harder, it's setting both of you up to fail and that's not in anyone's best interests.
Poor fit #3: Companies not very reliant on IT
I've dedicated my life to helping individuals and businesses improve their technology. I know not everyone's on that same page.
Businesses utilize technology in even the most limited cases. You keep digital records for accounting and documentation. You are likely to send emails and promote on social media. Even the smallest businesses are pretty tech reliant.
If you're just getting your business under way, there may not be enough IT to warrant bringing on a full-fledged MSP. It might be worth establishing a relationship with a local computer repair business. Preferably one that also offers managed services, for when you grow to the point, you'll actually need that level of support.
So, you've identified that you're a potential fit to utilize a Managed IT Service Provider. Now you need to determine what options you have with an MSP and how they'd best work for your business.
When making these determinations, you should consider some things. How the service is delivered, what the service includes, and then, of course, what it's going to cost.
Here, we'll quickly break down three common ways of handling your IT needs. Plus, how these primary considerations address each.
Common MSP IT Handling
#1: Fully Outsourced Managed IT Service
In this option, the MSP you establish a relationship with completely services your IT needs. This MSP has multiple staff capable of dealing with the wide range of technology requirements your business has. They have their tools and staff available to you 24/7 to provide support whenever duty calls.
Your MSP has a high level of IT expertise with your environment and the environments of many clients. So, you can feel confident they'll be able to address any issues that may arise. Do keep in mind that the MSP is not present at your site until it is necessary. The majority of your support occurs remotely. That's not to say an MSP will not show up for regularly scheduled visits or in an emergency.
Managed IT is likely your most cost-effective option. You get the benefits of a highly skilled IT staff at what's typically less than the cost of a single, qualified entry level technician. Otherwise, you'd need to bring on more senior level technical staff and a technical manager. All that to meet the levels of service and knowledge an outsourced IT provider will give you. This would far exceed MSP costs. Unless you really need immediate, in-person support at all times and are willing to pay a premium for it, an MSP is a great alternative.
#2: Co-Managed IT
With Co-Managed IT, your MSP only handles partial support of your technology and supports your Internal IT team.
There are a number of options here depending on the number of staff you employ internally. Being able to pass along any number of duties off to your MSP is a great one. In a typical scenario, the MSP handles a lot of day-to-day monitoring, updating, and other repetitive tasks. They also provide hands-on support for the initiatives the internal team defines. They can also leverage the MSP to provide support when the Internal team is otherwise unavailable. Your internal staff works on a specific schedule, while you can have access to an MSP 24/7.
It's true, Co-Managed services will incur additional costs vs. just hiring in-house support alone. However, you really do get the benefit of the additional knowledge and redundancy the service provider brings. Think about it, you'll still receive that additional know-how. Plus, for less than the cost of hiring additional IT managers and engineers internally. It's a win-win across the board.
#3: Hiring an Internal IT Support Team
I guess the title says it all - you're bringing aboard a team to internally handle all your IT support needs. Sure, you may outsource certain projects, but the day-to-day is handled by this team you've hired.
If you've only got a single IT person, well, as they go, so does the IT support. Doesn't exactly pass the "school bus" test. You know, what happens to your IT if this person gets hit by a school bus? That's not even taking into account other time off like sick days, holidays, and other personal commitments. If you have multiple staff, that'll mitigate some of the availability issues. Still, someone will have to manage this staff to ensure that continual coverage.
So, in terms of costs, to get the same service an MSP provides, you'll need an IT manager and at least two staff engineers. All have at least a fairly high level of technical knowledge. You'll need to keep their training up to date. Not to mention the costs of benefits and other employment expenses you can expect. In terms of costs, hiring a fully staffed internal IT team is going to be the most expensive of the three.
Hopefully this information will have at least given you some insight as to whether or not Managed IT is a good fit for your business. You might also have a number of other questions regarding how to best utilize these services in your organization.
Chapter 5: Cost of Managed IT Service
Now if you've made it this far, you've probably asked yourself, "Stan, this is perfectly well and good, but let's get down to it, what's this going to run me?"
Realistically, when it comes to technology service pricing, the answers and solutions can be all over the map. Most often you get the dreaded old "Contact us for a Quote" line. You know what happens from there. You're drawn into a long sales cycle with lots of emails, phone calls, and a whole bunch of distractions you were hoping to avoid.
Well, not with this guy. There's a pricing page on our website along with a calculator.
First, figure out how big your staff is. Then, punch it in, and voila, you have a pretty accurate depiction as to what you'll pay. Now, that's not to say those figures are etched in stone. Those are just the most general ways in which clients utilize our services. Some are comfortable with just our entry level plans. Some want a few features in the higher tiers and can add them a la carte. There are a number of variables out there depending on your specific needs that can adjust the price.
Common MSP Pricing Options
#1: Per User
Well, this one is fairly self-explanatory. You pay by the number of users for which you require support. This way, it's the most straightforward for both client and provider to track. Plus, it's easy to scale up (or down) as your needs change.
This is the model we primarily use at STG, but there are certainly other options.
#2: Per Device
So instead of paying by the number of users in your organization, you pay by the number of devices. Again, pretty much what the name implies.
So, while this makes sense for some organizations, say with a high number of staff, but a smaller number of devices, it becomes more challenging to stay on top of.
The type, and complexity, of the devices can affect the pricing as well. For instance, servers will typically incur higher monthly support costs than a desktop or laptop computer.
This sort of model tends to work particularly well for co-managed scenarios where the provider is meant to handle various support duties limited to computers under their management. However, it sometimes makes sense to mix it up a bit, and that gets us to our next option.
#3: Custom Pricing
We understand every business has unique needs. While budget isn't always the main consideration, your business may prioritize certain support needs over others. You may not be as concerned about the advanced security offerings in the highest pricing tiers we offer, but you want to include 24/7 support. Tacking on additional hardware, or adding something else available at those higher tiers is all possible.
We, and most other MSP's, will be able to craft a custom solution around your needs and budget. After all, we're in the business of supporting you. We'll always do so in a way that best meets your needs to the best of our abilities.
#4: Remote Only
Now admittedly we haven't had a client looking for only remote support in quite a while. What can I say? I guess us IT guys are just too charming and you can't wait to see our smiling faces!
While in reality, a majority of issues can be solved remotely, the really difficult cases will require an on-site presence. So, while customers can save on their recurring costs by going with a remote option, many opt out of this. There are problems that require someone to be there. Clients want to know if someone is ready to resolve their more advanced troubles, and do so without incurring additional fees.
Is going all remote worth a 20% or so reduction in fees? I suppose that's for you to decide.
But what does all this mean to the bottom line? Now that you know how an MSP will probably charge, let's talk dollars and cents.
Elements that Affect Pricing
Since we here at STG charge by the user, like many of our peers, we'll use that as the basis here today. Therefore, this should give you an overall sense of what you can expect regarding costs.
We’ll try to keep this as straightforward as possible, but there are three key elements to consider:
#1: The Assessment
You probably already have a pretty strong understanding of your IT environment, number of users, and areas you might have been neglecting that need attention.
Likewise, your provider will confirm all of this by using a combination of software discovery tools and general analysis of your site. Based on the findings, your MSP will be able to come up with a sufficient proposal.
Depending on the size, complexity, and number of sites, this assessment can either be provided at no charge or up to roughly $500-$1000 per location.
#2: Hardware Remediation
Put it this way, you wouldn't hire a mechanic on call if you were driving an old clunker, and you likely aren't hiring an MSP to tend to your dilapidated technology. However, if you have an assessment with outdated tech, an MSP might recommend updating equipment. If a number of devices are out of date, preventing productivity, and causing issues, your MSP would be remiss if they didn't want you to remediate all of this as a part of your onboarding.
Look at it this way, if you have a firewall and Wi-Fi from the cable or telco, then that's got to go. Basically, if your computers are slow, out of warranty, non-business class devices, then you should probably upgrade there as well. It'll make you more efficient, and make your staff more productive.
We've said it a thousand times and we'll say it again, life's too short for a slow computer.
The biggest factor to consider is the downtime you might face by using older, out of warranty hardware. More so, having a down computer or device will leave you having to replace it on the fly. The reality is, no one wants to be left scrambling in that position.
So, in terms of costs, a solid highly-secure, next generation firewall and Wi-Fi setup can typically run anywhere from the $1,500 - $4,500 range, depending on your needs. Figure solid, business class PC's will be in the $800 ballpark these days. With a completed assessment, this should be a simple calculation.
#3: Monthly Charges
While any initial charges for your assessment and hardware upgrades are one-time costs, the ongoing support and maintenance your MSP provides will be covered by your ongoing recurring charges. This will include all the preventive maintenance, support, and other services included in your agreement. Things like Helpdesk, Onsite Support when needed, and SaaS management (typically Office365) are included. Even the most basic plans will include some form of monitored security software with Web Filtering. That covers blocking known and suspected threats. As well as giving you flexibility to keep your staff off sites you want blocked for productivity purposes.
Different providers will have their rates based on their region and the level of service provided. For example, our listed plans range from $125 to $250 per user. In case you missed it, you can get more in-depth descriptions of those plans in this chapter's video. There are add-ons like Hardware as a service or HaaS that will include all your necessary equipment. Additionally, it can be factored into the monthly charges. This is effectively equipment leasing. It is included in your MSP monthly bill. Ultimately ensuring you have up-to-date equipment your MSP can swap out for you as it ages or in the event of any issues.
For everyone's convenience, our contracts are set to auto debit via ACH on the 1st of every month.
What MSP pricing might look like
Basic MSP Price Calculation
To start, the math is fairly simple. First, pick the level of service you need. Then, multiply that by the number of staff you have who require support. From there you'll see your monthly recurring costs. If hardware upgrades are called for, factor the purchase and setup of those at a one-time cost at startup.
Additionally, one of the many benefits of Managed IT Services is the cost predictability. You know what you're paying upfront to keep your environment maintained, backed up, and secure. If no major projects or changes come up, that's going to be your monthly spending.
Addition of Major Projects
What do I mean by major projects? Well, think about it this way, adding one new staff member we take care of. Adding several new staff members in a given month, we take care of that too. Do keep in mind those new staff add to your recurring costs. Fortunately, bringing them onboard won't incur a project charge. Keep in mind, if the new staff require new hardware, you should budget for that too.
Opening a new office requiring new infrastructure and 20 new staff? That's going to incur a project charge. Anything well outside the scope of general user support and maintenance will likely be a separate billable item.
These scenarios more or less cover what you can expect in terms of billing from an MSP.
Finally, these are the last few items to keep in mind with typical MSP billing.
Things to Keep in Mind
When you add users, the changes typically don't take effect until your next monthly billable cycle. Additionally, the opposite is true when you subtract users. The lowered amounts won't kick in until the next billing cycle either.
The second thing to keep in mind is that not all plans include 24/7 emergency support. You have access to that support, it just may be a separately billable item, depending on your agreement. Our top-level plans do include 24/7 support with a Network Operations Center and Helpdesk on duty around the clock. The other support tiers can access that service, as a result, separate charges will apply.
Chapter 6: Getting Started
We're now up to section 6 of the "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Managed Services" series. The earlier installments defined managed IT services. We discussed how they're best implemented, pros and cons, and ways to determine if they're right for you. We also went over what you can expect in terms of costs.
Now, let's get into what your business can expect once you have signed your contract and are ready to begin working with your MSP.
First, let's go over the things to look for when you select your Managed IT provider. Obviously, you want to select the best possible provider to work with. One who's not only capable of doing the job, but is also a fit with you and your organization. You want good vibes working with a company. They should be up to the tasks and their corporate culture should fit with yours.
With that in mind, I've got 4 characteristics you should keep in mind when making your selection:
#1: Their staff has the technical skills to pay the bills
Look, you probably have a number of technical issues that need to be looked after. Most are going to be relatively common problems with simple solutions. It's the big issues that require senior technicians to resolve. However, you should be aware of the level of expertise your provider has on hand for everything else.
We've gone into the levels of technical expertise the various staff of a typical MSP has, and between them all, your bases are all covered. What you should consider when hiring your provider is if they focus on technology or focus more on growth?
I get wanting more business, of course, but I started out as a technician and haven't really veered too far from those roots. My goal is to innovate on the delivery of technical excellence to my clients first. All our staff have the common goal of helping our clients leverage technology to reach their objectives.
We're a highly technical competent group. When you have a technical issue, any one of us will help guide you through it.
#2: They're able to convert "nerd talk" into English
When you raise an issue with your provider, sometimes you just want to be heard. We all do, right?
By submitting a request with your MSP, you should get an acknowledgement, at least via an automated reply from their help desk system. This way you know the they'll receive the request, and someone should be working on it shortly. At least that's the way our ticketing system works.
So, when you do get a response from a technician, usually not too far after the automated reply, it shouldn’t be a bunch of tech gibberish that you can’t understand. The technician should be able to communicate appropriately. Respond in a way where you understand the problem and their proposed solution. Therefore, you can make an informed decision on what to do next.
#3: Your MSP is Here to Ensure your Satisfaction
Besides being able to keep you in the loop, your MSP should be able to quickly and effectively resolve your issues. Believe me, that goes a long way towards keeping clients happy.
Arguably the biggest factor in customer satisfaction is fast response time. While service loads vary as does resolution time, I'm very proud of our responsiveness. I can't speak for all MSPs, but our service requests see a response immediately by our automated ticketing system. Then we assign a technician within an hour, and resolve within two hours. Obviously, this can change based upon the complexity of the request. Other factors such as if you require additional equipment. Whether it's a straightforward issue or one that's a bit more involved, we update clients in real time.
#4: The Technology Bar is Constantly Raised
Keeping the ship afloat is certainly job number one for your technology provider, but being technology driven, they can help you grow in any number of ways.
We've touched on this previously, but your MSP will have a lot of experience with clients in industries much like yours and beyond. By leveraging this knowledge, training, and networking with others in the field, you'll gain benefits and competitive advantages. This know-how will help keep your current environment in tip-top shape. Also, as your needs evolve, you'll have a partner to help you achieve whatever goals you set.
However, before your MSP can go about maintaining and continually evolving your IT, they're going to need to assess what you've already got in place.
Assessing your MSP
This assessment can either take place at your office, if you even have one these days, or done virtually based upon your preference.
During the initial gathering phase of the assessment, a general overview of your environment will be collected including things such as:
- The hardware you use such as computers and network equipment
- Any software including locally installed applications and cloud solutions
- Getting an accurate staff headcount to know who exactly they'll be supporting
The assessment will also get an idea of what sort of security you have in place and any shortcomings that should be addressed.
While this isn't a full vulnerability scan in most cases, this will give your provider a good baseline of where your current risks are, and a plan to close those gaps will start to form.
Then most MSP's will have a general questionnaire or onboarding checklist they'll work with you to get filled out.
To get an even more in-depth overview of your environment, the questionnaire will seek specific details needed to provide support. Things along the lines of your Internet Service with account numbers and contact information. Plus, any servers you may be running. The access to critical systems, along with any details are necessary to take care of you.
Once this part is done, your MSP will be ready to take care of your IT needs and they'll be able to give you an accurate quote for the service.
So once your assessment is complete, it's finally time to get you your contract. This contract will clearly define the roles and responsibilities of your MSP provider. It should have certain requirements of you as well.
These requirements, primarily centered around the hardware and software you use, are put in place to enable the best possible service your Managed IT company can provide. By implementing trusted solutions, your MSP is setting you both up for a successful relationship.
Requirements typically fall into the categories of hardware, software, and other key technologies for backup and security.
Your MSP will want you to use business-grade hardware with current vendor support and warranty. Sorry, but those Big-Box Store specials aren't going to cut it in the business world. The enterprise class devices have features that perform beyond those for consumers, they'll also perform better for longer.
As for network equipment, you definitely want to be using advanced gear to provide the level of security your business requires.
From a software perspective your MSP will have their own set of tools they use to support your environment. This would include their remote monitoring solution as well as security software like antivirus and threat filtering solutions. Once work commences, your MSP will be installing these applications on your devices as a part of their service. This allows the bulk of necessary work to be accessible remotely. Plus, it keeps your MSP aware of any changes requiring attention.
Cover backup solutions as a part of your agreement. Whether you have physical servers at your location, cloud solutions, or a combination of both. Your provider will have a plan in place to recover data should any issues arise. Keep that in mind during the assessment process. It is very important that you let your provider know about your critical pieces of technology. So, please don't keep them in the dark about these things to "save money." You'll need these systems supported before it's too late.
Chapter 7: Putting together a Contract with your MSP
Well, if you've been following along, we're now up to the 7th and next to last installment of the "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Managed Services" series.
Now, we’re going to go over what goes on during and after finalizing that paperwork!
So, one of the first items to consider is your contract term. MSPs will typically offer terms in the one-to-five-year range. There will be levels of service you can select, and other things related to onboarding. You can expect to cover just about every detail of supporting and managing your IT infrastructure.
Some companies may want the assurance of a long-term agreement with cost certainty from their provider. Others may want the flexibility of a shorter arrangement. At STG, our contracts are typically 1 year and automatically renew at the end of the term. Should clients need to modify the agreement, there are clauses that will allow them to do so.
These agreements really go both ways, and should be a win-win for both provider and client. You'll get the benefit of consistent and reliable IT in an era where you really can't go without. Plus, your provider gets to build a stable practice supported by great customers like you!
The next item of note is also fairly straightforward.
How do you actually reach out for support when you need it?
Now it's great that you've got someone to take the burden of dealing with technological needs off your hands. However, you still have to let them know when you need something done. While MSP's have tools in place to detect issues that arise, you still should reach out for needed support.
You'll typically reach out to your MSP via email or phone. Although nowadays, many have customer portals where you can open a support case as well. Based on the problem, it'll either get solved remotely or a tech will come to your location to personally troubleshoot.
The severity of the problem will often impact just how quick a response you can expect. This will be highlighted in your contract. Mission-critical services affecting a wide number of users or business functions will trigger a near instance response. More routine requests like password lockouts or file permissions will still be handled in a timely manner. Just not with the urgency that a major outage requires.
Additionally, if the matter you're experiencing poses an Information Security risk, your MSP will treat this as a top priority. These days, with cyber-attacks being so prominent, you can't take these sorts of threats seriously enough.
Oftentimes you can expect a workaround solution while your MSP gets to the heart of the original problem. Rest assured, your issues are a priority and will be resolved as quickly as possible.
Realistically all these factors come into consideration when determining response. Your MSP will communicate with you on a regular basis. They'll keep you in the loop for when you can expect a resolution.
Have a problem that occurs outside regular business hours?
Well, your MSP should be ready with a means for you to submit requests at any hour. Even if it's their standard email support mailbox that'll generate a support case. Many also have a special 24-hour phone number that you can call for truly urgent matters, aka "The Bat Phone."
As our MSP client, you're welcome to make after-hours requests on the emergency line if you feel it's necessary. Now here's where I'll give you a bit of a behind the curtain look and a word of advice. If it's not a true emergency, I'd recommend saving it for regular business hours. Unless the incident causes some serious business losses, don't treat it as an emergency. As for a second little tidbit, you shouldn't throw tags like "urgent" or "ASAP" on every request. Your tech team will probably go ahead and treat it just like any other. Use those words a bit more sparingly and it'll surprise you how quickly they handle things. Save them for when it's an actual emergency.
After hours things to keep in mind
- Make the request via phone call. If this is a true emergency happening off hours, any on-call technician probably isn't monitoring the incoming support request. Heck, he or she is probably sound asleep but available if necessary.
- Keep in mind that not all support plans include 24/7 support. Unless you're on our most comprehensive plans, it's a separate billable item in your contract.
- Unless it's an absolute necessity, after hours support will be done remotely. If something happens out of hours, it'd be best for everyone. So, the engineer on call and the person making the request don't have to get down to your office. In the event that it requires a field trip for everyone, your MSP will be there to make it happen.
- Out of hours calls are handled on a best-effort basis. We do employ a 24-7 call center for these matters. Keep in mind if something happens at 3AM, it may take a moment for the on-call engineer to respond. In any event, your emergency will get a response and be dealt with in the most expedient way possible.
Ultimately, it's up to you to decide what your contract will include. That'll determine how you interact with your MSP on all matters, of any priority.