The market for Managed Service Providers is growing, but how many of their potential clients really know what a MSP does, and what to expect from them, asks Alan Davis, Senior Vice-President Kaseya UK.

MSPs want to be able to scale their business without adding lots of resources, as all businesses do. Further, SMEs want and need IT but they want it to be reliable and regular in its cost. Expenditure is a particularly tough area when you are a small business so early predictions of spend is vital. SMEs are also increasingly bringing new challenges to the IT support organisation multiple branches, differing hardware and remote workers to name but a few. MSPs can accommodate all of these needs, but only if they alter and adapt their approach.

Untenable Models

The break-fix model that has existed until now is past its prime and fails to attend to SMEs current needs. In such a competitive environment, MSPs simply cannot deliver the depth, breadth or quality of service required using traditional on-site, engineer-based approaches. Such a reactive model does not deliver expectations. These can only be achieved via highly-integrated remote monitoring and automation.

Break-fix is reactive and as such, services are slow, and solutions can only be found when an engineer finally arrives. The customer effects configuration changes and updates which the engineer is unaware of, nor are the update and virus systems automated, making troubleshooting slow and based upon trial and error. What is perhaps worse is that this form of service selling hours results in irregular invoicing, giving SMEs no ability to predict expenditure. Furthermore, the process is a burden on MSPs themselves as from one day to the next, they have no idea of how many engineers will be needed to be sent out, or even for how long.

These disadvantages are leading SMEs to abandon the idea of using MSPs, but although they cannot afford to use them, nor can they afford to appoint a dedicated and full-time CIO, and certainly not a one-off IT consultant. This leaves them very open to falling behind technically, and potentially therefore, also productively. A true MSP can provide a fractional CIO fractional in needs and costs, but not in performance.

Client Focused Model

But what is a true MSP? The key comes in what the M stands for. Technically and traditionally, it stands for managed but the way that many MSPs conduct themselves at the moment, people would be forgiven for thinking it stood for monitored. Break-fix is monitoring not managing. Remote-access solutions and engineer dispatch are symptomatic of monitoring and reacting to problems, instead of acting proactively via automated processes in order to pre-empt the problem in the first place i.e. managing.

This change of approach requires a shift in attitude, as the focus inevitably centres on the customer and the end-user. A proactive version of the monitoring model allows the service provider to know for certain what a clients IT performance and requirements are. This knowledge in turn results in better client management as monthly performance can be predicted and reported, as can cost. Such a change in mindset has never been easier as the Internet provides the ability for proactive services to be delivered through remote, centralised network operation centres.

By employing a truly management based approach, viruses and basic software faults can be fixed via automated processes. This means that on the rare occasion that a fault is more serious and an engineer is actually needed, such mundane and routine causes can be discounted immediately, saving time actually on site and limiting the number of occasions when an engineer call-out is required a benefit for MSP and client alike.

In-House Competition

MSPs, whether monitoring or managing, must compete with the prevalent LAN-based solutions that many larger companies rely upon. This is despite the need for dedicated teams and supplementary resources, and the cost these involve. In short, these solutions require too much infrastructure to make them a cost-effective option, and often operate on a monitoring basis anyway, yet they are still used.

An outsourced service must, in order to keep its contract, prove business value. A monitoring service will struggle to do this anyway, but combine with this with another widespread fault, that of MSPs run and designed solely by engineers, and there is no chance of being cost-effective. Generally, services focused on the technical aspects will fail to look further than whether the IT infrastructure is operational and up-to-date, and therefore miss the relevance of whether the service is providing business benefits.

Business people demand information on business impacts, not technology requirements. Solely technically-minded, and hence short-sighted MSPs will not prove to be economical outsourcing options for companies, and SMEs particularly.

Changing Attitudes

End-user companies are being fooled into assuming that all MSPs are the same, and all will provide a similar level of service. A real managed service provider will offer automated services that encompass all elements of the IT infrastructure and can provide training to prevent errors, whilst also being available to solve more serious problems via remote access or site visits. All the while, the service comes at a flat rate, regardless of activity, instead of erratic invoicing for call-outs to deal with thoroughly avoidable problems. Simply put, monitored services breed reaction, sluggishness and expense, whilst managed services prevent the problems that require reaction occurring in the first place. All MSPs profess to provide managed services, but few know what the M stands for.

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