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Utilizing managed IT services (also called IT outsourcing) can be great for a small to medium-size business, but it does come with some risks. It's important to understand some common pitfalls when using managed IT service providers (MSPs). Then you can ensure you've got the proper protocols and agreements in place to avoid those pitfalls.
Commercial MSPs are in business to make money. No matter how good you think they are, commercial MSPs will always put their company first, as they should; this means it's essential to always put your organization first.
Below are some common issues I've seen in my 20-year career in IT.
Are you paying for services you are not receiving? Is the managed service provider actually doing what they have agreed to do for your organization? Often, MSPs will only pay attention to something if they are alerted to a problem. They don't always take steps to ensure that an organization's IT is well-maintained so that it's protected from future problems occurring.
As the customer, you are entitled to a log of work done monthly. You should see things like patches or updates applied to computers and servers, firmware upgraded on network equipment, and that backups are verified. If these are services you are paying for, ensure you are receiving them.
Lack of documentation can be costly to an organization. What's your access to your computer and network documentation? It's highly recommended and encouraged that you insist you have access to all of your company's documentation at an alternate location other than your MSP's servers.
An organization should protect itself from anything that could occur with the MSP. Dependency on a provider should be handled the same way you would with an employee. Ensure you have a plan. All of the information you need should be available if for any reason someone or some company must take over that IT role in your organization.
Are you being sold the solution that works best for the managed services provider or the one best for your organization? It is highly recommended, regardless of whether or not you have an MSP, that you always get three proposals for any solution you require. Many times, the one that your MSP provides is the right fit. It's key that you know it is.
By actually bidding out any project or product you need, you don't just get price and feature comparisons, but an understanding of what the best features are. Having different recommendations can lead you to the best overall solution for your organization.
Use the information to ensure that what you need is part of the solution you receive. This also helps to ensure that those you contract to do work for you always provide you with the best possible service.
Managed IT service providers are experts in support, but they are not experts in all forms of IT. If you look at functions beyond basic network and computer support, it is important to draw on those who specialize. Some of the common instances when you should work with other vendors are cybersecurity, phone systems, and wireless.
It is your right to bring in an expert and if you see a problem, have your MSP work with that partner. Most network professionals can install all of these things for you, but are you truly getting the right equipment and configuration for your network?
Many times, with managed service providers, if you do not ask, you do not get. Things like disaster and recovery plans must be discussed. MSPs will sell you backup solutions, but how do you recover your systems? What's the plan?
It is essential for every organization to evaluate what software and hardware it is using from time to time to ensure that it truly has what it needs. Many MSPs will order and replace whatever you tell them. They will not set up a recommended plan of action for you every year.
For example, you will have X number of machines that will need to be replaced, or you will need to think about upgrading your infrastructure. You might need a phased approach. An MSP can help you with issues if you report your network is slow, but do they make recommendations to prevent your network from getting slow?
You should engage your provider for assistance in developing your IT plans if you do not have the necessary staff on-site. Utilize your MSP to ensure that audits occur on hardware and software, keeping them in a proper cycle. Then verify that the information from the audits gets used.
There are nonprofit IT support services out there that take a what's-best-for-charities approach rather than a straight commercial approach. TechSoup partners with several of them to offer the TechSoup IT Assist program, which provides affordable help-desk support and IT maintenance.
Regardless of the focus of the provider, you may still encounter some of these common pitfalls.
Many of these issues are simple to avoid. Do your due diligence, get competitive quotes, and compare your MSP with other managed service providers every few years.
Beyond those basic things, help protect yourself from those pitfalls by looking for an independent IT professional. Many consultants and contractors who are available are not managed IT service providers but can be contracted to review your network and computer systems. Auditors are used frequently to independently verify your accounting, and it should be no different for your IT department. Embrace IT but ensure you are getting your money's worth.
Tony Caufield is a longtime IT manager and is founder and organizer of Tech4Good Las Vegas, a NetSquared technology community.
Image 1: Phovoir / Shutterstock
Image 2: Tony Caufield
Tony, you are soooo right about this. I"m one of those independent IT consultants, and I save nonprofits a bundle by being an intermediary between them and IT managed service provders. A lot of those MSPs don't even know about TechSoup!
@GoForITweb I have run into those that do not know about TechSoup they also will not research other grant information such as Microsoft's Office 365, MS Software grant program, Google's great grant that includes AdWords every month, analytics, storage and much more. The right MSP or Consultant can help nonprofits save thousands every year on technology.
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
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