Managed IT Services and Managed Services Providers - What are they and how they can empower your company for strategic growth. By: Mark Grafing

Many business owners hear the term " Managed IT Services" and do not always know what that means. To a Small or Medium Business it can be the difference between empowering growth for your company or it can mean a financial loss and many frustrated hours spent waiting for assistance with computing issues. So, what are Managed IT Services? Simply put, Managed IT Services are those information technology services which are provided by a company that manages server, network, desktop and software applications for a customer. The provider of these services is referred to as a Managed Services Provider or MSP.

I recently spoke with a company that jumped on board with an MSP and was waiting for the contract to end. They spent hours and sometimes days waiting to hear back from their chosen MSP, instead of getting Information Technology issues resolved in a timely manner. When you are a running a small or medium-sized business, your biggest advantage against larger competitors is to be able to turn things around quickly. A good analogy is a sailboat competing against a large cruise ship with the smaller sailboat winning the race by turning on a dime when the cruise ship needs to turn on a quarter. In many instances, this is your only advantage against a larger competitor. Your IT staff or provider not reacting quickly to a much needed support request can be a deal killer.

When choosing an IT Vendor, always ask who answers the phone when you call for computer support. Is it a person who simply fills out a help ticket or is it someone who is actually going to work to fix your problem? Next, always ask what their meantime between repairs is and if there are any current customers you can call to gauge their satisfaction. Managed IT Service means that they are accepting the responsibility of your IT systems as would a hired onsite IT employee. The expectations should be the same as having an onsite IT Person when you hire a Managed Service Provider. It makes great sense to consider the cost savings, and if you do your due diligence, you will likely find that there is an even greater benefit to hiring a service. Some of those benefits are: a Managed Service Provider never requests vacation or calls in sick leaving you without the support you need. MSP's also have a greater staffing level with multiple specialties covered. A small IT Staff has a limit to how much knowledge they can have. When a project comes up that is outside of their knowledge set, costs can grow exponentially since you have to contract with qualified experts.

A truly good MSP will train their Helpdesk staff on the latest technologies in hardware and software. Additionally, a good MSP will also align your IT infrastructure with your business model to help you grow your business. No two businesses are run the same way, so why should your IT Support be any different? Looking at " how" a company uses their IT is a very important job as it is the only way to align IT with business processes and streamline operations. A good MSP will also offer you an array of services that are typically required to operate your business. Be careful of what the industry calls "stickiness." Stickiness refers to service offerings that make it difficult to leave them if things go bad. We suggest always asking the following questions:

1.Who will answer the phone when you call?

2.What hours can I call for support?

3.What is your typical response time?

4.What do your services cover onsite?

5.Do you have any references?

6.Is there an upfront fee?

7.Will you carry liability insurance for my Company?

These questions can save you both time and money and help you make a good choice!

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