According to Wikipedia, Managed services is the practice of outsourcing day-to-day management responsibilities as a strategic method for improving operations and cutting expenses. This can include outsourcing HR-activities, Production Support and lifecycle build/maintenance activities. The person or organisation that owns or has direct oversight of the organisation or system being managed is referred to as the offer-er, client or customer. The person or organisation that accepts and provides the managed service is regarded as the service provider or MSP.
But what does it really mean to you?
Having worked in the IT industry for 15 years, I’ve seen the phrase “Managed Service” used in different ways. But only now in my current role do I truly feel I’ve learned what it actually means. I believe that I can easily explain what it means by detailing how MSPs become more than just an IT support company. The road to becoming an MSP can be a long one, learning and adapting along to way to end up with a bespoke company ethos and a continued passion for improvement.
IT Support – Reactive
There are lots of small companies that exist and offer IT Support providing via a reactive service. What this means is that if you have a problem, you call someone and they will attempt to fix the issue perhaps over the phone using some kind of free remote control software such as LogMeIn etc., or they will have to come and see you. This kind of support is usually found with small 1 or 2 man businesses, typically only supporting a small number of customers. For some organisations, this level of support is good enough, but very often I speak to businesses that perhaps have outgrown a small IT support company and the sheer volume of support calls being generated just can’t be handled by a “one man band”.
Not only are resources and response times an issue, but there is also a limitation with regards to technical knowledge. Someone running a business on their own and supporting dozens of customers will never have the time to become accredited and skilled in the various technologies that exist today. This is usually why these small IT companies only deal with organisations using things like Microsoft Small Business Server and various other basic architectures. The relationships forged with clients though are usually very strong and personable, a benefit that all clients appreciate, no matter how big.
IT Support – Proactive
In my view the next step up from these small reactive companies are Proactive IT Support companies. They generally seem to have 20 or more staff (unlike the one man band) and adopt a different and more calculated approach to IT Support. They will use more sophisticated software to remotely log in and monitor certain services and statuses, as well as use a ticket based CRM package to track support calls from clients.
The level of service you get from a company being Proactive means that certain issues are alerted automatically, updates are installed automatically and a general awareness of what’s going on within the network can be monitored by the Support Team. This level of support enables the Support Company to react quickly and have an organised workforce, both offering remote and on-site assistance.
This is where I have seen the largest quantity of companies boasting to offer this level of service, some genuinely do offer this level of technical competence and high level support, but some merely use these benefits as a way of gaining new clients. I’ve won lots of business and taken on-board new clients because we have conducted an audit and found that all the things the incumbent promised to do, they didn’t deliver on, nor do they continue to practice what they preach.
It’s clear to me that many companies become partnered or accredited with some kind of proactive technology provider just to be able to say that it’s included as part of their service. Rarely have I seen someone actually develop technology and solutions to genuinely bring benefits to a client’s infrastructure. This is something I see more and more, usually by sales driven IT companies, instead of service lead MSPs.
IT Support – Managed Services
When it comes to IT companies who offer the very best service, Managed Services is normally their core offering. Surround this offering is a plethora of IT solutions that add value and really help a client to operate their business more efficiently.
This means that once you get the support element right, the other services that can be offered can be implemented based on a relationship of trust. But getting the support side of things right is crucial!
You have to get your IT support right, making sure it meets the needs of the client and provides a well-oiled machine in which support staff can look after a client. But along with this comes some other key factors in providing a great Managed Service.
I believe the key to a long relationship is people. To put it simply, people buy from people, and people don’t buy from people they don’t like. When it comes to account managers, they play a crucial part in steering a relationship. Their job is to sit between the service side of the Managed Services and the client’s key decision makers. With the backing of the Managed Services, the Account Manager can concentrate of aligning IT technologies with business strategy. It’s their job to understand where the client is now, where they are going and how best to deliver the best IT infrastructure to enable the client to hit targets, meet requirements and successfully follow their chosen business plan.
A good Account Manager will have an excellent knowledge of modern IT technology, but also a proven track record of working long term with clients, seeing the pitfalls and risks that could affect a business and giving sound advice to a customer. The key is listening to a customer and knowing when to recommend a solution, not just to make money, but to provide a solution to a problem. In my line of work I have lots of experience and I’m able to help my customers choose the right solution based on my knowledge of IT but also of the customer. This close working relationship is what gets me that position of trusted advisor, making me a key part of the client’s decisions making process.
So Managed Services is a combination of excellent people, modern technology but above all else a passion to do the right thing by the customer. You won’t keep a customer for very long if all you try and do is sell to them, instead you should spend the time to understand the needs of the customer and then select the right solution when the time is right.
The end goal is a happy customer, which happily stays a customer for many years. Keeping these core values at the forefront of your relationship will help you achieve this.