What questions should you use when vetting any Managed Services Provider?

Technology and IT touches every piece of your organization. And with the pandemic and the added cyber-security threats, choosing the right IT support or Managed Service Provider has never been more important.

But where do you start? What questions should you ask when vetting any Managed Services Provider?  And what questions do you ask that gives you true insights into hiring an IT provider who understands your business and has a team you can trust?

As one of the first Managed Service Providers in the Twin Cities who has always focused on supporting SMBs of every size, this is a question we often get from our colleagues and business partners.  So we felt compelled to give you unbiased answers and questions to help.

As you would expect,  Managed Services Providers come at all levels of quality and expertise. And the fact is, here in the Twin Cities,  there are a tiny handful of really greats ones, some average ones, and some IT providers you want to stay away from.

We are very proud of the companies we guide and support, but we also know we are not a good fit for every organization. So to assist you in your search, we have created these 14 questions to you can refer too when vetting any Managed Services Provider.

 

  1. Do you have exact response times, and do you have written guidelines?

The most common complaint is about slow response time. There are several reasons for this, including staff levels, how they track each ticket, and the fact that most IT support companies don’t address. And that is the chaos that happens regularly when the service desk gets hit with 2-3 times as many calls. Handling this chaos is what separates great IT provider companies from the rest. So we call our system DEFCON, ask them what theirs is called and how they handle it!

 

  2. Are we assigned a dedicated help desk technician?

When talking with and vetting any Managed Services Provider, the typical answer you’ll hear is “yes.” But many times, you have to wait for that technician to become available, and your issue may be urgent. The best answer is “no,” in most cases. Because you want service requests to start with the first available Tier 1 technician, and if not solved after 30 minutes, it needs to quickly get escalated to the next service level.

 

   3. When we call for support, who answers the phone, a technician or a dispatcher?

Most IT support companies will have your first go through a dispatcher. And yes, this does delay the time to get a technician, often requiring you to repeat the problem to a second person.  So try to find an IT provider that all calls go directly to a technician, which may cause a bit longer hold times in the beginning.  A good rule of thumb to expect is having 95% of calls going directly to a technician, with a less than 90 second hold time on average.

 

   4. Do you offer onsite or after-hours support in the event of an emergency?

This is an important one, and it’s smart to choose a provider that offers both remote and onsite support. While most issues should be resolved remotely, there is a tremendous value to speaking in person. Often, technicians will discover problems or ask questions that they wouldn’t have called in about, helping prevent additional issues.

 

    5. Do you offer proactive management rather than reactive break/fix service?

As technology becomes more critical for your operation, IT support can no longer be delegated on a break/fix model. Instead, when vetting any Managed Service Provider (MSP), look for a provider that will identify problems before they occur.  And you want a MSP that will dedicate time to creating a clear technology roadmap that matches your business strategies.

 

 6. What is your strategy so you almost never have downtime?

The typical answer you will hear is, “We provide a premium backup solution,” or “we identify weak areas, then build a roadmap with many network improvements.” Unfortunately, neither one of these answers will do. You are looking for a provider that will perform an annual exercise to identify EVERY downtime risk point and clearly lay out a plan and costs to resolve any weak areas. This encompasses over 20 areas, including cloud vs. premise, redundancy, backups, connectivity, telephony, cybersecurity, and insurance.

 

   7. Do you have a bundled, all-inclusive cyber-security solution, or just various optional security items that are an extra cost?

Most IT providers you will talk to will not have a bundle to offer you.  They will have lots of security deployments they can recommend and will charge extra. Or if they do have a bundle, it is a package from a 3rd party.  You are looking for a Managed Service Provider that offers a fully layered security bundle that is part of their MSP monthly cost.  SMBs no longer have an option to sit on the sideline regarding cyber-security.  You are looking for a company that will protect all of your weaknesses.

 

   8. What nationally recognized security standard do you follow?

Typically you will hear, we don’t follow a standard, but our security analyst is certified …  that answer is not enough. You are looking for an IT provider that follows the NIST v.1.1 guidelines, the gold standard of cybersecurity frameworks.  This framework ensures a strong security strategy and posture.

There are a few other high-quality standards some IT providers follow, including the MITRE framework. The key is, the MSP you choose must follow one of the nationally recognized security standards, and we feel NIST is the best.

 

  9. Do you provide remote management and monitoring?

By definition, IT support and Managed Service Providers are responsible for monitoring your IT and technology environment. Therefore, you are looking for a provider that installs a 24/7/365 monitoring system that collects and evaluates the performance of your network. And this system must be proactive, so the MSP can fix the problem before it escalates.

 

 10. Do you offer a truly all-inclusive support plan, and what are your fees for additional work or projects, and what do you foresee in the near future not covered by our monthly fee?

All businesses are price-conscious.  But one of the tricks some IT providers will use will be to offer a small monthly fee and then upselling you on the project after project, which will often be larger than your yearly fees. So you need to know exactly what their service does and doesn’t offer. And to ask what projects do they foresee in the future.  This will quickly vet out the providers you want to stay clear of.

 

   11. Do you have long-term contracts, and how does that benefit me?

IT providers that require long-term contracts will tell you that we eat the upfront discovery and onboarding costs and therefore need a commitment from you to earn them back.”  

Although that answer may seem reasonable on the surface, it’s just a lowball sales tactic and doesn’t incentivize the MSP to perform awesomely.  They also may say, “This is a partnership, and we both need skin in the game.”

This also seems like a reasonable answer, but don’t buy it.  It is just another cover for locking you in a long-term contract.  Most of the top MSPs in the Twin Cities will not require long-term contracts; as they know, their service and experience are what keeps the relationship going.

 

   12. What if things don’t work out? What’s the process to offboard?

Many providers will tell you to wait until your contract expires.  Then they will initiate the process to remove our tools and provide the new MSP with settings and passwords.

The most respected Managed Service Providers will only need 30 days’ notice when you want to leave.  And they will give you clear offboarding steps for you and your new MSP, provide settings and passwords, and schedule a date to remove their tools.

 

  13. Do you have a Co-Managed solution?

You’ll find that many MSPs don’t have a Co-Managed program per se. And most will tell you, “but we do work with companies that have an IT staff.” So you are looking for providers with a written Co-Managed program that is highly customizable and offers metrics to measure the ROI of that engagement.

 

  14. What kind of ROI can we expect from our technology and support investments?

This question will really separate the advanced IT Providers from the rest.  With technology touching every part of your company and a digital transformation happening in pretty much every industry. It is a must to have an IT provider that can help you set up metrics to measure the ROI of every one of your technology choices.

 

RECAP

At the end of the day, your organization runs on technology. And that infrastructure, and everything connected to it, is arguably the most important part of your organization.

When sitting down with any IT support company use these 14 questions when vetting any Managed Services Provider. And pay good attention to their answers.

If at any point you feel like their answers are vague or even dodgy, seriously consider moving on to the next provider.

 

Next Steps

We hope these questions help you in your search.  If you are interested in additional insights regarding Managed IT Services, here are a few more articles that may help.

Why is IT Support So Erratic

Understanding Cyber Resilience

 

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