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  The Computer Guys


What to Look For in a Managed Services Provider

The reasons for deciding to engage a managed services provider as a strategic business resource for your business may be obvious; cost savings, security, reliability, peace of mind - just to name a few.  Now comes the tricky part, how to decide which managed services provider is best for your business.  In order for you to make the best decision possible take into consideration the following factors when sizing up the vastly competitive world of managed services providers.

Costs and Cost Savings:  To a certain degree cost is always one of the key deciding factors in any business decision; and it is certainly a consideration when choosing a managed services provider.  When factoring how much these services will cost your business, first ensure that you are comparing apples to apples, and consider the cost savings you may realize from increased proactive support which will maximize your uptime and productivity; as well as the benefits of the ability to budget for your support on a predictable monthly flat-fee subscription basis..

Agreement Review: Obtain a detailed agreement outlining exactly what services will be provided by the agreement, and what services are not covered, but instead  billed in addition to the standard flat monthly fee.  Verify what type of support is included in the agreement, and if the support is twenty four hours a day, seven days a week or if there will be extra charges for your after-hours or weekend support needs.  

Qualified Personnel:  Ascertain that potential providers not only have qualified and certified staff in the areas of expertise that your business requires; but also inquire as to what type of programs they have in place to keep their personnel up to date on the latest IT developments and technologies available.

Maintenance, Monitoring and Security:  Verify that services include frequent, periodic hardware and software checks for the latest security patches and updates.  Services should also include remote monitoring of your systems twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week, allowing the provider the ability to identify and address potential problems before they have the opportunity to escalate to service outages or crisis situations. 

This monitoring needs to encompass the total security of your entire infrastructure, including your firewall, email, anti-virus and anti-spyware solutions.

Backups and Remote Data Storage:  Make certain to select a vendor that has the ability to fully restore your systems at any time under any circumstances in the event of disaster or data loss; whether caused by a security breach, disgruntled employee, virus, or natural disaster.  This level of service should be provided through both local and remote backup and storage capabilities by the managed services provider, and governed by a robust backup schedule, whose effectiveness should be regularly verified through regular test restores of data - you can never be too careful with your critical business and client data.

Reports:  Any qualified managed services provider should provide at a minimum quarterly status and service reports detailing: overall system performance, potential problem areas, and areas of opportunity for improvement.  This data should provide you with the information you need in order to make better business decisions regarding your information and technology services, with the objective of supporting your budgeting for technology and infrastructure improvements that will continue to reduce your costs, improve your efficiencies, mitigate business pain and reduce risk.

Customer Satisfaction and Referrals:  Request a list of references from potential providers of a subset of their clients that are in the same or a similar line of business or industry as you are.  When contacting these references, inquire about their overall level of satisfaction.  In addition, inquire specifically about how long it took for the provider to "on-board" them, or implement their services, the number and frequency of system failures they may have experienced since engaging the provider's services, any resulting downtime from failures and the provider's response time and overall time to completely resolve the situation.

Deciding on a managed services provider for your business can seem like a daunting task simply due to the overwhelming number of choices in the marketplace.  You can streamline the decision-making process by putting together an outline based on the mentioned, with sub topics addressing your specific business needs.  Use a basic system to score potential providers in each category (pass/fail, or a scale of one through ten), tally up the total scores from each and see if the scores line up with your overall "gut instinct" impression.