Whether you make software, sprockets or sandwiches, your business depends on information technology to one degree or another. As IT grows in both significance and complexity, managed service providers (MSPs) fill an essential need.
For a predictable monthly fee, MSPs provide access to expertise, skill sets and intellectual property that can be cost-prohibitive to keep on staff. Additionally, managed services allow you to offload some of the routine but essential IT tasks that could be diverting focus from more strategic initiatives.
Unlike the old break/fix approach to IT support, an MSP provides proactive services designed to resolve issues before something breaks. An MSP arrangement typically includes help-desk support, 24/7 networking monitoring, software updates and systems patching. More inclusive packages might add security monitoring, managed backups and mobile-device management.
However, the growth of managed IT services has also led some providers to overpromise and under deliver. Beware of anyone pledging to cover all your technology needs for a flat monthly fee. You will may be seriously disappointed.
A solid managed services arrangement should explicitly state what items are covered — as well as those that are excluded. Exclusions typically cover unpredictable tasks or events that fall outside of normal day-to-day operations. There’s just no way for an MSP to plan for such contingencies when preparing a monthly estimate.
Typical exclusions might include:
- Project work. Installation and configuration of new hardware, network reconfigurations, virtualization initiatives and major software upgrades usually fall outside the scope of a managed services arrangement. Such tasks require advance knowledge of project requirements to effectively estimate the time and effort involved.
- Office moves. Moving servers and workstations isn’t always a simple task. Without advance knowledge and proper planning, there can be unplanned expenses and downtime. Such moves typically require a site survey and an understanding of the new location’s network infrastructure, physical layout, cabling and power requirements, and more.
- Hardware failures. Some agreements may include labor costs, but not the costs of actually replacing the hardware. Any services required due to hardware being modified, altered or damaged by your employees would be extra. Repairs for out-of-warranty hardware would also be excluded.
- Failures due to floods, fires, earthquakes, lightning strikes, pipe leaks, power surges or other extraordinary events obviously fall outside the realm of day-to-day operations.
Software development, code modification, hardware recycling, desktop imaging and other infrequent activities might also be excluded. However, this doesn’t mean a good MSP with a broad range of expertise can’t be a valuable resource for any of these things. It just means they can’t be expected to properly evaluate and estimate the costs in advance. With a better understanding of the scope and requirements, your MSP can perform these tasks and bill them on a reasonable hourly basis.
Day-to-day IT monitoring, management and technical support services deliver quantifiable value through increased efficiency and reduced downtime with predictable costs. However, MSPs can’t anticipate unpredictable events, so there are times when essential work may fall outside the scope of contracted responsibility. That needn’t be cause for conflict. With clear communications and explicit definitions up front, both sides will understand the limits and can agree on a billable rate for out-of-scope work that is fair for both parties.