Managed services is a concept thrown about in the IT industry, often with little understanding of what the term truly means. In fact, many of the vendors who claim to offer managed services tend to twist the definition to align with their own service offerings and sales goals.

Managed services is often equated with IT support, little more than a break-fix agreement. After all, that’s the traditional model that people understand. In their eyes, managed services simply outsources these responsibilities to a managed services provider (MSP) and amortizes the cost over the life of the contract. But managed services, and MSPs, have a far more strategic purpose than fixing technology when it breaks.

IT support is certainly part of the equation. In a perfect world, however, managed services would prevent the need for support. That’s because the true goal of managed services is to make the IT environment better – better performance, better availability, better efficiency, better security, better disaster recovery. Most importantly, managed services should enable better identification and resolution of issues before they disrupt business operations and the user experience.

More than an IT service, an MSP provides a valuable business service that can create competitive advantages and enhance your brand reputation. In terms of risk management, an MSP can help you reduce the risk of data breaches and compliance violations by implementing modern controls and best practices for accessing network resources, particularly sensitive data. For example, if you don’t keep up with backups and security patches, the odds of serious impact from a data breach increase exponentially.

Rather than waiting for technology to fail, an MSP can continuously monitor and optimize performance to maximize productivity. An MSP understands the relationships and dependencies between mission-critical applications and the technologies that support them, which allows the MSP to be more proactive in troubleshooting potential problems. For example, would you rather receive an alert when a device is approaching its memory limit, or after that memory limit has been reached?

These are all critical areas in the execution of a strategic IT vision, which typically involves creating a more predictable cost structure, improving user and customer experiences, reducing risk and downtime, and preserving brand equity. If technology plays a role in most or all areas of your business operations, and you don’t have the IT staff to continuously monitor and maintain that technology, managed services could very well be considered a business necessity.

Because of the strategic importance of managed services, you certainly don’t want to choose an MSP based on price or a laundry list of services on a sales sheet. An MSP must invest time, staff, technology and resources into each relationship for managed services to be effective. Be wary of MSPs who simply give you a number to call. This is a sign of the break-fix mentality that managed services is supposed to replace. Find out if the MSP has experience in your specific industry. Request references. Have an attorney review proposed service agreements. Vet MSPs as you would any strategic business partner.

The SSD Assurance program is designed to help small to midsize businesses get the maximum value from managed services and their IT environment. Let us show you how SSD lives up to the promise of managed services by ensuring stability, security and high performance, as well as the alignment of IT systems with business processes and goals.