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IT Managed Service Provider 101

Everything you need to know about partnering with an IT Managed Service Provider all conveniently in one place. 

We recommend you also reviewing the companion guide to this post called 7 Ways to Save Money on IT Services.

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Understanding the Basics of Managed IT Services

What Is An MSP?

A Managed Services Provider (MSP) is a third-party resource that will proactively manage your IT infrastructure, so your systems stay secure, updated, and running smoothly. The MSP tackles all the daily technical issues with your network and your infrastructure so that your employees can focus on your core business.

What Does an MSP Do?

An MSP will partner with your business, and, if applicable, your existing IT department. The MSP will work side-by-side to provide a roadmap of the services your business needs to thrive and grow.

These services will include:

Orange Checkmark Help desk services
Orange Checkmark Cloud integration
Orange Checkmark Patching and upgrading
Orange Checkmark Regulatory compliance
Orange Checkmark Monitoring and reporting
Orange Checkmark Cybersecurity
Orange Checkmark Business continuity and disaster backup and recovery
Orange Checkmark IT business strategies
Orange Checkmark Device auditing
Orange Checkmark IT procurement and licensing

Once you agree on the IT services you wish to outsource, you will sign a Service Level Agreement that clearly outlines what responsibilities and roles the MSP will take on for your organization.

What Can You Expect From an MSP?

Partnering with an MSP means that your service calls will receive prompt attention from a trained professional. The best IT services will be proactive, minimizing interruptions and downtime from failing networks or hardware.

Your organization can expect:

Orange Checkmark Predictable billing
Orange Checkmark Improved cybersecurity
Orange Checkmark Industry-specific regulatory compliance
Orange Checkmark Cutting-edge technology and tools
Orange Checkmark On-demand technology services

Why Turn to an MSP

The costs of an incident go far deeper than lost data, legal fees, and regulatory penalties. The cost in downtime alone can be staggering: The average cost of network downtime has been estimated at $5,600 per minute or $300,000 per hour.

That downtime isn’t exclusive to a cyber incident. Employee error, network failure, hardware failure are just a few of the ways your business’ bottom line can take a significant hit.

MSPs dedicate their efforts to making sure these interruptions don’t happen, and to promptly mitigate them and lessen the damages if they do.

Now that you understand what an MSP is and how it can help your business operate efficiently, let’s move on to your options.

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Comparing Your MSP Options

Getting Started

In this section, we will talk about four different options available, along with giving you the pros and cons of each.

Let’s take a closer look at your options.

  • Pay As You Go Break-Fix IT Model
  • Fixed Fee Managed Services
  • Hardware/Software Support from Vendors
  • Co-Managed Services

Break-Fix Model

Your business can choose an IT “break-fix” solution, opting to pay for services on an as-needed basis. You can also choose this solution for bigger projects when your own IT company is stretched too thin, or to run assessments and testing on your network.  
 
Pros – When you choose this level of coverage, you will not be paying monthly fees. This is a “pay as you go” platform, making it a seemingly good choice for companies on a limited IT budget.  
 
Cons – A break-fix model means an unpredictable IT budget. While you may seem to be saving money in some months, you will most likely be spending far more money than you planned in other months. This makes it very difficult to adequately measure your IT budget, meaning that when an issue arises you may be scrambling to allocate the necessary funds from other departments. 

Managed IT Services

Partnering with a managed services provider (MSP) means outsourcing your IT needs. There are many levels of support you can choose, including allowing the provider to work alongside your own IT department (a service level Iconic IT calls “co-managed services”), outsourcing some aspects such as cybersecurity or assessments (explained in the next section), or giving the MSP full management responsibility of your infrastructure.  
 
Managed IT services give you a predictable monthly budget and a predictable team that will be familiar with your network. Your managed services provider will conduct routine testing and assessments that will prevent network issues or mitigate them before they become bigger. Proactive network maintenance will spot small issues before they become serious problems.  
 
An MSP will generally provide the following services: 

Having a third party manage your IT services provides peace of mind and a hands-off approach so your network will be continuously updated and improved while your own teams can focus on running your business.  

Pros

Managed services providers create working roadmaps and priorities for your business. A signed Service Level Agreement lets you accurately predict your monthly IT expenses and understand exactly what is covered. MSPs typically document everything about your network into their internal knowledge bases that all their technicians can access in order to more quickly resolve support requests. Some MSPs go a step further and have dedicated teams for specific groups of clients, which ensures you’re always talking to the same set of technicians. MSPs specialize in securing networks against current threats in order to keep your network running smoothly. They can assist or with or completely manage a transition to the cloud, enhance your security footprint with cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence technologies, and keep you compliant in an ever-changing technology landscape.  
 
Cons  
 
Many businesses feel they cannot afford managed IT services, and finding a good balance between budget and needed level of support may seem impossible. That said, with MSPs you generally get what you pay for. To mitigate this risk, look for an MSP that doesn’t lock you into a long-term contract. Should you become unhappy with their service or simply outgrow them, you never want to be stuck with an IT provider that’s no longer a fit for your company.

Hardware/Software Support from Vendors

Free software support services rely on a customer service-based, remote-only support platform for the applications you run most frequently. These can include software updates and security patches or limited help-desk services. You will still require an internal IT tech team to run and trouble-shoot the applications on site and install all upgrades and security patches.  
 
Software vendors are not consistent with the amount of free vs. paid support (support contract) available, but the best choice for software support is almost always from a paid support contract. Meanwhile, hardware vendors are rather consistent, seldom offering a warranty or support.  
 
Support from unofficial sources such as message boards, mailing lists, third-party websites will vary greatly among both hardware and software vendors.  
 
Pros  
 
Software support is usually free, included with the applications themselves. Most software companies will alert you when upgrades and updates are available, and 1-800 numbers will put you in contact with a “specialist” for that specific application.  
 
Cons  
 
When your network is experiencing a problem, it can be hard to pinpoint the exact source. You also may experience extended wait times before being connected to an “expert” who reads from a script. The solutions to your issue may be far more complicated than the voice on the other end of the phone is able to identify, much less implement. Remember that software support will only cover the applications and programs you use, not the infrastructure supporting it.  
 
Software companies do attempt, in good faith, to release software updates frequently. When updating, however, your employees will be unable to access the program and after the installation they may find some key features are disabled. Knowing this, most employees are more than happy to continue hitting “remind me later” rather than disrupt their daily activities. Some software updates will require hardware updates as well and be at risk for “compatibility issues” that will affect the integration of the updates.  
 
Important note: An application’s security patches are only as good as the information the developer has regarding trending threats, and your network may not be as protected as it should be.  
 
Lastly, if you run several families of applications like most businesses, you will need to have the help-desk services number for each one on hand whenever an issue arises. Your antivirus software, for instance, will have a different set of support numbers than your operating systems or your email client support services.  
 
A managed services provider will streamline the process, shouldering the burden of support for all your business-related applications and software. The provider will update and upgrade all security patches in real-time, avoiding the vulnerability of gaps in security and software versions.  

Co-Managed Services Explained

There are two managed services options: fully managed, which handles every part of a business’ IT needs, and co-managed, which works alongside to supplement or complement your existing IT team.  
 
Your internal IT lead may not be willing to admit that your IT department is overworked and lacking the resources to keep up with the demands of the modern workplace. Unfortunately, many businesses find themselves unable to expand their internal IT departments for many reasons, with budgetary considerations topping the list. It’s costly to find the right IT personnel, pay them a competitive salary, include benefit packages, sick leave and vacation time, and the equipment they need to properly to do their jobs.  
 
Co-managed services is a solution that gives your IT department an extra boost. It allows your existing technicians to benefit from the expertise of a MSP while maintaining autonomy within your computer. 

 

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Pricing

Your network’s size, the age of your equipment, and the level of coverage you need will shape your business’ IT spend. As a business leader, you need to understand your network needs: are you looking for a hands-off, all-inclusive approach or just a little assistance? When choosing your options, you will most likely need to decide between break-fix model or managed IT services.  

Pay As You Go Break-Fix Model – Break-fix pricing varies widely. The price for an onsite visit can range from $75-250 per hour, with most providers requiring at least a couple of hours at a minimum for a service call. 

Fixed Fee Managed Services – Outsourcing IT is frequently the best option, and more affordable in the long run. Many MSPs offer different packages and layers of coverage and some have a great hybrid solution for augmenting your IT department.   

There are two commonly-used pricing options:  
 
Per device: You are billed monthly per device (every PC, laptop, Mac, or server) regardless of how many people are using each.  

Per user: The opposite of per-device, this option bills for every user regardless of how many devices they use. This is the most common pricing model used by MSPs.  
 
Generally, you will find that prices vary significantly among MSPs, however you can expect fees to range between $75 to $300 per user per month, with most pricing falling between the $100 to $150 range. Some MSPs offer a basic plan, offering add-ons a la carte while others provide an all-inclusive plan of services and coverage.  
 
Co-managed:
Co-managed services provide an intermediate step between relying on your internal IT staff, or having everything managed by a managed services provider. Under this model, you can pick and choose what services you need help with, and which you don’t. For that reason, it’s difficult to say whether this will make your budget go up or down, as it depends on the services you purchase. This is, however, a viable option that find themselves in that “in-between” place, before their businesses are big enough to have their own fully staffed IT departments.

Evaluating IT Companies

What to Consider When Choosing a Managed Service IT Provider (MSP)

There are a lot of MSPs out there, and like restaurants with coffee, each one claims to be the best. Here is a list of things to look for when weighing your options: 

Experienced Professionals

An MSP should provide experienced professionals with the expertise you need to address every aspect of your IT needs including:

  • Technicians
  • Account Managers
  • Strategic Planning Professionals
  • Cybersecurity Experts
  • Customer Service Representatives
  • Thought Leaders

These are just a few of the benchmarks you should look for when considering a partnership with an MSP.

A Clear Onboarding Process

When you sign on with an MSP, what will your first weeks look like? How about a month from now? Six months? Your MSP should be very clear about the steps they are going to take and what that will look like for your business.

A Typical MSP’s Onboarding Process Should Look Like:

Onboarding Process

Proven Processes

Do they have a proven process to evaluate your business to see what level of support you need?  
 
Look for a company that has three touchstones for every client. An ideal proven process includes:  

Proven Process

Flexibility and Transparency

An MSP should be flexible and willing to work within your budget and should be completely upfront about pricing and coverage. 

  • Avoid MSPs that quote prices without researching your company to make sure they are a good fit for you  
  • Stay away from one-size-fits-all solutions  
  • Read the fine print to make sure you’re getting exactly what you’re paying for 

Scalability

A business can easily outgrow an MSP when the provider is too eager to get a signature on a contract and doesn’t bother to understand their client’s vision and goals. 
 

  • Make sure the MSP will give you a free consultation to assess both your current and future needs  
  • Avoid any MSP that doesn’t seem willing to align their strategies with your goals 
  • Make sure the potential provider has a realistic understanding of where you see your company in a year, within the next five years, and further out 

The Right Fit

You work hard to develop and maintain the company culture, and your MSP should be closely aligned with that culture. No one wants to call a support desk and talk to a technician that’s unhelpful, lazy, and condescending. As you strive to provide great customer service to your clients, your MSP should do the same. Ask yourself: 
 

  • Does this company have a “personality” like ours?  
  • Can I see myself or my own employees interacting with this MSP’s employees? 
  • Are the MSP’s employees friendly and helpful at every level (sales, managers, administrators, help desk services)?  

Support Desk Services

Have you ever tried to Google a solution to a problem because you know a particular company’s customer service line will keep you on hold indefinitely and when they do answer, won’t be very helpful? Your MSP’s support desk services can be a pleasure to deal with or a hassle that your employees will actively avoid. Support Desk services are a vital part of any MSP, and how this department interacts with your employees is critical. 
  

  • Google the MSP to get a feel for how it resolves issues  
  • Ask to meet the Support Desk technicians who you will be working with  
  • Try calling the Support Desk at different times a day to get a feel for how long their wait times may be 

Consulting and Strategic Guidance

Consulting and strategic guidance are how an MSP produces a technology plan, or roadmap, to align your technology with your business. This roadmap should include all planned and recommended changes, upgrades, and improvements for your network clearly defined, prioritized, and priced out to provide you with a comprehensive IT strategy.  
 
An effective technology roadmap should include: 

  • Prioritized, individualized, and manageable goals  
  • Planning to complement your current IT structure and budget  
  • A regular in-depth review of your current technology to identify any misalignment with your business goals 

Proactive Maintenance

proactive approach to network maintenance provides advance warning to potential problems and can save your business significant downtime and costs vs. reacting to a sudden disruptive incident.  
 
Look for MSPs that offer: 
 

Top-tier MSPs spend 60% of the time proactively managing networks

An Effective and Comprehensive Network Security Stack

Modern cybercrime needs modern solutions; traditional antivirus is no longer an effective way to protect your network. Encryptionantivirus powered by AImulti factor authentication, identity and access management platforms, and other layered strategies are necessary to keep your network secure.  
 

  • Does the MSP offer multiple layers of antivirus, such as a fully-manned 24/7 Security Operations Center?  
  • Does the MSP offer routine Dark Web credential monitoring to detect stolen personally-identifiable information?  
  • Does the MSP guarantee the timely deployment of updates and security patches?  

    Cybersecurity  Awareness Training

    While your employees are your most valued resource, they can also be your biggest security vulnerability. Most malware and ransomware infections occur through email phishing scams, so it’s vital that your MSP offers routine cybersecurity awareness training to keep your employees informed and vigilant. At the very least, this training should cover: 
     

    • Identifying suspicious emails  
    • Phishing simulation campaigns to test and educate  
    • Explanation of email attack vectors such as spoofing, business email compromise, and fraudulent links 

      Dedicated Support Teams

      While an MSP may have an excellent Support Desk to handle day-to-day issues, what happens if the problem is too complex to be handled remotely? Will they send out the next available technician or one who is already familiar with your network, employees, and business needs? Having a dedicated support team means your technicians will arrive onsite with an understanding of the issue and how it affects your productivity, as well as documented knowledge of where the issue started and how to fix it.  
       
      Top-tier MSPs believe that dedicated teams should go one step further than support. They also provide dedicated teams for every aspect of their relationship with the client, including system administrators, strategic planners, and account managers.

      How Can An MSP Save My Business Money?

      A recent study revealed that budgetary concerns are among the top issues cited by business leaders when considering their current and future IT plans. While partnering with an MSP seems cost-prohibitive initially, it will save your business money. Here are five ways partnering with an MSP for proactive IT support can save you money:  Predictable Billing – It’s easier to save money when you know exactly what you will spend every month.  

      Decreased Downtime – Partnering with an MSP allows proactive monitoring of your network to identify and address potential issues before they affect your network. Increased productivity and efficiency lead to decreased downtime.  

      Decreased Indirect Costs – Without managed IT services, your business is at risk for regulatory violations. In the event of a data breach, if you are unable to prove you took the necessary steps to protect your data, your business can be held liable for damages in a court of law. The fallout from such an incident can include damage to your brand, lost customers, legal awards to customers for damages, costly industry violations, and more. An MSP takes some of the liability from business owners by providing comprehensive technological compliance with regulations.  

      Prioritize Your IT Needs – As part of the ongoing consulting and strategic guidance an MSP provides, your technology roadmap will prioritize your IT needs. Without expert guidance, business leaders and IT department management may not know where to start with network optimization, cybersecurity programs, and other technology initiatives. An MSP can guide your business by focusing IT spend on the most important and necessary strategies first.  

      Trending Tech Will Save Money on Hardware – The recent trend of migrating services to the cloud is saving businesses significant investment in on-premises IT infrastructure. The level of network security, reliability, and backup/disaster recovery that cloud services offer is also far superior to anything most businesses could afford to build themselves. Additionally, the benefit of being able to connect your employees to your cloud services securely from anywhere in the world means increased efficiency and productivity. 

      Why Iconic IT

      Iconic IT is an award-winning Managed Services Provider who specializes in cutting-edge network optimization solutions, cloud technologies, cybersecurity, and business strategy and planning. Partnering with us gives you access to the tools and strategies that your business needs to survive and thrive.  

      Iconic IT Dedicated Tech Teams

      At Iconic IT, we are all about teams. From our dedicated tech teams to our helpful support services, we offer more than just talented and friendly professionals. Iconic IT’s teams must pass rigorous hiring requirements including enterprise-level technical knowledge.  
       
      It doesn’t stop there. Our account managers and help desk teams are trained in the DeJulius model of customer service, meaning your experience will be outstanding at every level. We believe that better services come from “ownership,” so every client is assigned an account manager to ensure only the highest quality services. Our teams work together seamlessly so businesses can focus on what’s important.

      Iconic IT’s Advanced Cybersecurity Platforms

      Iconic IT is also the place to find Endpoint Detection & Response (EDR), a unique cybersecurity platform that is a blend of cutting-edge AI software and a manned Security Operations Center that continuously monitors and protects your network and systems from the myriad cyberthreats on the Internet.. We also make sure your employees become the Protectors of Your Network by providing cybersecurity awareness training and phishing simulations. 

      Iconic IT’s Highly-Trained and Experienced Professionals

      Our technicians are highly trained and experienced. Iconic IT has a CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) on staff, one of only 141,000 technicians across the globe to achieve this elite certification.

      Iconic IT’s Technology Alignment Coordinator

      A unique member of your technical team, the Technology Alignment Coordinator’s responsibility is to perform regular proactive reviews of your network infrastructure to identify technology gaps that aren’t aligned with your business goals or aren’t in compliance with technical best practices or regulations. This brings visibility of those needs to both you and your Iconic teams so that they get addressed quickly and thoroughly. 

      Iconic IT’s Outstanding Support Desk

      Our support desk services are second-to-none, with friendly and talented people who will help you immediately or find someone who can. We believe that every minute spent on hold waiting for an answer is a minute too long. 

      Iconic IT’s Affordable, Comprehensive Plans

      You’ll find that even our basic IT services cover more than many MSPs’ comprehensive plans. We provide the right services at the right prices, with plans and packages that fit any IT budget. We stand behind our services with both a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee and no long-term contracts. 

      How Much Do Managed IT Services Plans Cost?
      Download the Iconic IT Pricing Guide and Find Out!

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