by John Edwards

8 ways to get the most from your managed service provider

Apr 28, 2021
Managed Service ProvidersOutsourcing

A growing number of IT leaders are turning to MSPs to help address challenges posed by rapidly evolving IT services. Here’s how to ensure your MSP provides maximum value and minimal distress.

outsourcing checklist
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The decision to shift some or all in-house IT operations to a managed service provider (MSP), particularly in an age of technology disruption, pandemics, and evolving business models, can mark a crucial step toward ensuring long-term IT and enterprise success.

Promising deep technical knowledge, insight, and expertise, MSPs can deliver value and advanced solutions that in-house IT teams might find difficult to develop on their own. Managing an MSP relationship from inception with the right mindset can yield enormous value, notes Bob Lamendola, vice president of infrastructure and engineering services at digital services and information management provider Ricoh USA. “There might be times when the relationship is uneasy, but the foundation that’s set is what will get it through the rough spots,” he says.

Before committing to any IT outsourcing strategy, pay attention to the following eight ways to gain greatest value out of an MSP partnership.

1. Be honest about your goals and needs

Sharing business objectives and goals is essential to establishing a successful MSP alliance.

“The MSP must be able to match that understanding with acknowledgement of how their approach fits those objectives,” Lamendola explains. “An organization that approaches an MSP relationship with an upfront investment in developing a shared vision on how the organizations will work, interact, and evolve together will typically result in a positive experience.”

A policy of honesty and openness is always highly effective, since it reflects the same basic principles that organizational effectiveness methodologies are built on: communication, collaboration, shared goals, measurement, analysis, and continuous improvement. “When the MSP relationship is rooted in an extension of the organization’s structure and culture, the experience is mutually beneficial,” Lamendola states.

2. Do your due diligence

Dedicate time to researching successful MSP initiatives launched by organizations similar to your own.

“Benchmark across your industry sector,” advises Brigadier General (retired) Gregory J. Touhill, the first federal CISO, currently an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. Survey the market to identify the best MSPs addressing your sector. “Talk with your peers and those who have already outsourced to MSPs to identify risks and best practices,” Touhill suggests. “Document your requirements thoroughly and don’t be hesitant to bring in an outside consultant to help ensure you aren’t missing anything.”

Ensure that your RFP clearly identifies how specific performance requirements will be measured and that it specifies all non-negotiable requirements. Reserve the right to conduct independent third-party audits. “You may find several of the contenders [will] back away from bidding,” Touhill notes. “That’s often a sign their marketing outpaces their ability to serve you well.”

Many MSPs offer a standard services template and will balk at any requirement that doesn’t fit their stock document. “Don’t compromise your requirements and introduce unacceptable risk to your enterprise,” Touhill warns. “If the MSP can’t meet your needs, move on to one who can.”

3. Define your requirements — and conduct scenario analyses

IT leaders often turn to an MSP because they want their teams to focus on more strategic activities. “This shift makes it critical that you understand your requirements upfront,” says Krishna Kutty, managing partner and co-founder of management consulting firm Kuroshio Consulting.

An important first step in any MSP search is fully determining all current and anticipated needs and expectations. “For example, if you currently only need a standard service selection, but foresee requiring advanced MSP services, such as mobile management and application monitoring, ensure that you include both in your list of requirements,” Kutty advises. “If your requirements include both standard and advanced services, you’ll want to select an MSP that will let you take advantage of both types of service as soon as you need to grow into them.”

To define specific requirements, Kutty suggests conducting scenario analyses before reaching out to any MSPs. “These scenarios might cover upgrades, new software, adding employees, disaster recovery, and so on,” she notes. “Based on those scenarios, determine your associated risk thresholds and acceptable timelines — these should inform your contract negotiations.”

4. Look for an MSP that puts business needs first

Budget-focused CIOs are prone to selecting an inexpensive MSP that meets their baseline requirements. Don’t fall into this trap, warns Dan Kelly, founder and senior partner at The Negotiator Guru, a firm specializing in contract, supplier, and other commercial negotiation services.

“Businesses either falter or grow — nothing stays stagnant for long,” Kelly notes. “As your business changes, your IT needs will evolve, calling upon a plethora of resources from an MSP otherwise thought of as extraneous services.”

Partnering with an MSP that offers a diverse range of easily deployable, competitively priced IT services can enable an organization to avoid the awkward growing pains that can throw a wrench into a critical operational workflow.

5. Seek a partner, not just a provider

Select a provider that can serve as an insightful partner — an experienced advisor that can smoothly and successfully guide modernization and optimization plans.

“You want an MSP that’s not just interested in standard break/fix approaches, but also strategic planning for your business to ensure that you stay competitive,” states Ray McKenzie, founder and managing director of technology management consulting group Red Beach Advisors.

McKenzie advises CIOs to commit to an MSP that can present evidence that it always keeps it partners’ best technology, security, and cost interests in mind. “The MSP should be truly invested in being a partner with your firm, not just billing for services or offering out-of-date technology,” he says.

6. Seek compatibility

In a time of rapid technological change many enterprises, particularly those with large in-house IT teams, realize they need an MSP to investigate and deploy fresh approaches.

“A provider relationship can give you the opportunity to focus on your core competencies, since you’re the specialist in your business, be that manufacturing, retail, utilities, or whatever,” says Greg Bentham, vice president of cloud infrastructure services for technology and business consulting firm Capgemini North America.

Getting the most of out of an MSP really comes down to people and the intention behind the relationship of the engagement, Bentham says. “It’s the shared values, beliefs, and cultural goals that allow emergence from challenging times.”

Bentham advises CIOs to ask prospective MSP partners to show how they plan to help the in-house IT team to focus on core competencies. He also suggests examining how they care for their own employees. “This pragmatic approach is effective, because it’s rooted in shared values and focuses on how people make a difference,” he explains.

7. Look for a commitment to excellence

An MSP that can supply real-world examples of superior service and lasting relationships indicates the likelihood of a trusted, productive relationship, says Anil Kumar Krishnananda, an advanced solutions consultant in the IT strategy practice at technology advisory firm Guidehouse. “Commitment to service excellence in an MSP is the most important attribute,” he states.

Krishnananda reports that his organization examines MSPs for evidence of service quality in order to accurately determine their overall performance. “In some cases, we perform scenario gaming and reference checks to confirm the provider’s fit for addressing capability gaps,” he says.

Another important attribute, directly related to service excellence, is an MSP’s innovation capability, particularly in the areas of digital transformation and operational efficiency. “Tactically, we look for how MSPs embrace intelligent automation, a broader term for the use of artificial intelligence, analytics, and robotics,” Krishnananda notes.

8. Think strategically — to avoid surprises

Anticipate the unexpected. Many MSP customers fall victim to vendor lock-in and other negative surprises because they failed to think tactically during planning. Include in your negotiations clear guidance on how a transition to another vendor will be handled at the end of the contract, how improvements in technology can and will be inserted into the service, how security is managed, and so on, Touhill says. “You’ll keep surprises to a minimum when you think strategically,” he notes.