A Guide to Managed IT Services for Small Business
You’re likely using or have considered using managed IT services if you’re a small to mid-sized business. Perhaps, you’ve been looking to expand your technical expertise in cybersecurity, for example. Maybe you want the benefits of 24/7 IT support. Or maybe you want to reduce your overhead and have an MSP become your IT department altogether.
Whatever the reason, this guide provides more significant insights into the world of managed IT services. Keep in mind that you can tailor them to fit your precise needs with managed IT services. As mentioned above, many organizations turn to MSPs to become their full-blown technical team. You focus on running your business and let your managed IT provider handle your information technology needs.
If you’re not looking to outsource everything, you can work with a managed IT services provider to address a specific need, often referred to as co-managed IT. Many small businesses, for instance, enlist the support of an MSP to manage cloud services. Still, others might use managed IT to implement VoIP service.
Types of Managed Services
Here’s a closer look at the various managed IT services available to your business. As you’ll see, there are several ways you can work with an MSP.
Backup as a Service
With managed backups, your data gets duplicated and stored on a secure off-site server. The frequency of backups is dependent on the recovery plan. In conjunction with backup, many MSPs offer business recovery and disaster recovery services.
A BCDR plan details the chain of events that takes place if you fall victim to a disaster – your business gets hit with ransomware, your facility floods, or your hard drives fail. These plans focus on two essential items. First, a BCDR focuses on Recovery Time Objective (RTO), designed to meet your expectations for having your systems restored. Second, it focuses on Recovery Point Objective (RPO) or the age of the files you want to have restored.
Desktop as a Service
With desktop as a service (DaaS), a managed IT provider hosts your desktop on a cloud environment. Microsoft 365 is one of the more popular DaaS IT solutions. Access is simple via your computer or online. Plus, you gain an added level of security, making it beneficial for companies working with sensitive data.
Unified communications combine voice, video, chat, and email into one service. As a result, your employees connect on a single platform versus logging into many different applications. Managed communications typically rely on VoIP packages and include:
- Instant Messaging
- Hosted Phones
- Video Conferencing
- File Sharing
- Virtual Rooms or Spaces
- Calendar Sharing
- Administrative Portals
Unified communications streamline employee collaboration.
Networking and Infrastructure
Some managed IT services providers maintain servers virtually through remote management and maintenance (RMM). That allows the provider to conduct maintenance, patching, and backups off-site.
In other cases, they may host and maintain servers typically using cloud infrastructure.
A smaller company, for example, may opt to have the MSP handle all networking and infrastructure issues using the cloud. On the other hand, larger operations typically prefer to own their equipment and have the MSP use RMM to manage their IT.
Security as a Service
Security as a service offloads cybersecurity to your managed IT services provider. Most MSPs have access to various cybersecurity services and solutions to keep their data safe. However, when you consider a hacking attempt occurring every 11 seconds, your organization can benefit from added security.
At a minimum, your managed security should include these items:
- Patch management
- Web content filtering
- Managed firewall
- Intrusion detection
- Intrusion prevention
- Password manager
- Endpoint detection and response
- Multi-factor authentication
- DNS security
- Dark web monitoring
- Basic SIEM
- Risk reporting
Unfortunately, many MSPs fall short of these standard requirements that have been a necessity owing to the ever-increasing cyber threat landscape. Simple security deployments no longer cut it. Using layers of security is the only way to ensure your business stays safe from cybercriminals. Therefore, a managed IT services provider offering a Security Operations Center (SOC) is increasingly important.
IT Support Services
IT support covers troubleshooting and service desk needs, including password resets, software updates, patching, repairs, equipment set up, and more. Support services generally cover all devices, including computers, tablets, printers, and mobile devices, while IT support flows through RMM or on-site IT solutions.
Managed packages deliver fully managed IT services where your MSP acts as your in-house IT team. Some managed IT providers offer tiered packages. Others present a single package. That said, you should expect minimum services to include security, backup, monitoring, and IT support.
Some Business Cases for Managed IT Services
Managed IT services present clear benefits in cost savings, 24/7 support, access to technical expertise, increased productivity, and more. How you elect to work with an MSP involves a review of your budgets, personnel, technology requirements, capital investments, and more.
Here are a handful of scenarios where managed IT services offer a practical solution.
Case 1: Overhead Control
As a small business, you need to decide where best to spend your monies. For many, hiring a full-time IT person may be prohibitive. However, when you consider a reasonably skilled IT technician costs $75,000 and upwards weighing overhead costs, you’re better off investing in managed IT services.
In this case, managed IT services generate the flexibility and cost controls you need to run your business more efficiently without sacrificing your commitment to technology.
Case 2: Resource Allocation and Co-Managed Support
Even if you’re lucky enough to have in-house IT staff, the pace and demands of information technology can strain that personnel. In addition, your workers’ daily needs for IT support, especially for remote workers, can deflect your ability to focus on critical projects or upgrades.
Deploying managed IT services allows you to accomplish both. Your MSP can focus on daily management relating to IT support. Meanwhile, your in-house staff can focus their activities on developing business-enabling and revenue-driving projects that would otherwise get deflected by day-to-day management.
Case 3: Technology Expansion
Managed IT delivers the option for you to expand your technology initiatives. If you’re looking, for example, to expand your data security and scalability, you might consider cloud computing. But, unfortunately, you may lack the personnel or expertise to address a move to the cloud appropriately. Enter managed IT services.
An MSP can deploy a cloud solution to add flexibility and scalability to your IT infrastructure. At the same time, you’ll avoid capital expenditures like licensing and equipment purchase. Plus, your MSP manages the cloud solution to alleviate maintenance surrounding equipment updates, software updates, patches, and new features.
Costs for Managed IT Services
Before talking with any managed IT provider, you need to establish your budget. Doing so allows any MSP to tailor a package to meet that budget. For example, most MSPs charge a subscription model creating an operational expense versus a capital expenditure expense.
Managed IT terms vary from provider to provider. Some providers offer month-to-month contracts. Others require annual agreements ranging from one year to up to three years. Some will charge you a base subscription plus an hourly rate for any projects they take on. Others include projects with their monthly fee. It’s essential to understand what you’ll be purchasing.
One provider, for example, may undercut costs to win your business but fail to include critical services that leave you exposed. Another provider may charge you excessively for services you don’t need.
Price typically is determined by one or more of the following variables:
- Pay per device where you’re charged based on the number of devices supported.
- Services managed where the number of services offered charges you.
- Pay per user where charges accrue by the number of users managed.
- Hourly where you pay for the time spent on a service or project.
Many times, managed IT services providers use a combination of pricing models. For example, IT support uses a flat-rate model, whereas installing a VoIP system uses an hourly rate structure.
Service Level Agreements
A Service Level Agreement (SLA) presents your responsibilities and those of your managed IT services provider. An SLA is necessary to outline everything from mutual expectations to indemnification. Without one, both parties remain open to legal ramifications.
SLAs are legal documents, so you should always review them with a lawyer. A lot of MSPs have standard agreements used for every client. Nonetheless, you should check the deal to make sure your situation doesn’t call for additional language or even subtraction of language. A standard SLA may not suit your purposes.
Elements of an SLA
As for the SLA itself, you can generally expect it to include these types of items:
- Services Provided: A complete overview of the products and IT solutions you, as the client, can expect from your MSP.
- Availability: This area addresses your uptime and establishes the conditions for:
- Uptime hours
- How to report downtime and whether costs apply
- Technicians assigned to your account
- Issue Management: In short, how you and your managed service provider will handle issues as they arise.
- Responsibility: What problems are your responsibility, and what problems are your MSPs.
- Reporting: Reporting procedures should be clear to both you and your provider. With improper reporting, things go unnoticed and unfixed.
- Escalation: Not every IT problem is the end of the world, but it can often feel that way as a business owner. Making it clear to your MSP what problems constitute an emergency ensures the important issues receive immediate attention. Having clarity also helps set priorities for the more precise execution of deliveries.
- Resolution: How quickly you can expect a solution to problems once reported. In conjunction with the resolution, you should also address response time. Bear this in mind – every managed IT service provider promises fast response and remediation. Sadly, not nearly as many MSPs deliver on that promise.
- Performance: First, determine what metrics measure performance. Next, determine how those metrics get reported. Then, decide what metrics assess acceptable performance standards.
- Legalities: Iron out those legal fine points, including things like warranties, indemnification, exclusions, and how to handle third-party claims. Once again, make sure to consult legal counsel.
- Termination: Establish the terms and conditions for separation. Those terms may include performance failures, proper notice, termination timeframe, and other details.
21 Questions to Ask When Selecting a Managed IT Services Provider
If you’re looking for an MSP to become your in-house IT resource, you need to thoroughly vet everything from their customer service to their cybersecurity solutions.
Here are some key questions you’ll want to have answered:
- Does the MSP answer phones live, or do you always have to leave a voicemail and wait for someone to call you back?
- Will you receive a written, guaranteed response time to your calls?
- How will they address concerns? Will they take the time to explain what they’re doing and answer your questions in understandable terms (not geek-speak)? Or do they come across as arrogant and make you feel stupid for asking even simple questions?
- Does the managed IT services company consistently (and proactively) offer new ways to improve your network’s performance? Or do they wait until you have a problem to make recommendations?
- Will you be presented detailed invoices that clearly explain what you are paying for?
- Does theMSP have adequate errors and omissions insurance as well as workers’ compensation insurance to protect YOU?
- Can the IT provider guarantee to complete projects on time and within budget?
- Do they remotely monitor your network 24/7/365 to keep critical security settings, virus definitions, and security patches up-to-date and PREVENT problems from turning into downtime, viruses, lost data, and other issues?
- Does the MSP provide you with a weekly report that shows all the updates, security patches, and status of every machine on your network so you know for SURE your systems have been secured and updated?
- Is it standard procedure for them to provide you with written network documentation detailing what software licenses you own, critical passwords, user information, hardware inventory, etc.? Or are they the only person with the “keys to the kingdom?”
- Does their IT company have other technicians on staff who are familiar with your network if your regular technician goes on vacation or gets sick?
- When they offer an “all-inclusive” support plan, is it TRULY all-inclusive? Or are their “gotchas” hidden in the fine print?
Backups And Disaster Recovery
- Do their managed IT services monitor off-site as well as on-site backup? Or are they letting you rely on outdated tape backups?
- Do they provide periodic test restores of your backups to make sure the data is not corrupt and restorable in the event of a disaster?
- Does the MSP back up your network BEFORE performing any project or upgrade?
- If you were to experience a major disaster, do they have a written plan for how your data could be restored FAST and enable you to work from a remote location?
Technical Expertise and IT Support
- Is their help-desk U.S.-based or outsourced to an overseas company or third party?
- Do their IT technicians maintain current vendor certifications and participate in ongoing training? Or are they learning on your dime?
- Do their technicians arrive on time and dress professionally?
- Are they familiar with (and can they support) your unique line of business applications?
- Do they own the problem when something goes wrong with your Internet service, phone systems, printers, or other IT services? Or do they say, “That’s not our problem to fix?”
Are Managed IT Services Right for You?
There’s no shortage of organizations moving to managed IT services. According to Markets to Markets, the industry stands to reach $100 billion over the next five years. And CompTIA reports that nearly two-thirds of organizations use managed IT services for at least one technology function.
Are they suitable for your company? Let’s start a conversation to find out. Or maybe you’re already using an MSP, but you’re not getting the correct answers to the questions posed.
We focus on small to medium-sized businesses in Harrisburg, York, Reading, Lancaster, Carlisle, and Allentown with 20 to 100 seats. And we promise you; you’ll never be left waiting for a response or fix to one of your IT concerns. So hit us up for a FREE penetration test if you’d like to get the ball rolling. We’ll uncover just what data hackers can access.