What are Managed Services?
Managed services are the process of outsourcing some or all of your day-to-day IT operations to an outside provider. Most organisations do it already. If you have Office 365 or G-Suite, you have software as a service, which is a form of managed service. The days of the organisation that runs all of its IT from its own data centres, managed by a team of in-house staff, are all but over. The question of when and how to implement managed services applies better to separate services than to the whole organisation.
Do I Need to Outsource?
So, when should you outsource a service, which is an IT system used by your organisation’s staff or its customers, such as email, CRM or online services for customers? A key factor is often whether the service is specific to your organisation or not. If it is, it may well be rare or unique, perhaps the website that provides a differentiated service to your customers. Such a service may require to be managed by in-house staff trained in its particularities. If the service is more off-the-shelf, however, such as email or CRM, even if it is strategic, managing it with your in-house staff could distract them from more value-added work that only they can do. This is where it makes sense to consider managed services. Your organisation and its staff should focus on its core competencies, not on standard activities which can be done just as well by others.
In fact, standard activities can often be done more cheaply by others.
What are the Benefits of Using Managed Services?
Managed Service Providers (MSPs) will be able to spread the cost of the staff required to do these activities over many customers, and so can deliver the service less expensively than in-house teams at all but the largest organisations. The economies of scale can also deliver benefits in other areas. The MSP may well be better equipped to keep your organisation compliant with regulations such as GDPR, and they may provide stronger security against malware and accidental data loss. When you engage an MSP, you can negotiate contractually binding service level agreements (SLAs) with them. The SLAs provide clarity about the level of service expected, which may be better than the best efforts of an in-house team.
Other reasons to adopt Managed Services include increased efficiency – MSPs can implement best practices and industry standards, as well as help you with planning, procurement, and governance. Of course, you may be able to do this in house, but to do so as cost-effectively as an MSP requires a large scale.
An increasingly strong reason to use an MSP is that it can enhance security. You can write it into your SLAs that the MSP must keep your software updated, something which can drop down the priority list when IT is kept in house. This can affect even the largest organisations. One of our customers, a large logistics firm, suffered a major financial loss caused by malware which exploited a vulnerability in its operating systems, a loss which could have been avoided if those systems had been kept up to date.
It is important to keep the services you delegate to MSPs and those you keep in-house under review. The technology is changing rapidly, and more and more services are reaching the point at which it is better to outsource them than keep them in-house.
How to Implement Managed Services
Once you have identified a service which could probably be outsourced to an MSP, how should you go about it? Even if you have a trusted supplier in mind, it is normally worth evaluating proposals from several others, if only to keep up with current pricing, and what new services might have emerged in the market. Write up a set of requirements and send them to each prospective supplier. This, of course, is normal procurement best practice, but, aside from competitive pricing, what should one look for in an MSP?
Key Factors to Consider
A good MSP will always have strong technical skills. Ask to see whether they are accredited as a company with important software and other IT vendors. For example, if you are implementing a managed service for your Windows desktops, is the MSP accredited with Microsoft? What qualifications are held by their staff? Do they follow ITIL principles? Ask them for reviews by their customers. Unless you are looking for help with a specific technology, it is good for MSP to have broad-based technical skills, rather than skills focused on a single vendor. That way, they can better advise on procurement decisions and will be able to recommend solutions that are best for you, rather than those which fit their skill set. For example, if you host or are looking to host systems in the cloud, an MSP with experience of multicloud may be a better partner than one with experience of only one cloud provider.
Incident Management with Managed Services
Closely related to technical competence is organisational competence. A good MSP will minimise emergencies; well-maintained systems should only go wrong rarely, but if something does go wrong, how good is their incident management? What system do they use to track incidents? It should be based on a helpdesk system such as ServiceNow or Jira Service Management, but for mission-critical systems, it should include incident management such as xMatters or PagerDuty. How good is their monitoring and alerting? Important systems should be monitored, and any anomalies should be flagged as alerts. The best monitoring and alerting systems now have built-in machine learning to help interpret monitoring data from individual devices and determine whether particular readings give cause for concern and if so, provide diagnostic information.
Good technical and organisational skills in an MSP are reflected in the provider’s certification in industry standards such as ISO 27001 (information security) and ISO 27018 (cloud services security), as well as quality standards such as ISO 9001. Check which accreditations are held by your prospective MSP. ISO 27001 is particularly important if you are considering entrusting the MSP with your data. It ensures that the MSP’s own systems and processes adhere to minimum standards of security.
Organisational and technical competence must be complemented by the provider’s ability to meet your desired SLAs. If you need 24/7 support, they must be able to provide it and meet all your other requirements concerning response times, resolution times and dedicated support channels. For example, can you call them for a high-priority incident as opposed to logging a ticket?
Of course, IT moves fast, and competence with current technologies should be backed up by an ability to be aware of and adopt emerging standards and technologies. A good MSP will have a wide range of customers and partnerships and will be able to draw on its network and relationships to offer you the best of what is up and coming. At its best, this can give you a competitive edge in your business by allowing it to benefit from the latest technologies before your competitors do.
Finally, it is important that your MSP is sound financially and reputationally. Find out how long it has been in business and ask to see its recent financial information. Research any news appearance to check there is nothing untoward.
Improve your Business Strategy now
In summary, implementing managed services should be done primarily to allow your organisation to focus on what it does best. Managed services can also reduce your costs, improve security, and introduce the latest techniques to your organisation. Implement managed services on the parts of your IT which are not unique to your organisation and keep the scope of managed services under review. In choosing an MSP, evaluate several, and check their technical skills, organisation skills, standards compliance, ability to innovate and financial stability. If implemented well, managed services can improve your competitive edge and contribute to the overall success of your business. Looking for more information on Atlassian Managed Services? Read this essential guide here at Automation Consultants.