The term managed service provider (MSP) refers to a company that delivers IT-as-a-service (ITaaS). There’s a fair amount of information about what MSPs do and how they can help your business, but it can be hard to figure out how their service delivery methods differ and which model of service is right for your business.
Managed IT services are as they sound – a set of IT services is controlled and operated by a third party on an ongoing basis. The client defines a selection of tasks and responsibilities that they would otherwise have to perform in-house and outsource these to a dedicated provider.
The type of managed IT services provided varies by the client and MSP. They can take the form of managing and maintaining IT infrastructure or providing help-desk solutions to internal staff. Some MSPs offer strategic planning, professional consulting, and recruitment.
When it comes to IT services, there are several ways that businesses can access the solutions they need. Which service model works best depends on the business itself – its user base, workflows, budgets, and innovation requirements.
The traditional break/fix model refers to the practice of running IT solutions in the same way you might run an old car. You leave it alone as long as it’s working, with a little maintenance to keep it chugging along. If something breaks, you take it to a mechanic and fix the issue.
This operational IT model works well with businesses running smaller IT operations that service a limited number of users. Servicing and capital costs can be lower initially as the solutions employed are often left in place for longer until they fail.
The tipping point for moving from a break/fix to a managed IT model occurs when the disruption costs and productivity short-fall outweigh the savings from under-investing in IT. That’s when organisations will decide whether to in-source or outsource the ongoing management of their IT systems.
With an outsourcing model, an organisation hires expertise when they need it. Managed IT services are one form of outsourcing, however not all IT outsourcing engagements have ongoing management and services.
Projects have a specific set of requirements and a defined outcome. You might engage with an external service provider to work on a particular project because the outsourcer is fast, cost-effective, or has a depth of experience in one specific area.
Outsourcing offers organisations a way to build and execute projects without taking on extra in-house staff. The difference between an outsourced project and a break/fix model usually comes down to the nature of the project – break/fix is reactive, whereas outsourcing can be more proactive. This option can help if a business has limited expertise, space, or resources, and works well if they only need the service provided on a one-off or intermittent basis.
Manage IT Services
Finally, a managed IT service provider works alongside the organisation on a contracted basis. The length of the agreement varies from month-to-month to multi-year terms. The provider takes on the responsibility for actively delivering and managing a set of IT services to ensure they meet the agreed standards outlined in a service level agreement (SLA).
The MSP provides access to expertise and staffing capacity that the client organisation might otherwise struggle to reach. Over time, the MSP can become an integral part of normal business operations.
Organisations can choose to outsource all of their IT management and services to an MSP or to supplement their internal team. By employing an MSP to take on routine or specialist services, internal IT staff can focus on adding value in specialist business-related roles.
There are obvious potential benefits with contracting your IT services to an MSP, such as fixing your monthly costs to receive ‘unlimited’ support services, which are guaranteed by a service level agreement (SLA). This frees the organisation to get help, when they need it, without worrying about escalating costs and approval delays. However, there are many less obvious benefits.
With a traditional outsourcing model, the organisation only reaches out to the service provider when there is a project – or a problem – that requires their expertise. There is little to no incentive for the outsourcer to offer proactive maintenance to prevent issues from arising.
Managed IT providers offer value because their business model moves the operational service burden from the client to the service provider. The more issues the client encounters, the more resources the MSP needs to use. Conversely, when the provider puts more time and effort into ensuring their clients have a smooth-running IT environment, there are fewer issues. Thus, both the provider and the client share aligned values – they both want a problem-free IT environment that enhances efficiencies.
There are as many types of managed services as there are services to provide. There are several standard solutions in the IT space that help enable business operations while improving compliance, security, and efficiency.
Nearly every modern organisation relies on information technology. An IT support plan can give companies access to basic monitoring and maintenance options through to full support with a 24/7 service desk, technical account management, and on-site support. Information technology support can assist with infrastructure management and maintenance, user device setup, creating new user profiles, and managing password and account access.
An IT service desk provides access to expert, graded assistance utilising different levels of technical support personnel. This enables providers to efficiently manage most requests while enabling escalation points for more complex issues.
For issues that require a hands-on response, field service technicians can help with onsite assistance, either on-call or on a scheduled visit basis.
IT security is a set of cybersecurity strategies that maintain sensitive information integrity by preventing unauthorised access to both physical and digital assets. Most MSPs offer IT security options alongside the delivery of their managed IT services.
IT security works to ensure the confidentiality of an organisation’s data across a range of contact points, including:
To ensure an organisation has a level of IT security that meets its needs, an IT security assessment can help find and fill any gaps in its security operations. A managed service provider that employs cybersecurity experts is well-placed to conduct security audits, while also managing asset and data security.
Cloud computing refers to the online delivery of compute resources through a remote datacentre. Essentially, cloud computing turns assets like server space and processing power into services that remove the need to own the related hardware and software.
The most common type of cloud deployment is the public cloud solution. In a public cloud, users share the resources with other cloud tenants, providing low-cost access to scalable computing resources. Public cloud offerings include Software-as-a-Service for applications such as Microsoft 365, and Platform-as-a-Service for a completely online environment to develop, deploy and manage applications.
A private cloud environment means the cloud resources are for the exclusive use of one organisation. Therefore, private clouds can be more tailored to the organisation’s needs than public cloud, while providing scalability benefits over in-house resources. Some managed IT providers offer private cloud environments for their clients, which means customers can receive an end-to-end experience combing support, security, and infrastructure for improved accountability.
Today, many client environments are a hybrid solution, with applications and data stored across multiple in-house and cloud-based platforms, which can increase complexity. As part of a managed service, cloud computing usually comes with additional support. Rather than hiring and training staff to run and manage cloud deployments, a managed service gives businesses access to experienced engineers and system administrators to manage the service. This allows organisations to focus on what they can do with the cloud, rather than managing an IT commodity that might not differentiate their end solutions.
Cloud computing also forms the backbone of many cloud backup and disaster recovery solutions. An organisation’s vital data is duplicated in a cloud environment, making it accessible in the case of a disaster. More advanced solutions involve replicating the entire environment, to allow the organisation to quickly switch to an alternative cloud deployment should the need arise.
Communication is an essential part of any modern business. Staff need to be able to easily work together and with external parties. These requirements mean a business’ communication channels need to enhance daily operations.
A good communications structure makes collaboration effortless by integrating the most effective infrastructure and processes. The starting point is a telephony solution that takes advantage of the latest IP PBX features and functionality.
The next step up is unified communications, which lets you integrate messaging, video, voice, and conferencing solutions.
For those that prefer to keep workspaces agile, an integrated cloud calling solution can allow organisations to combine calling, conferencing, and collaboration with one cloud-based application, such as Microsoft Teams.
Adding business communication solutions to a managed service removes the burden from internal staff. Managed IT services can deliver secure communications solutions that enhance and enable collaboration both internally and externally, turning it into another system that works reliably.
End-user computing (EUC) refers to computer systems and platforms that help users access their applications and data. The rapid shift to remote access for users has increased the importance of actively managing end-user devices.
The expectation is that staff can be connected from anywhere, anytime, from any device. But this requires a certain level of connectivity, infrastructure, security, and applications to make this happen, making mobility solutions a must for modern businesses.
Many MSPs offer an IT procurement service to provide both convenience and savings to their clients. MSPs can deal directly with vendors and distributors, utilising specialist procurement staff and leveraging the buying power of supplying multiple customers to save time and money.
A managed service provider can deliver and manage the various levels of technology required by end-users. At the same time, they can maintain the platforms used to support an intuitive, agile, scalable, and manageable solution made for the digital workspace.
Keeping a business running efficiently requires applications that enhance workflow, communications, and business intelligence. Using the right apps for an organisation’s needs, and ensuring they are up-to-date with the latest security patches and feature updates, are core issues for the effectiveness of any organisation.
Knowing which apps to use for a given task is half the battle. A managed service provider can share their knowledge and experience gained from use cases drawn from clients with similar needs. Some MSPs can provide vendor-agnostic software selection services, while others may be more partner aligned.
Keeping your apps updated, secured, and running optimally on user devices is another struggle entirely. An internal IT team is more than capable of tackling these tasks, but their expertise is often needed elsewhere. A managed IT provider can provide the skilled personnel required to keep business-critical apps functioning smoothly.
If you need to upgrade applications, managed service providers are experienced in assisting organisations to migrate to new applications such as Microsoft 365. Depending on the application this may include the provision of licences and managing the data, through to change management to embed the new applications and post-implementation consulting to help deliver on the expected benefits.
A Chief Information Officer (CIO) is an organisation’s top IT executive. The CIO takes a strategic view of the company’s IT systems to ensure they align with the organisations objectives. One of the key responsibilities of the CIO is therefore developing and managing the execution of the IT strategy. The CIO role differs from that of an IT Manager, which is more focused on the IT operations and delivery aspects of IT services within the business.
However, the CIO position requires extensive knowledge, experience, and comes at an equivalent cost. Which can put a CIO position out of reach for many organisations. A virtual CIO (vCIO) enables an organisation to access a CIO’s professional skills on a contracted basis, usually part-time, without needing to employ one full-time.
A vCIO can be employed to develop the organisations IT strategy for approval, ensure appropriate business continuity plans are in place, and to manage the execution of the IT plan on an ongoing basis. Managed IT providers can be an excellent source for vCIO services, as they may have experienced senior managers available with the rare combination of high-level business and IT skills, to work with clients on both strategy and execution as part of a digital transformation journey.
Professional services are not strictly ‘managed IT’ as they are typically employed for outsourced project work rather than an ongoing service. However, MSPs provide an expert source of professional service skills. The services work well on projects handed over to internal IT to manage, as well as ones that need ongoing management.
Professional services can take many forms depending on the organisation’s internal skills and needs, including project infrastructure services, IT consulting, and IT staffing.
Before a project starts, organisations need to know where they stand in terms of their IT options. An MSP’s IT consulting service gives organisations access to qualified professionals who can deliver an external view of the processes involved. They offer an unparalleled depth of experience, having worked on hundreds of projects across a broad range of infrastructure and applications. They know what works and what doesn’t and can give an organisation the boost it needs from any IT project, on time and on budget.
Managing a client’s IT infrastructure is a core business for managed IT service providers. Their engineering teams are often ideal for providing the specialist services needed to implement a new IT infrastructure project. Professional, well-resourced MSPs will often have previous experience with similar projects to assist in determining the business needs, scope, operational outcomes, and of course deployment.
Sometimes an organisation needs help with additional in-house technical resources, but working with traditional recruitment methods can take time, the costs involved can be prohibitive, or the timeframe required may be short or uncertain. With a managed service provider that offers a staffing and recruitment service, an organisation can quickly and efficiently resolve these issues. MSPs maintain a network of staff with a range of certifications and experience to meet your needs. They can also backfill for staff on leave, provide standby services, and offer staffing solutions for short-term escalations — often without charging a placement fee.
Australian businesses can choose from hundreds of managed service providers, both large and small. Most are focused on providing professional IT services and solutions to small-to-medium sized businesses. Other MSPs focus on government, vertical or enterprise-grade solutions. Rating these organisations is a massive task. Each offers its unique mix of technical capacity, solution specialisation, and customer service.
Since 2014, Cloudtango has undertaken the task of compiling and ranking MSPs across the world. It is now the world’s largest MSP directory.
The MSP50 Australia annual list recognises top-performing managed service providers across the country. The selection process aims to highlight MSPs that excel in business-critical areas, including customer satisfaction, technical support services, market growth, certifications, and innovation. All MSPs included in the top 50 have a proven track record of delivering premium IT services and cloud-based solutions in Australia.
According to Cloudtango, First Focus is ranked #1 in Australia, a position held since 2018.
Managed service providers can offer many opportunities to organisations of all sizes, providing access to expert advice, proven solutions, and flexible delivery. However, each organisation is different, and what works for one may not work for others, even in the same industry. So, it’s essential to keep a few things in mind when investigating MSP services.
Technology is wonderful when it works. Some processes and infrastructure work so well that many employees don’t even know they exist – until they break. And given time, they will. If you have an IT team that can stay on top of preventative maintenance and tech support issues, then a managed IT service may offer little value. On the other hand, if problems keep cropping up that impact operational efficiencies, that may be a sign that it’s time to take a proactive approach to your IT.
Your IT department holds the key to unlocking innovation within your business. Collaboration, insights, communication – all of this and more receive critical support from internal IT staff. But it’s a two-way street. If there are gaps in your IT capacity and capability, that missing expertise will need to be provided by someone else.
Working with managed IT service providers can help internal IT teams move from time-consuming tactical tasks to more strategic projects. Likewise, using specialist external skills to implement short-term projects can be more cost-effective than investing in non-core internal teams. Many organisations use co-managed IT to make the most of their IT resources, sharing tools and responsibilities to better coordinate internal and external teams.
Detailed metrics are critical to managed IT providers to manage their internal operations and client reporting. These reports offer value if you lack reporting tools that provide a clear view of IT activities. For most organisations, the reporting from a managed IT provider will add layers of detail about your IT operations and help identify areas that need attention.
If you’re looking for a managed service provider or want to know more about how one can help streamline your organisation’s IT, get in touch with First Focus today! Our professional staff have the depth and breadth of industry knowledge to know if our services and solutions are right for you.