Imagine this: You’ve got some concerns with your IT strategy, and you’re looking for help. Maybe you haven’t done any disaster recovery or compliance planning in years. (You’re not even sure you have a backup that works.) Or maybe your go-to IT security professional just took a higher paying job with someone else. Or maybe your IT team just isn’t providing the strategic advantage you hoped they would.
A Managed Service Provider (MSP) can help with scenarios like these and many more. But every organization has its unique challenges, opportunities, and culture. How do you go about finding the right managed service provider for your needs?
A 12-Point MSP Checklist
The vast majority of businesses facing an important buying decision are going to start their research on the web. In fact, most of you will probably do a significant amount of research before reaching out to the vendors on your shortlist directly.
The challenge is that there are literally thousands of businesses that could be classified as an MSP in North America, from hyperscaler cloud providers to boutique shops focused on a specific service.
To help you narrow down your choices to a qualified shortlist, we crafted this handy checklist of things to look for on a vendor’s website.
#1 Do they cover your industry? In a recent survey, 63% of buyers said the vendor’s ability to demonstrate experience and knowledge within their industry was very important. For some industries, like healthcare or retail, this will be even more vital as you’ll need to find someone who knows how to work with sensitive data.
Tip: Not all companies organize their websites by industry or specifically name those they serve. If you can’t find an industry listing, do a search for key terms like “HIPPA” or “compliance” to find relevant content. And if you’re in healthcare, be sure to look for vendors that offer a Business Associate Agreement.
#2 Do they have the right industry certifications? No provider can make you compliant, but they can certainly help you become and stay compliant if they know what they’re doing and offer the right services. Somewhere on their website, you should find details such as their facility audits (important if you plan on housing your workloads in their facilities), the certifications their engineers hold, and the specific services they offer geared toward your compliance needs.
#3 Do they address your need? If you know what type of help you need, such as migrating workloads to AWS, you can look specifically for this type of service. Again, doing a keyword search may be the easiest way to find relevant details.
#4 Do they have solid content? If you’re in the very early stages of looking for an MSP, you may still be trying to figure out what you need. Any vendor worth their salt will have plenty of downloadable content to guide you. This is a personal philosophy of Connectria, but we believe in making content freely available to buyers, and we tend not to put content behind a contact form without good reason.
#5 Do they handle your platform? You’ll want to choose a Managed Service Provider that knows your platform. This is especially important if you’re using a less common but high-powered platform like IBM i.
#6 Are they certified on the right technologies? Almost all major vendors, such as Microsoft, Amazon, VMWare, IBM and others, offer technical certification programs. As you do your research, you’ll start to learn what’s available. Record each vendor’s certifications as you go along.
Tip: Some vendor certifications are more about sales volume than technical expertise. If you’re not sure, contact the vendor, or just do a search on a phrase such as “What does Microsoft Gold Certified mean?”
#7 What awards or recognition have they received? In addition to certifications, the MSP may have won awards over the years, either from the vendor or in the industry. Even “best place to work” recognition is relevant as it speaks to the culture of the company. (It’s far more pleasant to work with happy employees than those who hate their job and their employer!)
#8 How long have they been around? If you’re looking for assistance, especially long-term, you want someone with staying power. You can usually find this in the “about us” section of the website. In our opinion, too many consider the vendor’s history to be “fluff” content and skip over it.
#9 What’s the average tenure of their engineers? Hiring and retaining IT staff can be a challenge, even for MSPs. If you wanted a newbie handling your systems, you could find your own. Some vendors note the average tenure of their engineers on their website. Search key terms like “tenure” to help you find it. If they don’t mention it, make a note to ask this question when you start reaching out to vendors.
#10 What are the terms of their SLA? An SLA is a “service level agreement” that should designate things like uptime guarantees, turn-around time for hardware replacement, and concessions made if guarantees are not met. The actual details of an SLA will vary depending on the service you’re looking for, but most vendors at least talk about their SLAs at a high level on their site.
#11 Do they have online references? No matter what the MSP says they can do, the only way to verify their claims is through their customer’s experiences. Dig into their online case studies – they should have plenty – and learn what you can learn from others in a similar situation.
Tip: Yes, vendors only post their best case studies, but other buyers are just like you. They aren’t going to lend their name to a case study unless they’re as happy as the writer of the case study says they are.
#12 Where are they located? You don’t necessarily need an MSP right down the street, especially if you also need to serve end-users in another region of the country. And if you’re looking specifically for Disaster Recovery Services, you don’t want a vendor right down the street because they could be affected by the same disaster that brings down your data center. Nevertheless, location may be a deciding factor as you narrow down your short list.
So, that’s our list of twelve. I’m sure we could come up with a few more, but hopefully this helps you begin your search.
At the end of the day, the experience you have when you reach out to a vendor is as vital as what you read on your screen or in a brochure. So, our final tip is this: If you don’t enjoy working with them throughout your buying process, you probably won’t enjoy working with them after you’ve signed a contract.