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By Tim McCulloch, Vice President – Solution Architecture
Reading Time: 6 minutes

In some circles, the terms ‘outsourcing’ and ‘managed services’ are used almost interchangeably. While I can certainly understand why after such a long history (by some sources, outsourcing dates back to the 16th century when British landowners started sending clothing production overseas to India to save money on raw materials and labor costs), I also know there are some important distinctions worth noting. According to RedTech, “outsourcing is when a third party does specific tasks delegated by a business,” while “managed services is when the third party manages their role more comprehensively with the aim of improving the business.”

I don’t think I could have put it better myself. 🙂

In short, managed services providers should, by definition, offer more proactive value to the business in whatever arena they are managing (e.g., help desk operations, security, backups). This isn’t better or worse than traditional outsourcing; it’s just intended to be a different model and, in many cases, a different skill set for the third-party team.

Today, however, the IT industry is so vast and deep, and there’s so much money being allocated that it can be challenging to find a provider who offers such value. That money attracts all kinds of service providers, some good and some well… not so good.

So, that leads me to expand on two recent case studies to demonstrate precisely what I mean and help clarify what you should look for and expect (if and when) you decide to engage a managed service provider.

Case Study #1: Small Business in Residential Construction (<20 Users)

One small business was using a managed services provider that was hired to provide desktop security services along with remote support and backup services. They signed on, and like clockwork, the company got a bill for a flat fee each month for said services. It all seemed copasetic for some time, and the company was initially relieved to have the kind of expert help they needed to handle critical areas of IT so they could focus on customer service and growth.

Unfortunately, they started experiencing slow response times to their inquiries, outages in services they were never made aware of, and fragmented solutions they didn’t expect with their remote and backup services. That’s when they decided it was time to shop around.

Their team came to MicroAge, and after explaining our process- and procedure-driven approach, decided to sign on. We conducted a complete environment discovery process and walked them through a thorough onboarding process, which we estimated at 4 to 6 weeks.

Our goals were to understand their environment, learn about their business and unique needs, and find and remediate anything that was broken. Our discovery process revealed they were using free versions of remote software, not executing backups as they thought previously, and did not have the right Microsoft licensing in place, among other things.

By the end of the onboarding at week 5, the company had a complete backup solution in place for servers and workstations, an advanced desktop security solution, and right-sized licensing, which gave them significantly more features they didn’t even know they were missing. Throughout the process, our team over-communicated (if that’s even possible these days…?) about the status and how we planned to resolve every issue from start to finish.

Quickly after, they moved other services to the support list, including the help desk. Today, they’re getting better support, improved transparency, more features, improved security, a central knowledgebase of issues for faster troubleshooting, regular and frequent communications, and upgraded systems. And yes, although it sounds like a cliche sales line, all for less budget than their previous agreement. Another cliche? It’s a total ‘win-win.’

Case Study #2: Large International Business in Hospitality (>500 Users)

Another large client in the hospitality industry had come to us as a customer from a MicroAge acquisition. This client had 23 locations around the world with 500 servers and explained their prior managed services provider was what I would call the ‘wild west of IT.’

They described how if there were any issues or needs, they’d text “Joe” (names are changed to protect the innocent) at any time of the day or night, and he’d simply handle it. Never mind the fact that Joe was just one guy who sometimes got ill or went on PTO, or that there was no process, procedure, ticketing, or documentation in place. It was hard to imagine that’s how an organization of that size was actually functioning, but they were… kind of.

After a similar onboarding process and cost analysis – albeit a bit longer due to the complexity of their environment – we uncovered a number of enhancements, such as:

  • Migrating workloads to AZURE cloud would save them significant money and reduce support hours
  • Upgrades to servers and licensing optimization meant the potential for even more savings
  • Implementing ticketing could reduce resolution time exponentially
  • 24/7 monitoring tools could help reduce nearly all of their downtime
  • PIN rollouts could significantly improve security
  • Some business applications would perform better if they moved to virtual machines in AZURE
  • Remote device security and policies would improve if they were moved to centralized management
  • Standing up new locations with the cloud and virtualized servers could take a fraction of the time and save 10-15% of the budget
  • Proactive monitoring and patching of the environment would improve their security profile
  • Upgrading security tools and optimizing licensing would save money while further improving security
  • New monitoring tools could help optimize network and infrastructure performance
  • Modernizing their ticketing and remote access tools would improve service levels and response time
  • … and more

Final Takeaways on Managed Services

Hopefully, these case studies help clarify the kind of high-value benefits you should expect from an experienced and proven managed services provider. However, if I really had to sum up the overarching value in a few key points while you’re evaluating them, I would say it all comes down to four things:

1. Process- and procedure-driven in every aspect of the relationship, from onboarding to daily tasks and everywhere in between. No wild west cowboys. If they cannot answer your specific questions on this front, keep looking.

2. Clear, transparent, and frequent communicators from the moment you first meet them to a month or two in and beyond. It’s your business and technology environment, so if you’re uncertain what they’re doing, when, and why, that’s an issue. If you don’t understand what’s on your invoice, they should be able to explain it clearly. And based on the complexity of your business, you may talk to them daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly; it’s up to you, but be sure it’s frequent enough for you to feel informed at every stage.

3. Experts in the areas you need most who are proactive about improving your business. Whether it’s mission-critical or secondary systems and services, a managed service provider should be proactively seeking ways to continuously improve your business and operational efficiencies.

4. Customer service-focused, meaning they operate like a true service department. They put the business requirements and needs ahead of just trying to sell you what they happen to offer. Ask a few questions about their initial onboard process, and you’ll likely see clearly if your requirements will be driving the engagement or not and how service-oriented you can expect them to be.

Are you looking for all of these qualities in your managed service provider?

Let’s talk

Contact us today at (800) 544-8877 so we can demonstrate the value we can provide to your organization.

“Tim is the Vice President of Solution Architecture with more than 20 years of experience in the IT industry. He is skilled in Storage, IT Service Management, IT Strategy, Servers and Modern Infrastructure. He works with clients to ensure they have long-term success by meeting business objectives with the correct technology partners.”

Tim McCullochVice President – Solution Architecture

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