What to Look for in a Managed Service Provider

There's no shortage of providers willing to manage your organization's essential services. What's important is finding the MSP that most closely matches your needs.

John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author

April 5, 2023

4 Min Read
words Service provider on wooden blocks
Dzmitry Dzemidovich via Alamy Stock

A managed service provider delivers network, application, infrastructure, security, and various other key services, as well as administrative and support functions. For many IT leaders, finding an appropriate MSP is one of the biggest and most consequential tasks they will ever face.

An MSP should be considered an extension of one’s workforce, saysTony Anscombe, chief security evangelist at IT security company ESET. “The selection of a service provider is similar to filling a key management role, where experience, culture, and background are essential to create a trust-based working relationship.”

Key MSP Attributes

Close cultural alignment is essential when considering an MSP partnership. “It's about the total experience, and true partnership must be earned and maintained through good governance,” saysClay Calhoun, partner and sourcing solutions lead with global technology research and advisory firm ISG.

Calhounnotesthat the MSP must also present a vested interest in the relationship, as well as relevant industry knowledge and experience. “There are hundreds of service providers who can supply technology, but if they don’t understand the client’s specific business processes, terminology, and critical success factors, and have relevant business acumen, they will [design a poor solution],” he explains.

Finding the Best MSP Match

The best way to find a compatible MSP is by consulting with industry peers. “When you've found one or more MSPs you're interested in working with, seek out references and ask questions,” advises Ray Steen, CISO at electrical generator technology firm MainSpring Energy. “Make sure the MSP can demonstrate the value they offer your business with real metrics and use cases.”

Seek a partner, not a vendor, suggests Mark Wilcox, global vice president for business development at legal services provider QuisLex. “You also need to know that your MSP has a proven process of training, oversight and quality assurance.”

Size really doesn't matter, ISG’s Calhounsays. “There's a risk with only looking at the ‘big guys’, when there are many fine mid-sized providers today that are fully capable and might give your company more personalized attention,” he explains. “Make sure you know who all the players are before you start a tendering process.”

An honest and effective MSP will challenge customers who come to the table with preconceived notions. “Having an MSP who says 'yes' to everything is of no value,” Calhounnotes. “What clients really need is a strategic partner who can bring a point of view that may conflict with theirs, but who will work to understand the client’s objectives.” The MSP, meanwhile, should seek customer engagement at all levels, including a strong interest in the client’s business and challenges, headds.

Find an MSP that’swilling to keep your solutions as simple and secure as possible, suggests David Bensinger, founder and CEO of Bensinger Technology, which offers advisory and governance services to law firms and other organizations. “Unless you absolutely require bespoke solutions, always use off-the-shelf products from top technology vendors,” headvises. “That way, if you need to bring in a new service provider, they will be immediately familiar with your solutions.”

AmitDhingra, executive vice president at NTT Network Services, recommends signing with only one MSP to prevent confusion. “This can minimize contract complexities and eliminate a lack of interoperability between vendors as well as the need to maintain multiple software versions, among other challenges,” he explains. “For example, the convergence of networking and security is leading organizations away from having separate network and security vendors.”

Final Thoughts on MSPs

Before committing to any MSP, take enough time to prepare for the upcoming transition. “Break down silos and unite your business and IT teams behind your business goals to achieve the desired return on investment,”Dhingrasays. Keeping all team members on the same page is crucial to finding an appropriate partner.

Dhingraadvises that a potential partner should be forward looking, capable of providing solutions that will help move your organization away from legacy assets and toward modern technologies and processes. He also suggests asking potential MSP partners about their views on powerful new tools, such as AIOps (artificial intelligence for IT operations). “The introduction of automation is just one of many ways to improve the agility of your networks.”

The biggest mistake when choosing an MSP is basing the decision on technical capabilities alone, not on the provider's ability to align IT with business goals. “MSPs can easily wow potential customers by touting the benefits of their services and solutions, but unless they can clearly articulate a strategy for driving business outcomes over time, and measure your success with KPIs, they are unlikely to be a good long-term partner,” Mainspring's Steen explains.

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About the Author(s)

John Edwards

Technology Journalist & Author

John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic Design. He has also written columns for The Economist's Business Intelligence Unit and PricewaterhouseCoopers' Communications Direct. John has authored several books on business technology topics. His work began appearing online as early as 1983. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he wrote daily news and feature articles for both the CompuServe and Prodigy online services. His "Behind the Screens" commentaries made him the world's first known professional blogger.

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