There is a growing trend for small businesses, usually those with fewer than 100 employees, to forgo full time technology personnel. In many cases they are opting for outsourced technology support in the form of managed services.
So what exactly is managed services? Managed services involve off-loading all or a portion of your technology environment under a contract to an IT firm. Outsourcing the day-to-day IT support allows a business to focus on their business, not fixing computer problems. While in the past managed services has been a mainstay of small business it is becoming more popular in larger businesses as well. Increased health care costs and a demand to reduce the employee head count are also contributing to this trend.
Many times when comparing a managed service plan, the costs may seem similar to hiring a full-time IT employee; however, in today’s complex technology environments (i.e. wireless, storage, virtualization, voice, video, security, backups, disaster recovery, etc.), it is nearly impossible to find one individual that has the requisite skills in each of these areas of expertise. Many times companies that opt to hire their own personnel are still forced to regularly engage outside consulting firms for expertise outside of the employee’s skill set. This is especially true for companies utilizing virtualization, unified communication or wireless deployments and organizations with multiple connected locations. With the complexity of today’s systems it is unreasonable to expect one individual to be able to be an expert in all areas that impact your business
So what do you do if you have IT personnel on staff? Managed services allow firms with internal IT personnel to focus on the issues that can directly improve the efficiency of the organization. We see a lot of companies that have made a significant investment in a line of business application such as an ERP program. The application gets implemented within the organization by outside consultants but usually only at modest level. Generally these applications have the ability to streamline and organization and drive the bottom line. In most smaller organizations, once the ERP consultant leaves, the person generally responsible for continuing to roll out new features is the IT manager. As can be expected, the IT manager gets bogged down in the day to day support minutiae dealing with computer, server and infrastructure problems that prevent other individuals from doing their job. Becoming the product champion for the line of business application falls by the wayside. A good managed services partner will work alongside the internal IT personnel. Internal IT resources should then become experts for implementing the core technology applications that will allow a business to thrive versus dealing with the day-to-day technology infrastructure issues. Shifting day-to-day technology support to an outside firm will allow your personnel to focus on what they do best: enhancing your business and turning technology into a competitive asset by fully utilizing the tools in place.
Picking the right managed services partner is the key to success. Not all managed service providers are created equal. A good managed service practice will have ‘silos of experience.’ In other words they will be large enough to have experts in the areas that challenge you in the business. A ‘one-man’ approach to IT management forces that ‘one-man’ to be a jack of all trade’s and a master of none. The same person who services your server is probably not the best individual to be making sure your security and firewall policies are up to date. Be wary of very small firms who claim to be a one stop shop for all things IT related.
A good managed services provider will also have multiple plans for you to consider: from an ‘all you can eat’ philosophy to an a la carte plan that just addresses a portion of your environment. Ultimately, as a business owner your goal should be to create predictability within your technology expense.
Make sure to ask questions about what mechanism the firm has for addressing your service requests. Optimally, the company should have a call center arrangement to begin addressing your issues. Be sure to visit the provider’s facility and ask specific questions about how your support requests will be responded too. There should be an established system in place to handle support calls. Be wary if a receptionist takes the call or support calls are routinely routed to a technician’s cell phone.
Finally, does the company have the ability to provide you strategic direction as well as the day to day support? Look for business experience in the team that will be helping with that strategic direction. Don’t expect a computer engineer to understand or be able to evaluate the business needs of your organization. A common thread among managed service providers is that they can help you navigate the troubled waters that technology can pose for your business….but make sure they actually understand business, and not just technology.
You will be entering into a long term agreement with your technology provider and they will become a critical part of your business process. Making the wrong choice can be an expensive mistake. Take the time to do the due diligence and find the most qualified partner.