Frequently Asked Questions
Common questions businesses have when searching for an IT Managed Services Provider
What do MSP and CSP stand for?
MSP stands for Managed Services Provider. This is a generalized term as the level and breadth of services you might receive from one provider to the next can vary greatly. There is a new term being used called TSP – or Total Solutions Provider, which generally indicates the provider offers end-to-end technology services for small businesses, like mPowered IT does for example. In that case, the end-to-end services should include cloud services, which is sometimes indicated by the abbreviation CSP, or Cloud Services Provider.
How does the pricing work?
Most service providers offer plans that have a fixed monthly fee for unlimited support. Such plans almost always bill for projects or what can also be referred to as “Moves-Adds-Changes”. The remainder of providers use a pay-by-the-hour approach or will sell a specific block of hours monthly. These hours sometimes are “use or lose” and sometimes they roll over like a cell phone plan.
With the fixed monthly plan, most providers base pricing on the number of computers/users, servers, and locations that are being supported.
Which pricing plan is best for me?
This can be subjective and is usually based on your perceived need. If you think you rarely need support or if you have someone doing the bulk of the support already, then an hourly plan might be best. However, we are a big advocate of the fixed monthly fee. Companies very often use more support than they think, that person doing the bulk of the support has a real job with a salary that they are being distracted from, and the fixed fee truly incentivizes the provider to keep problems from happening since they cannot bill more – and that’s a win/win for everyone. In an hourly relationship, the meter keeps running as long as problems exist. With that said, mPowered IT has both a fixed model and a blended model to meet any company’s needs.
How much does it cost?
Pricing can vary quite a bit from one provider to the next because of all that might be included. You always want to be sure you are comparing apples to apples when comparing price. The other thing that comes in to play is the size of your company. The more computers/users to be supported for example, the lower the per user fee. This can range from $35 per computer/user to as high as over $100, again depending on what is included. For servers, we have seen as low as $125 to as high as $275 per server.
Is the pricing all-inclusive?
That depends on how things are bundled together. Sometimes providers will include several services they consider mandatory to be in their program (like backup or a managed firewall for example) and others use line item pricing for each service you may want or need. Generally speaking, the more that is bundled in to the per computer/user pricing, the higher the per each fee you will pay. At mPowered IT, we favor keeping the fees for each service you subscribe to separated which allows us to customize every program to each company and that lets you know exactly what you are getting and for how much.
Do I need 24x7 support?
To answer this, we have to first segment mission critical systems and applications from the non-critical systems, like user PC’s for example. Mission critical systems like servers and routers, should at minimum be monitored and remotely remediated on a 7×24 basis. Beyond this, your individual business case may or may not warrant 7×24 service availability. Everyone believes they want it, but it comes at a cost and so the real business need must exist. A 7×24 call center may need service availability that matches their around the clock schedule, whereas a small practice that closes at 5:00 every day would not.
Should I use a big company or a smaller company?
It’s not about a big company or a small company – it’s about using the right company for your needs. Smaller service providers tend to be more intimate with their service delivery, but if they are good at it, they get bigger and that intimacy tends to disappear over time. You want a company, regardless of size, that delivers big company, enterprise level services in a model that allows for a close relationship between organizations and team members. Most companies prefer this to dialing in to a big service desk and getting a different engineer each time.
Will I need to manage multiple technology vendors?
Not all service providers are created equal, so some will simply “stay in their lane” and only deal with the problems they are contracted for, and ask you to deal with other vendors. Your Internet Service Provider would be a good example of a vendor that a provider might make you call. Other companies, like mPowered IT, provide what’s called vendor coordination. They take ownership of dealing with vendors directly on your behalf so you have one place to call for all of your technology needs.
What are typical response times?
Response times can vary wildly across providers. The really good service providers will offer different options for requesting service and will typically get to work on your problem pretty quickly, while others can often take days to the frustration of their customers. Look for providers who make a commitment to response times, sometimes referred to as service levels, of 15 minutes or better. More importantly, look for those that commit to getting to work on the issue in a time commensurate with the urgency of the problem.
How much downtime is acceptable?
I think most would say that no amount of downtime is acceptable, but this isn’t really practical without a budget that would allow for fully redundant designs. However, you can have a well-designed system that can minimize downtime for the organization for reasonable fees.
Is patching and network security typically part of a support program?
Sometimes. Patching and security for network endpoints (computers and servers) is usually included by most reputable companies. Some organizations bundle in much more than that, which usually comes at a steeper “per seat” price. The best approach is usually to find an organization that will handle patching and endpoint security as part of support, while offering a menu of other security services that can be tailored to your organizations specific needs. Be sure to check if your provider handles 3rdparty application patching along with operating system patching.
How should backups be managed?
Backups should be monitored for success and failure on a daily basis, and there should be a regular test to restore files and systems to ensure the viability of the backups. Nearly all organizations should also have both local and offsite backups. If there is a server involved, the backup should be imaged based for fast restore times. The best backup systems provide for both business continuity and disaster recovery. You should also ensure there are secondary backups of certain cloud-based software applications, like Office 365.
Do most vendors monitor systems proactively?
The better, more savvy service providers will, at minimum, monitor servers and respond to alerts in an effort to maximize uptime. They realize that everyone wins when systems and services remain available. Best in class providers also monitor to the desktop level and are in constant communication at the strategic level. This will most often be in the form of business level discussions to make sure technology and services are in alignment with business objectives.
What is included in monthly service programs?
The most common programs include unlimited monthly support. Loosely speaking, that means if something that is under support stops working, the remediation of that issue is included. Administration of systems is also typically included; that is adding a new user, changing permissions, and so forth. Patch management and endpoint security is also typically included, though the latter is not the same across providers.
One last thing on monthly service programs is that many providers don’t allow for the customization of their programs to meet the precise needs for you, the customer. You want a provider that will tailor your program to your specific needs.
Can I typically expect objective advice on my technology needs?
This is an area where you may see some real variation. Many service providers maintain the relationship with their customers at either the sales level or the engineering level. The former usually has motives incongruent with business strategy where the latter typically lacks the experience to provide true business guidance. Make sure your provider connects with you at the strategic level and that you always get objective advice. You will know you are getting objective advice if you receive multiple options to solve your business challenges, where applicable of course.
Am I too small for a managed services relationship?
Absolutely not! While many mature providers have minimums in place, every organization deserves to have access to all that a qualified managed services provider has to offer as well as a great service experience. Look for a provider that is willing to scale their programs for the “needs of the many”.
What kind of relationship should I expect?
This question is best answered by asking a bit different question: what relationship to you deserve? Don’t you deserve a proactive, strategically aligned partner that communicates regularly – not just when you report a problem – and cares so much about your success while objectively taking in to account your budget and long term vision?
Will I have to talk to people outside of the U.S. (or English as a second language)?
The bottom line is that you should not have to. Some services can be handled by ‘offshore’ or ‘nearshore’ resources, but where the rubber meets the road – voice to voice communication – you should expect to be dealing with teams within the continental U.S.
Is there a contract involved? For how long?
Almost every service provider will require at least a one-year contract. Depending on the service itself, you might be able to receive a month-to-month arrangement or you might get a multi-year requirement. Watch out for providers that are not flexible around renewal or around separating if the relationship is not working.
Should I expect to deal with a different person every time I call the service desk?
This really depends on the organization and how they have designed their service delivery. With smaller service providers (say, less than 5 employees), you are obviously going to deal with the same people all the time just due to the employee count. In larger organization, you will typically be dealing with a large pool of engineers, so it’s likely you will deal with a different person most of the time. There are a few mature service providers who have designed services with small teams of 2 to 4 people. The teams back each other up for redundancy and overflow. As a customer you are assigned to a specific team and in this way you get the best of both worlds: a close working relationship with your engineering team with the capacity and escalation capabilities of a large group. mPowered IT delivers services in this manner.
When I call in, will someone actually answer the phone, and can the person that answers immediately help me?
There is a distinction between ‘live answer’ and ‘live support’. ‘Live answer’ indicates you should expect a human to answer the call a large percentage of the time, but not be able to help you in that instant. With an organization with ‘live support’, you should expect to be helped by the person who answers the call (or routed to someone who can help you at least). If you are dealing with a small service provider, you are likely to need to leave a message or, in a best case scenario, get a person live but then have to be called back. Larger providers usually have live support, but you will usually sacrifice the close working relationship of working with a small team. A very good middle ground is a live support option with an assigned team that can help you right away 90% of the time, and schedule a later call or escalate to other team members the remainder of the time.