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How do you choose a good managed IT provider?

How to choose a managed service provider - a stylised image of a number of IT-related icons over the top of an image of servers

There are tens of thousands of managed service providers (MSP) around the world, 1,300+ of which are based in Australia and New Zealand. With those numbers, finding the right one for your business can be a bit tricky to say the least.

In any case, just partnering with one won’t make all your worries go away. The key issue is what happens when a partnership designed for the long haul takes a wrong turn, yielding outcomes that fail to meet each party’s expectations. Not much is certain in those unfortunate situations except for the ton of money, effort, opportunities, and goodwill going down the drain.

No one really wants to learn from expensive and exhausting failures. That’s why it is important to have clarity in your business goals and your criteria for choosing a managed service provider. The trick to a headache-free MSP partnership is to work with a good one right from the outset.

Insider Tips for selecting a good managed IT provider

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So here are a few insider tips on how to build a shortlist of MSPs and select the best one for your company.

  1. Managed IT services can dramatically improve many aspects of your business. But partnering with the wrong MSP can deliver the opposite effect.
  2. The number of companies choosing to run their businesses within a managed IT environment is skyrocketing. That’s because a managed IT environment provides the conditions (protected networks, reliable connectivity/communications) and the resources (hardware/software, applications, strategic insights) your team needs to get better at what it does. But the surge is also because of the normalisation of remote work, fiercer competition, and rising occurrence of cybercrime such as data breaches and ransomware.
  3. No two MSPs are equal. Compared to others, some MSPs are more competent or better provisioned for your line of business and unique situation. As a rule of thumb, find MSPs with successful partnerships with companies that resemble your own organisation in terms of size, market, and line of business. MSPs with a strong local presence (in case you need onsite tech support) should also be on your shortlist.
  4. There’s a shorthand for assessing the competence of MSPs based on standard industry metrics.
  5. And there’s a tried-and-tested method for building your MSP shortlist and finding the best one for your organisation.

Questions to ponder (in order of importance)

These key questions will help you discern the credentials, competence, and commitment of each managed service provider you engage as you seek the right partner for your business. For the most part, affirmative answers to this practical screening tool reflect favourably on the service provider. You can get a more detailed question-based guide here.

Very Important

  1. Do they ask about your business and how it works, and do they use that information to talk about a solution customised for your organisation? (Takeaway: If the balance of the conversation is more about what the provider can offer instead of what you say, then they’re not listening and won’t likely build a tailored solution that is fine-tuned to deliver the optimum benefits for your business).
  2. Do they propose a small first engagement? (Takeaway: a get-to-know-you stage allows you to assess whether the provider would be a good long-term partner. A small first engagement also spares you from entering a long-term contract you don’t feel comfortable about.)
  3. Who trusts them? (Takeaway: shortlist service providers that have many known brands and key business leaders among their happy, very satisfied clientele. Checking out customer testimonials and third-party review sites would help.)
  4. Do they outsource their support desk to a non-Australian destination? (Takeaway: Australian engineers understand the language better, leading to better communication and often, faster resolution of issues.)
  5. Are they break-fix focused, or do they proactively address system issues? (Takeaway: Go for providers that proactively remediate recurring issues, with the goal of administering an issue-free system for long periods of time).
  6. Do they clearly de-risk the solution and take the time to explain it? (Takeaway: Excellent providers proactively reduce the exposure of their customers to different threats and risks that can compromise business continuity or disrupt productivity.)
  7. Do they invite you to visit their premises? (Takeaway: Go for providers who are proud of what they do because they are doing things the right way.)
  8. Can they get to your premises quickly if required? (Takeaway: It’s always better to have a partner who can put hands and feet on location wherever you need them).
  9. What does their posture on security look like? (Takeaway: Every good MSP works to provide consistent vulnerability management of their customers’ IT infrastructure. They take patches, whitelists, security audits, vulnerability testing, and awareness training very seriously. Failing to do so can cost your business dearly.)
  10. Can they integrate with on-site staff? (Takeaway: Some MSPs are able to do this – if they can’t you must question why not?)

Moderately Important

  1. Do they challenge you? (Takeaway: Providers who have the experience and expertise to respectfully challenge your assumptions and recommend better-than-expected solutions should be on the top of your shortlist.)
  2. Do they have the right relationships (and are they accredited or just resellers)? (Takeaway: Just a fact: a good MSP would have multiple accredited partnerships with leading third-party vendors and solutions. The more, the merrier.)
  3. What does a monthly report look like and what goes on in the meeting? (Takeaway: Great providers go beyond mere compliance when it comes to monthly reporting. They use the event to communicate how you can still improve process, margins, and profits.)
  4. Do they have direct industry knowledge? (Takeaway: Go for providers that successfully serve companies similar to yours in terms of industry, size, and line of business.)
  5. How broad is their skillset? (Takeaway: The broader the range of services a provider can competently offer, the better.)
  6. Do they offer a service guarantee and a trial period? (Takeaway: A good MSP provides service quality guarantee without locking you in to a long-term contract with heavy penalties for early exit.)

Slightly Important

  1. How is their pricing? (Takeaway: Managed services have become business essentials very much like utilities. For things that need to be consistently dependable, price takes the back seat in favour of high quality and reliability standards. Still, there are MSPs that offer excellent services on nearly every front and yet refrain from charging the highest fees. Go for those rare outliers.) 

Spare yourself from a failed partnership. Right from the outset, go for providers that clearly exhibit these qualities:

  1. High Net Promoter Score (NPS) + impressive portfolio of recognisable clients
  2. Certifications and multiple third-party accreditations
  3. Broad service range and industry coverage
  4. Tight cybersecurity practices
  5. Verifiable reputation for commitment, fast response/quick resolutions, flexibility/adaptability, strategic insight, and reasonable pricing.

Lastly, test the water before jumping in. Go for providers that offer a no-obligation trial period. A good MSP won’t lock you into long-term contract you’re uncomfortable with. A great one will make you want to stay for the excellent service.

You can also find a good guide on choosing a managed service provider at the Emerge Digital website.

Want a final takeaway? Grab a copy of our guide here.


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