Defining Managed Services

managed services definition
Posted 5.29.2024

What is art? Everyone has an opinion, and they frequently differ from the next person. Defining managed services is like defining art. Everyone will have their opinion. Still, we can make some educated assertions about managed services, MSP (managed service providers) and what they do.  

Defining Managed Services  

Being an MSP is more of an evolutionary path, rather than a static or fixed point in time achieved through some certification, licensure, or graduation from a school. Companies become MSPs when they have reached the point of delivering proactive IT (Information Technology) management services on their customers’ behalf. This is the definition of managed services we have used for many years, and we believe are the ones best suited to our profession. It is not the only definition that exists, but the MSPAlliance believes it is the best one.  

Defining this chief characteristic of an MSP is important when you consider how many different types of MSPs there are in the world. Some companies only deliver managed services. Other companies may have only a small fraction of their revenue coming from managed services. Being in the managed services profession, however, does mean that you must possess certain characteristics which define you as an MSP, and allow you to deliver the necessary services to customers. Many other companies may possess such “MSP defining characteristics” but that does not mean they are an MSP. Just because you own a pen does not mean you are a poet.  

What MSPs Are Not 

Sometimes it is helpful to define what something is not, so you can better understand what it is.   

Proactive vs Reactive 

One of the easiest attributes to recognize in an MSP, and one that more often than not can identify a company as an MSP is whether they are proactive or reactive in nature.  

For example, all MSPs should be proactive. This means their services should anticipate certain business and technological events and attempt to safeguard the “object” being managed from that event. If an MSP was responsible for taking care of a server, you might expect that MSP to proactively monitor and manage that server to guard against inevitable attacks.  

This model stands in stark contrast with a ‘reactive’ IT company who will repair a server after it has been attacked or suffered some sort of harmful event. To further confuse the matter, you may find a reactive IT company using the same tools as an MSP, and even calling themselves an MSP, despite the fact that they clearly are not proactively monitoring or managing anything for the customer.   

MSPs Come in Many Forms 

An important aspect of identifying an MSP is that they come in all sizes, shapes, and varieties. Similar to other professions such as medical, legal, and engineering, MSPs deliver a wide spectrum of managed services to a diverse set of customers around the world.  

Not all MSPs look the same. This is crucial to anyone’s understanding of this profession. You can have 10 MSPs lined up and they may all look different, have different customers, deliver different services, and use different tools. And yet, with all these unique characteristics, there are similarities which you can expect to see across all MSPs.  

MSPs often have these characteristics:  

-Monitoring & Management Technology: these are the tools commonly used by MSPs to securely and safely see their customers’ IT assets.
-Recurring billing options: instead of paying large, up-front fees, MSPs often rely on recurring billing to make it easier on their customers to manage the IT asset in question
-Service Agreements: these contractual documents outline the responsibilities of the MSP (and the customer) related to services being delivered, define what objects will or will not be managed, and describe the fees associated with the management 

Why do I need an MSP?  

The reasons why you would need an MSP are almost as numerous as the kinds of MSPs. There are, however, a few common factors behind why tens of thousands of organizations around the world hire MSPs.  

Cost  

Although never the best reason to outsource, saving money can be a significant factor. Outsourcing your IT management and cybersecurity to an MSP can save you money, especially over long periods.  

 Access to Human Talent 

The demand to continue innovating in today’s business climate almost always means leveraging Information Technology. IT management is more than just procurement of the hardware and software; it is also the management of the IT assets. IT must also be aligned to strategic business goals in order to be effective. People are required to accomplish both of these goals.   

As the IT profession continues to have extraordinarily low unemployment rates, organizations needing human capital, requiring a source of significant and diverse technical talent, and unable to keep up with the pace of hiring internal IT staff often select an MSP. Hiring an MSP can also be significantly easier for organizations. Hiring (and terminating) individuals can be a challenging process. Depending on where you are in the world, the employment of individuals can bring challenges to organizations of all sizes, particularly when involving positions requiring technical and unique skill sets.  

Engaging a single MSP can alleviate much of the Human Resources administration. By hiring one MSP, an organization can access dozens, if not hundreds of individuals with varied skills, certifications, training, and experience.  

Focus on Core Objectives 

For many organizations, running a full-time IT department is not one of their primary objectives. The legal firm representing clients, the physicians who practice healing patients, and the retail store service customers, all these entities have a core purpose which does not involve managing IT.  

And yet, most organizations today do utilize and rely upon IT in order to achieve their primary business objectives. You can see why the MSP profession has grown so much in the last 30 years as more and more organizations need to remain focused on what they do and leave the IT administration to the professionals.  

How to Select an MSP 

Selecting an MSP is an important decision, and one which must be done carefully. Finding the right MSP is similar to finding the right shoe, or the perfect piece of clothing. In order to accomplish this perfect fit, here are some helpful tips for selecting that perfect MSP.   

Know Your IT Outsourcing Goals 

Before you get too far down the path of talking to MSPs, you should really have a good understanding of what your goals are. What if you have no technical experience? Do not worry. If you know what your business goals are, the right MSP should be able to get you the rest of the way there.  

If you do possess internal technical knowledge, that can help a lot. The more detail you can give to your MSP in terms of what your requirements and expectations are, the better the relationship should be.  

Working with Internal IT 

Particularly in smaller organizations, internal IT talent may be minimal or non-existent. In these situations, the MSP can act as the entire IT department. In larger organizations where there may be full-time IT staff (or even a fully matured IT department), MSPs can play incredibly important roles in support of the internal IT department or team.  

Security 

Regardless of what your strategic goals are or how big your internal IT team is, you need to make sure your MSP understands security: yours, as well as theirs.   

Selecting an experienced, knowledgeable, and properly equipped MSP is very important. MSPs should first be secure internally. This means the MSP should have effective and widespread security measures implemented internally, to protect their own infrastructure, applications, and external service provider partners.   

MSPs also (it goes without saying) need to protect their customers. Now, this can get complicated depending on what the customers want from their MSP. Sometimes, MSPs will suggest a course of action the client does not want to take. MSPs are obligated through their professional best practices to help their clients become more secure. However, it is up to the client to agree to such measures.   

Whatever the scenario, know that the MSP should have both your IT security in mind, as well as their own.  

Specialist MSPs 

There are many types of MSPs. Some MSPs take care of customers within a particular geographic area, while others practice within a defined market or service vertical. For example, there are MSPs who service customers only within the New York City area, while some MSPs only work with customers in the banking, healthcare, or retail sectors. Still, other MSPs may only deliver certain kinds of managed services, such as managed security, managed hosting, or device management.  

No two MSPs are alike. Finding the perfect MSP can really have a positive impact on your business or organization.  

Due Diligence 

When you have identified one (or several) MSPs matching your search criteria, then you must perform due diligence. Just as if you were purchasing a house, you can find one that you really like but you must do more in terms of inspecting the property, performing tests, and asking the right questions.  

When performing due diligence on an MSP, you may ask for things such as customer references, view certification or audit reports, and perform site visits to view their facilities. No matter what the MSP tells you during the sales process, it is always recommended that you confirm the information independently.  

For example, if the MSP says they have a NOC (Network Operations Center) which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, then you may want to check that out yourself. You can ask to see the NOC (most MSPs would be happy to show off their NOC to a potential client) or confirm that the NOC exists through the MSP’s certification or audit report.  

What is Cyber Verify 

Trust, but Cyber Verify. Cyber Verify is a comprehensive compliance and audit program developed by MSPAlliance, tailored specifically for Managed Services Providers (MSPs). It is designed to simplify the complex and ever-changing landscape of MSP compliance, offering tools and resources to help MSPs navigate cybersecurity regulations and achieve compliance with various standards. The program includes a suite of services such as Compliance as a Service, MSP Business Maturity Accelerator, and certifications like SOC 2 and Cyber Verify™. Cyber Verify aims to assist MSPs in documenting their controls, policies, and procedures, providing policy templates, and supporting them in managing and lowering MSP risk. Additionally, it enables MSPs to offer compliance services to their clients, thereby expanding their business operations and enhancing cybersecurity excellence. 

Summary 

If a company calls itself an MSP, that is a good indicator of what they want you to believe they are. Once identified, you should begin to ask the “MSP” questions to fully understand what types of MSP they are, the services they provide, and the customers they typically service. Asking to see their Cyber Verify report will help you quickly understand the maturity level of the MSP and whether they are a good match for your organization’s needs.  

Tags : definition of managed services,definition of MSP

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