What Are Managed Services?

Managed Services is a term that can mean many things to many different people. Some uses of the term managed services do not have any hint of technology at all. The term managed services, as used in the technology industry, has a precise meaning particularly for those companies who call themselves Managed Service Providers (or MSPs).

Definition of Managed Services

The closest and best definition came out of a meeting of top MSP leaders over 10 years ago; this is the definition they created.

Managed Services is the proactive management of an IT (Information Technology) asset or object, by a third party typically known as a MSP, on behalf of a customer. The operative distinction that sets apart a MSP is the proactive delivery of their service, as compared to reactive IT services, which have been around for decades.

Managed Services Characteristics

Typically, MSPs will have the following distinguishing characteristics:

 

  • Have some form of Network Operation Center (NOC) service
  • Use a remote monitoring and management (RMM) technology platform to have visibility into their customer environments, wherever they may be
  • Have some form of service or help desk capability
  • Proactively, compared to reactive, maintain the objects under management for the customer
  • Recurring revenue. Most MSPs have ongoing billing relationships with their customers, as compared to transactional engagements. Deliver these solutions with some form of predictable billing model, where the customer knows with great accuracy what their regular IT management expense will be
  • Many people confuse cloud computing as a separate category of services, when most MSPs consider cloud computing to be a form of managed services

Managed Services Specialties

While the term MSP may be somewhat generic these days, there are many types of MSPs who deliver specific services or manage specific types of customers. Some of the more common types of solutions include security, storage, desktop, server, hosting, applications, and mobile device management. These specialities can be delivered to any type of customer. Today, cyber security is spreading throughout the global managed services community as customers from all geographies and vertical markets are struggling to stay ahead of cyber threats.

Managed Services Vertical Markets

Just like there are many types of service offerings, there are many types of vertical markets MSPs service. Industries such as banking, financial services, health care, and legal, are just a few of the vertical markets that have shown high demand for MSPs for the last two decades.

NOC

The NOC, or Network Operation Center, is usually a physical location where a MSP delivers their managed services. The NOC is the heart or nerve center of the MSP operation. Originally used by telecommunications companies, the NOC was used as a centralized place where service technicians could safely and securely work, without having to worry about disruptions of power, Internet connectivity, or other disruptive occurrences, whether caused by natural or unnatural events.

In the early days of managed services, MSPs would build a NOC because it was a necessary component of their business model. This central monitoring location was often a key selling point for MSPs. Customers who outsource their IT management want to feel safe that their IT assets are being accessed by qualified people who are themselves located in a safe and secure location. This is why the NOC exists and is so important to the business model of a MSP.

In recent years, the term Virtual NOC as come into common usage when describing a MSP that either uses another MSP’s NOC, or themselves do not have a physical location where the NOC technicians work. Instead, the technicians work remotely and collaborate in a virtualized environment. Ultimately, there are several forms a NOC can take, each one aimed at servicing a type of customer need.

Help Desk

The Help Desk (sometimes called a service desk) is oftentimes confused or mistaken for a Network Operation Center (NOC). Although these two components sometimes are located in the same physical space, the help desk and NOC actually serve different functions in a service provider organization. If the NOC is the centralized area where the MSP monitors and manages objects on behalf of the customer, the help desk is also a centralized area where the MSP interacts with end-users to help them resolve issues.

Help desks can work in a variety of ways but typically MSP help desks will utilize both email and telephone mechanisms to interact with end-users. While larger MSPs may physically separate the help desk and NOC, smaller MSPs tend to have these two groups located within the same room.

Efficiency is a key element of a well run help desk, since MSPs need to deliver high quality service while at the same time maintaining efficiency in order to keep costs under control. For some MSPs, outsourcing their help desk and/or NOC to a specialist provider is desirable so the MSP can focus on selling, marketing, and performing other types of services to the customer.

While the idea of outsourcing your email and telephone support is generally desirable in smaller MSPs, as the company grows, the need to bring this function back in house becomes greater. Quality control, greater efficiencies, better integration with internal processes and technologies, and better margins are all common reasons why MSPs bring back a previously outsourced help desk function.

Remote Monitoring & Management

Remote Monitoring & Management platforms (RMM) allow managed service providers to perform necessary and important IT management tasks even though the objects under management may not be physically in the presence of the MSP. Because many MSPs employ a “one-to-many” business model, physically going to each device in order to work on (or observe) it becomes problematic, not to mention expensive and challenging to scale.

RMM technologies enable the MSP to remotely perform IT management tasks from a computer screen and an Internet connection. In many scenarios, the RMM technology is located within the NOC, where the MSP also handles help desk related issues for their customers.

The RMM technology often works in conjunction with other MSP enabling technologies. Whether it is a help desk or trouble ticketing solution, a CRM, a security consoleIn some cases, RMM technologies can also work in conjunction with other tools to allow “out of band” access to objects, meaning that the same remote access can exist even if the object may be offline or non-functional.

RMM tools used to be very costly during the 1990s but became much more simple to use and less expensive, thereby allowing many IT service companies to enter the managed services profession. RMM tools enabled MSPs to stop sending technicians on site to customers and instead made it possible for MSPs to observe and work on many remote devices all at the same time.

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