MSPs Face Increasing Pressure for Transparency
If there is a recurring theme MSPs need to be aware of it is the demand by customers and their proxies (more on that below) for greater transparency. The demand for transparency and the most effective ways to demonstrate it are what will define the successful from unsuccessful MSPs.
Let's examine some of the reasons why MSPs are being asked for more transparency, and then turn to some easy solutions for meeting customer transparency requests.
What Are Customers Looking for in an MSP?
At a most basic level, customers want to be able to trust an MSP. The terms trusted advisor is not new within the IT channel and is frequently tossed around by MSPs claiming those two words as the best description of the relationship they have with their customers.
If you are a new customer or looking to engage an MSP, then what basis do you have to say you will have a "trusted advisor" before you've received any services from the MSP? That is one of the central motivators for customers seeking transparency from an MSP prior to engaging their services. Can I trust you? This is what customers and prospects are really asking.
A lot of the inbound requests for certification and audit we receive at MSPAlliance come from MSPs reacting to both existing and prospective clients. What this tells us is even existing customers supposedly experienced in the "trusted advisor" relationship are still asking the MSP for transparency. Why does this matter?
A managed services prospect looking for documentation or evidence of how an MSP operates makes sense. The prospect has no idea what to expect from the MSP because there is no historical record, no personal relationship. An existing client, however, is different because they do have personal experience from which they can draw.
So, why are more managed services clients asking their MSP for more documentation and transparency? The answer is simple. The client must be able to demonstrate what the MSP is doing to anyone who may ask them. Who would ask a client what their MSP is doing? There is a long list of people who would want this information: regulators, compliance officers, users or customers of the client, insurance companies, legal officers, are just a few of the legitimate requests for transparency documentation which could be made of an MSP.
Requests for transparency are not going away and it is up to MSPs to figure out how to comply with them in an effective way. So, let's turn our attention to ways of demonstrating that trusted relationship to those interested parties who would seek such information.
How can MSPs Demonstrate Transparency
There are a number of ways MSPs can show customers the transparency and trust they seek. Each method must be carefully considered so as to adequately respond to the many unique motives behind each information request.
One of the easiest methods of showing transparency, and quite frankly, one that should be true for all MSPs, is solid documentation on the MSP's policies and procedures. Documentation requests typically show up in RFIs (requests for information) generated during the sales process. RFIs are a natural part of "getting to know" an MSP.
Many MSPs do not have "sufficient" documentation and instead rely on memorized prior activity or practices related to managed services delivery practices. If an MSP is lucky enough to have documentation then they can produce that documentation and hope that it is sufficient to address the questions.
A more formal response to a request for documentation and transparency is producing an audit or certification report. While producing documentation may satisfy some requests from customers, they do not address the validity or accuracy of the documents. More specifically, a certification or audit report should address the policies and procedures used by the MSP and whether or not those documented policies and procedures are actually followed.
A good certification and audit should focus on both the existence of policies and procedures as well as a faithful adherence to those behaviors on a consistent basis. A certification/audit report is a way for MSPs to report on their methods of delivering managed services but do so using the words and assurance of a third party.
Transparency requests are not going away. MSPs need to realize this and develop effective methods for giving their customers and prospects the information they need in order to have the "trusted relationship" all MSPs seek with their customers.