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10 Questions to Ask a Potential Managed IT Service Provider

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With so many different managed IT service providers (MSPs) out there, it’s easy to end up going with the wrong one.

As is the case with most any product or service, the way to get to the bottom of just how good the MSP is, is for you is to ask questions.

There are, of course, plenty of questions you could ask, but which ones will get you the right info?

While there will always be differences in what to ask based on each firm’s individual circumstances, there are certain points in common that will help bring about the right answers.

So What Questions Should I Ask a Potential MSP?

Finding out more about how an MSP does business is key to establishing whether or not that particular MSP is right for you.

Keep these questions in mind about an MSP for the best shot at success.

What kind of price structure do you use? 

While there can be similarities in pricing structures among businesses, there are enough points on which businesses can differ to make this question worthwhile.

It’s not just a dollars-and-cents issue, but rather a matter of how the billing takes place.

Whether it’s flat-fee, custom, or in certain minimum blocks, knowing how the company bills for its services can mean the difference between good service and a waste of money.

What are your price options?

It’s important to find out if your MSP offers customizable pricing.

Some MSPs offer tailored solutions specific to the level of management needs on each device to make it flexible for your needs.

Find out if the MSP will be flexible for you instead of trying to fit your business into its box.

Are there any co-management options?

Many companies have their own IT departments, and not just “that guy in sales who’s good with computers.”

For those firms, taking on some of the responsibility of managing managed services can result in a cut in the price, if the MSP offers co-managed IT options in its project management style.

Many MSPs have an all-or-nothing model.

If you have some internal IT resources, this could mean you are overpaying.

In these cases, Coretelligent specifically seeks to augment your existing staff, not replace them.

What security measures do you use?

If you’re outsourcing data of any kind, you know you want it protected.

In some cases, you may have state or even federal regulators who insist on that protection, and can slap you with hefty fines for failure.

Knowing the cybersecurity measures is therefore vital, a make-or-break decision that either makes it clear your data is safe and regulators are happy, or not.

What’s your discovery process like?

An MSP should always conduct a scan of the network to ensure accuracy.

If an MSP is simply proposing an offer to you based off an inventory list — or just what you’ve told them about your network — beware.

You want an MSP that values accuracy in all it does.

Additionally, the scan can provide you valuable insight into potential security issues, inventory management and equipment lifecycle.

What hardware and software do you recommend?

A quality managed service provider will not only use best-in-breed technology for monitoring and management, they will always recommend best-in-breed technologies for their clients.

Check references from the MSP to see what has been installed, and match that against recommendations from industry analysts like Gartner.

Is there a service-level agreement?

This is also a vital question; a service-level agreement (SLA) is effectively a contract between the provider and the user, guaranteeing a certain amount of service, commonly uptime.

If the agreed-upon level of service isn’t provided, there are often direct measures that apply to make the contract whole, like refunds or free service after the term of the agreement.

SLAs should also be centered around response times.

Your MSP should have written documentation in the contract spelling out impact levels including a mean time-to-respond associated with each impact level, and a mean time-to-remediate.

How often is the contract renewed?

Most MSPs offer both one-year and three-year terms. A one-year term can be useful in “testing out” an MSP but — bear in mind — you will most likely pay a higher price for that contract, and changing providers is not an easy process.

If you have negotiated “cause for termination” clauses, you should be fine with a three-year term.

Most MSPs have auto renewals in their contracts. Sometimes you can negotiate the renewal term to one year.

Make yourself a calendar reminder six months prior to the expiration to give yourself plenty of time to negotiate with other providers and make a transition if needed.

What accreditations and certifications does your company have?

Accreditations and certifications are, essentially, tangible reputation.

A company that has these points has reached certain levels of skill, verified by an independent body that has no stake in the company’s success or failure beyond the payment of certification fees.

While some accreditations and certifications carry more weight than others—and you can specifically look for these as part of your information-gathering process—having these is better than not.

Find out if the MSP is a Gold Partner with companies like Cisco, Microsoft, Dell, etc.

Ask to see how many CCIEs, CCNAs, and MSCEs they have. Additionally, do they have VMware certifications or security certifications like CISSP or CISM?

Who can I talk to that’s already worked with you?

If accreditations and certifications are tangible reputation, then referrals are intangible reputation.

Most reputable companies will have a list of references already on hand; they want to show off their successes as surely as any of us would.

While there’s some risk here of cherry-picking and seeded lists—they only give you a list of the successes, not the failures—using this information in concert with everything else will provide a truer picture of the company’s capability.

How Should I Start to Find the Best Managed Service Provider (MSP)?

Now that you know the questions to ask, all that’s left is to find the place to ask them.

The best place to start asking questions is with us at Coretelligent, where we have the answers you’ll likely want to hear.

Whether you have the unique needs of a mid-market firm, the specific demands of a finance or healthcare firm, or something particular to your own situation, our staff and partner firms are ready to help produce the answers to all the questions you might have.

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