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The paradox of being a managed services provider

During a recent visit to a customer, one part of the discussion caught me a little off guard.  They said they were considering cancelling their managed services agreement because nothing ever seems to go wrong with their network and they were wondering why they were paying for something where nothing ever happens. At the time I was surprised by the comment but when I thought it through, it was a perfectly reasonable remark to make. Businesses are cost conscious and paying for services not utilised is a waste of money. Reviewing costs and the value that expenditure delivers on a regular basis is completely normal. It prompted me to write this article to help articulate the value and purpose of a managed services provider (MSP).

The initial engagement with the MSP

We often find that at the start of a new managed services engagement there is a surge in engineering services to bring a site up to a standard. Customers begin engagements with GCOMM for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they have suffered a recent site disaster or had a data loss occurrence. Another reason is that the IT manager is no longer working with the company and they were thinking about not replacing the role. It’s also a common occurrence that they have outgrown or are dissatisfied with the service of their current IT provider. We often find that for the first few months of a new engagement our engineers are required onsite on a regular basis, as some equipment needs replacing or the software running on desktops and servers needs to be upgraded or reinstalled. However, after that initial busy engagement, we invariably see a decrease in the engineering work.

GCOMM uses sophisticated software tools to continuously monitor the devices, servers and applications on the customer’s networks. As potential problems begin to appear, warning notifications are made to the engineering team who can address the problem before it causes interruption. The customer often doesn’t even know that an issue was avoided. We believe that as a managed service provider, our primary task is ensuring business continuity for our clients.  We are doing our best work when you never have to think about your IT infrastructure because it just works.

The composition of managed services agreements

Managed services are effectively a maintenance agreement made between an MSP and a customer. They are based on a remote management and monitoring tool that will provide information on the client’s IT environment to the service provider as events occur. After this, the agreements become customer specific and they will extend to determining who fixes the problems, in what time and with what prior approval. The service agreement can look after all or a part of customer’s network and can even extend to a first and second level help desk. The better managed service providers will include a reporting regime that keeps the client up to date on network performance, availability and potential issues that will arise. This type of report creates a measurable performance and discussion point for potential investments or engineering that will be required in the future.

But then things stop going wrong

The odd part about providing managed services is that after a period of time, things stop going wrong with the client’s network. The number of calls, breakdowns and site visits diminishes and then customers can start wondering why they are paying for managed services when nothing goes wrong. I guess it’s a fair question – but it misses the point of a managed service. The primary objective and value of managed services is to keep the IT of the business up and running. Downtime is expensive. It’s not just the engineering time of the managed service provider that costs money but also the lost time in productivity for employees.

And so there exists the paradox. Managed services are meant to be a cost effective investment to ensure your network is doing what it is meant to do and keep the business running as opposed to one day unexpectedly stop working and costing an indeterminate amount of money to fix reactively.  The decision to engage a managed service provider is a choice to use preventative rather than reactive maintenance.The metaphor I like is to compare your IT environment to your car. You can have it serviced regularly and enjoy years of trouble free motoring – or you can drive it until it breaks and then call the mechanic to fix it only when it breaks down. Neither I (or your mechanic) are going to recommend the latter strategy!