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The Difference Between Managed IT Services and Unmanaged IT

Written by Courtney Casey

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Many executives don’t think they have unmanaged IT but they do. For whatever reason – to save money, for self-reliance, or lack of knowledge -- they decided that it would be better to cobble together their own mix of technology services and tools, rather than contract with a managed IT service provider to meet their IT needs. Chances are good that the outcome of their custom mix has not met expectations, and IT has become an increasingly frustrating obstacle that the whole business has to bump into every day.

In this article, we’re going to compare managed IT services with their opposite in order to help business leaders who are frustrated with IT get a glimpse of a better and more cost effective way to manage the IT function of their business.

The Approach: Reactive vs. Proactive

Have you ever heard of the term “break/fix”? This just means - something breaks; it gets fixed. This is reactive. There isn’t any action until something happens. The opposite of reactive is proactive. This means that you do something ahead of time in order to prevent something else from happening, and usually that something else is a bad thing that you want to avoid.

In the IT world, a reactive approach is focused on solving problems. Problems can be small and they can be very big. Often lots of little problems are a sign that there is a much bigger problem under the surface. Because they’re getting bombarded by the needs of users, however, the IT people end up using their time to alleviate symptoms, and they never get to the root cause of the issues. That’s like airing up your car tire every day instead of removing the nail and repairing the hole.

The proactive approach of managed IT services is concerned with preventing problems from happening in the first place. No one knows how long a server or a switch or a PC is going to last, but it’s pretty easy to predict when they’ll start to need more maintenance. Scheduling replacement of hardware on a set cycle is an example of being proactive. That’s like buying new tires before your old ones get bald so that you don’t have to worry that you’ll have a blowout on the highway.

How You Pay: Time and Materials vs. Fixed Fee

It’s surprising how many people think that managed IT services are out of their price range. Often they think that they’re not going to need much help because they don’t have many problems, or they have someone internally who can take care of everything. What they may not consider is how much longer it takes to fix problems when you’re not an expert (and there are many different areas of expertise in IT), and how much maintenance is (or should be) going on behind the scenes. They also don’t realize that when there is a disruption or a full-scale IT outage -- staff are not working. Doesn’t that cost something?

Time and materials (T&M) means that you’re paying for the technicians’ time and you’re paying for materials. You can buy time by the block which can include some monthly deliverables that look like managed services but they’re really not. They’re just deliverables. Time and materials is super wonderful when you don’t have problems. That’s super wonderful for you, not for your IT company. Your IT vendor in this scenario makes more money when you have problems for them to fix. So that makes you wonder how concerned they are with preventing problems if the more problems you have, the more money you have to pay them.

With managed IT services, you pay a fixed monthly fee. There are expectations for what the IT company will do for that fixed fee. Remember, that managed IT services are proactive, so a good portion of what they’re going to do for the money you pay them is to prevent problems. Their goal is to have your IT function running without hiccups and interruptions. Isn’t that you want, too?

Take cyber security for example. Having a cyber attack could take your company down for days or even weeks and in that situation your IT company is going to be working day and night until the situation is stable. It takes less resources for the managed IT services company to prevent the cyber attack from happening in the first place, even though it means that they have to invest in the tools and processes to minimize your risk. Prevention is best for everyone.

Related: Learn how filling in the gaps in your IT capability enable business success with the Guide to Managed IT Services

The Results: Unpredictable vs. Predictable

You probably already know where we’re going with this one. Take the cyber attack scenario, for example. What happens when you have a cyber attack? Your people and your operations are disrupted. What happens when your server crashes? Your people and your operations are disrupted. What happens when you get a new cloud service and your network can’t handle the traffic? Disruption. You get the picture.

With managed IT services, the result is predictable IT but there’s something else that happens, too. When your IT function is being managed and you have a stable IT infrastructure, you can suddenly do more with technology than you could before. You can use IT to contribute to your business goals.

How Does Unmanaged IT Happen?

Why do people eat junk food? Why do we take the elevator instead of the stairs? Why do we let our tires go bald? Why do we skip oil changes? Sometimes it’s cheaper. Sometimes it’s easier. Sometimes we just didn’t know there was a better way. It’s the same with IT support.

You don't know what you don't know so cut yourself some slack. Then contact us to schedule a free IT assessment. Even if we don't end up working together, you'll get some practical, actionable information that you can use. Learn more about IT Assessments...

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