GUIDE TO MANAGED IT SERVICES for Southern California Businesses
How Filling the Gaps in Your IT Capability Enables Business Success
Business leaders are switching to managed IT services to improve the way that they manage the IT function of their business.
What’s changing their minds about how to resource IT is the realization that the complex and rapidly changing technology landscape requires deep expertise in all aspects of IT management.
They also realize that high functioning IT is a prerequisite to business success and managed IT services is the only cost-effective way for small and medium-sized businesses to have access to every discipline that is required for comprehensive IT department performance.
The result is that parts of the IT function are getting favored over others, and some tasks are getting skipped altogether, because IT support doesn’t have the expertise or the bandwidth to cover everything.
Imagine you needed heart surgery but the doctor’s office you choose only has experts in knee surgery.
They’re not just good at knee surgery, they’re the best in the world. What do these expert knee surgeons want to do when you come in complaining of heart pain? They want to know how that’s related to your knees. They are trained surgeons and could take a stab at your heart condition (bad pun!) but how confident are you going to be to go under their knife? And how excited are the knee surgeons going to be about taking care of your heart? Not very. They probably wouldn’t even do it.
They would rather do knee surgery because they know they can get an outstanding result.
You're about to learn
How executive attitudes and perspectives create IT problems.
How managed IT services presents a change in mindset and provides a solution to these problems.
A process to take to guide your search for a managed IT services provider that will meet your expectations.
2. Business Leaders and the IT Problem
The problem that business leaders have with IT is that they know they need it, but they don’t know how to manage it. IT takes them out of their comfort zone into an area where the water gets deep really fast. Yet, executives and business owners need to make decisions about IT that affect the very life of their business.
This is how it happens.
There was a company that wanted to decrease their IT costs. The CFO saw a line item in their budget that said, “Updates for Server Operating System”. The CFO asked if there was anything wrong with the current operating system. The IT guy said, not really. The CFO told him to cancel those updates. The IT guy didn’t argue.
The result of that decision was that because the software was no longer getting security patches, the company was the victim of a cyber attack. You can bet that the cleanup and repercussions of the cyber attack cost the company a whole lot more than the cost to update the server would have been.
Managing IT and all its resources is beyond me. The result is that you look at IT as a necessary evil.
The IT department can be just one person. Gaps in IT capability have unintended impacts on productivity, security, and future business success.
We should be able to use old software and hardware to accomplish our goals. The result is increased cyber risk, incompatibilities and inefficiencies.
IT project management is more complicated than I expected. The result is that you don't involve yourself in critical decisions.
I don't understand why software development projects always need more resources than planned. You may not have had the right conversation in the first place.
I didn't realize that going to the "cloud" would have so many good and bad repercussions. Again, you may not have had the right conversations about leveraging new technology before making the switch.
I can't find a comprehensive IT solution that meets my expectations. The result is that you keep doing the same things you've been doing, and you get the same lackluster results.
An Insane IT Strategy
All of these attitudes and perspectives, if continued, will just take you in a vicious circle. We’ve all heard the definition of insanity. Albert Einstein was quoted as saying that insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results. We’re certainly not questioning your mental health, just challenging you to do things differently. You’re probably not going to do things differently with IT management until you see your situation differently.
If you’re paying a fixed fee based on an agreed upon level of service (also known as a Service Level Agreement or SLA), and you are strategically planning and budgeting for IT, then you’ll get a handle on both your short term and long term costs.
It's Not About the Computers
These questions are meant to help you get a glimpse of a different IT reality. If your systems are unpredictable, wouldn't you rather have them be predictable? If your IT costs are out of control, wouldn't you like them to be controlled? Wouldn't you rather leverage technology instead of chase problems every day?
The answer to your IT problems is that you have to do IT right, and if you’re going to do that you have to manage the IT function like you do other functions of your business.
“In the real world of business, markets, and stiff competition, IT isn’t just hardware and software, computers and networks. It’s the people behind the scenes, the management of those people, and the information that flows under their fingertips.”
- Marty Kaufman, Founder of Accent Computer Solutions, Inc. and author of Do IT Right: It's Not About the Computers
4. The Managed IT Services Solution
What is Managed IT Services?
Different people define managed services in different ways, so let’s clarify how we’re using the term:
Managed IT refers to comprehensive IT services that are provided by an MSP (managed service provider) for a fixed monthly rate. With this model, the MSP and the client share the same goal: to have the IT function running smoothly. In order to do this the MSP assumes responsibility and provides unlimited support for designated aspects of IT, and the client organization commits to investing in the equipment and software that will improve the operation and security of their systems.
Managed IT Services addresses the IT problem that business leaders are having with IT by providing a comprehensive IT department that can cover all of the IT bases, including IT strategy, with a high level of capability. The managed service provider (MSP) proactively manages IT in order to create a stable IT infrastructure on which to scale, along with a strategy that plans for the future, controls costs, and seeks out ways to use technology to improve and grow the business.
Let’s return to that doctor’s office and see what it would look like under a managed services model. The heart surgeon takes care of hearts, the knee surgeon takes care of knees, and all of the other specialty branches of medicine are there to step in when they’re needed. Let’s not forget that prevention of diseases and illnesses, also plays an integral part in overall health. Fortunately, this scenario is truer to what we actually find in the healthcare system.
Most companies can’t afford to hire a person for every IT specialty. It wouldn’t be practical anyway, because you don’t need all of that person’s time, you just need a piece of it.
Let’s take a look at what the managed services IT department looks like:
The Managed Services IT Department
When you don’t have to worry about gaps in your IT capability, you can get started on a path that leads to a predictable IT environment, and the opportunity to do more with technology. You have to have a clear roadmap for how you’re going to make progress, and that’s where IT strategy comes in.
Concerned with planning, budgeting, and helping you choose the right technologies.
Concerned with establishing, maintaining and monitoring technical layers of security.
Concerned with proactive maintenance and monitoring of systems.
Help Desk / Reactive Support
Tasked with helping users.
Project / Architecture Services
Concerned with designing your network and architecting solutions so new technologies will work seamlessly with existing infrastructure.
IT Strategy Takes You Where You Want to Go
Remember the story at the beginning of this article? The decision that the executive made about halting software patches opened up the door to a cyber attack. That’s not going to happen anymore because now that you have Technology Strategy in your outsourced IT department, you’ll have a technology advisor helping you to look at each decision from every angle.
Business level IT guidance will also help you:
Set priorities for improvements to create a stable infrastructure.
Plan and budget for future investments.
Schedule software and hardware refreshes for cost savings and productivity.
Align IT with business objectives.
Your Role in the Relationship with a Managed IT Services Provider
The way that your IT systems go from chaotic to humming along is not a result of magic. It’s the result of the application of best practices, and improvements in hardware and software that make your network more manageable. That means that you need to be committed to investing in your system.
When your starting point is a very unpredictable IT structure, there could be some improvements that need to be accomplished fast because all or part of your system is ready to fail or could be opening you up to too much risk. That doesn’t mean you have to rip out and replace your whole infrastructure, but you must commit to making changes to reduce risk and improve stability if necessary.
You also need to be open to sharing details about your business challenges and goals with a technology advisor so that they can help you find the best ways to leverage technology.
5. Discover New Value by Aligning IT with Business Objectives
A company that uses IT to meet business objectives is going to experience more success than one that doesn’t. Keeping in mind that you need a stable IT infrastructure in place first, here’s a sample of the kind of goals you can enable with technology:
Increase customer satisfaction
Decrease product lead time
Your business goals are going to be more specific than what’s in this list but hopefully you get the idea that you can enable just about any business objective with technology. When you can use technology as a contributor towards your goals, you suddenly can see business value in IT that you never saw before. We’ll talk more about what’s possible when you’re effectively managing IT later in this article.
As we mentioned earlier in this article, “managed IT services” can have different definitions so you have to be very clear on exactly what is being offered when you’re comparing companies side-by-side. What you need to understand is what is being managed and the overall goal of the provider.
For example, is the IT company’s goal to deliver a set amount of services or is it to give you a smooth running IT system on which you can leverage technology?
Service Delivery and Relationship Management
It’s okay to get into some specifics about how the company you’re evaluating will deliver services, but you should see a red flag if all they want to talk about is their tech tools and how they use them.
Answers to the following questions should give you insight on both service delivery and approach:
How does the company provide comprehensive IT expertise?
How will you work together to create IT strategy?
Are there limits with services? What does “unlimited” mean?
How will the relationship be managed?
Tell me about your onboarding process and plan for the first three months.
What will we do if we have problems? How long will it take to get ahold of someone?
What will success look like? How will we measure results?
What will cost extra, or what’s outside the scope of this agreement?
What kind of communication can I expect?
How long does it take to resolve issues, on average?
You already know that it’s hard to compare “managed services” apples to apples with different companies, and the same is true for pricing. There are many variables that come into play, including how much equipment you have, the number of employees, and the complexity of your network.
You’re probably looking at a per device price of $100 - 400 per server, $50 - 100 per workstation, $30 - 75 per firewall, and $15 - 40 per switch, and a per user charge of about $150 - 250 per user.
In order to give you a quote, the managed service provider will need a little more information besides an equipment count. They’ll want to know what software you use including cloud applications; how many locations you have; and other details that will give them a clear representation of your technology lay of the land.
Managed IT Services Contracts
Just as you can’t do a side by side comparison of services and pricing for managed IT, comparing managed IT support contracts is like comparing apples to oranges. Make sure that you clearly understand the full scope of the contract. Here are some questions to contemplate as you’re studying contracts.
What does “unlimited” mean?
You want to find out if there are actually limits to what they’re describing as unlimited. For example, the contract might say that you get “unlimited support” but in reality, you get unlimited remote support and a set number of hours per month of onsite support. Despite the restriction of onsite support, the company considers what you’re getting to be “unlimited”.
What’s included in the per device pricing?
If you see a big disparity between the per device pricing between two companies, there could be a big difference in what they’re offering. For example, licensing for spam and antivirus filtering are included in the pricing and contracts of some companies but not in others. Network management might also be included within the device management, or it could be a separate line item.
What does “security” mean?
If the contract says that security services are included, find out exactly what they’re covering. An effective security strategy is built with layers that include tactics such as software patching, intrusion detection, penetration testing, and regular audits. Make sure you understand how many layers are included.
What does “backup” mean?
If you’re just getting backup to an offsite location, you’re not getting all you need. Your conversation about backup should also include disaster recovery, and how you will retrieve your data and restore operations after you’ve had a data loss incident. Your disaster recovery process is something that the managed IT services company will work with you to create, but because it’s so customized, don’t expect it to be included in your flat fee. Just be aware that a line item for “backup” or “offsite backup” doesn’t mean much by itself.
Are your satellite offices and remote workers included?
If you have multiple locations or people working remotely, ask if they are included in the contract. The managed IT company will have conducted a discovery to get a picture of your network and everything that is connected to it, but you should be sure to mention the existence of other locations and workers. If you don’t, your price could change after signing.
What’s the expected response time?
Even with managed IT services, you’re always going to need reactive support when users need help or issues occur. How long will it take your people to get IT support on the phone? How about when you need someone onsite?
Price Changes After You Sign the Contract
It’s very possible that your pricing might change after the managed IT service company begins their full onboarding process. There could be devices that weren’t included in the initial count that are discovered.
You can also expect your price to change as you add and subtract users and devices. One of the main benefits of managed IT services is that it will scale up or down with your needs, and you only should have to pay for what you’re using. It should say in the contract when pricing adjustments will be made.
What to Expect in the First Days, Weeks and Months
Before you sign, make sure the MSP has talked you through how services will begin. Onboarding is a tense time for staff and eliminating surprises will help to ease their fears. The MSP you’re switching to should have a documented process that includes a list of the information and access to the systems and software that they’ll need.
Make sure that your employees know who to contact for support on day one, and if you have a designated contact person. The last thing you want to do is to try to guess who has the answer to your question. The best companies will have a main point-of-contact in the team that will be working with you to answer your questions or get the answers for you.
7. What's Possible When IT Has Comprehensive Management
Let’s say that your business wanted to open several new locations. How would your managed IT services company help you do that? First, they would guide you through the improvements that are needed to build an infrastructure that will scale as you grow. Then they would create a plan for installing the technology that is needed at each location and standardize it so that it can roll out fast, and be manageable as well as secure.
Benefits of Managed IT Services
Business leaders who want to meet their aggressive goals for improving their company and growing their business cannot continue to struggle with technology. Frustrations with unpredictability, issues that never go away, and exposure to increasing cyber risk will always steal attention and resources.
With the right managed IT services partner, these same leaders can make progress towards their goals and find multiple ways for IT to bring value to their businesses including:
Increased customer satisfaction
Improved management of business risk
Increased efficiency and productivity of employees
Want Managed IT Services to Enable Your Business Success?
Accent Computer Solutions, Inc. is a managed IT service provider headquartered in Rancho Cucamonga, California. We help businesses with 30 - 500 employees throughout Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego, and Orange Counties strategically use IT to meet their business goals.
By either acting as your entire IT department, or supplementing your internal IT person or team, we come alongside businesses to enable their success while giving them the fast, friendly, frustration-free experience they crave.