What Are Managed IT Services?
You've been managing IT functions in your business on your own, or with some limited help. You're starting to feel like a more cohesive approach to IT could benefit your business. Your current "just fix it when it's broken" method isn't working. Managed IT services let you sleep better, knowing that an experienced business technology team is managing your IT infrastructure and systems.
What Services Will I Get from an MSP?
Managed IT services can mean a lot of different things. Most managed service providers (MSPs) provide some level of IT support and network monitoring. Services can range from remote-only support to a dedicated technician working regular hours at your location.
- Some MSPs offer network maintenance, monitoring, and cybersecurity.
- Others offer only limited maintenance functions and issue resolution.
- Some MSPs provide a full-service help desk team available to your organization 24 hours a day.
- Others may provide only limited amounts of end-user IT support.
No two MSPs are identical. You'll find potential partners with varying degrees of the offerings described above. They each offer different services and solve different problems for different types of business situations. One MSP can be a rock star partner for one business and a less-than-stellar partner for a different business.
As an MSP ourselves, Innovative knows this very well. We offer a menu of services that allow us to do our best work by focusing on what we do well. Businesses with problems solved by our service offerings think we're rock stars. Businesses with problems that require solutions outside of our scope are less-than-perfect matches for us.
Those less-than-perfect relationships are just as frustrating for us as they are for you. So, to help you better identify the managed IT services you need, we've outlined the most common services offered by MSPs. Although we are an MSP, we've done our best to stay objective and included services we offer as well as those we do not offer.
What Services does an MSP provide?
Most MSPs offer a basic package of their core managed services. More comprehensive or additional services are available based on the individual client's situation. Partner with an MSP whose services align with not only your current support needs but with extra capacity to meet future needs as you grow as well.
Core Managed Services
Even in the most basic managed IT services, you'll find network monitoring and basic help desk or tech support.
Network monitoring is a function of centralized network management. The function and health of your devices (computers, services, firewalls, access points, etc.) are monitored constantly with software running in the background. The software notifies your network administrator (this could be the MSP or one of your IT team members if you have them) of performance issues like low disk space, slow performance, or lost connection to the network. It can even notify your administrator of issues like power or internet outages.
Network monitoring is often a core service of any MSP. But keep in mind that the benefits of network monitoring lie in the response to the monitoring alerts. What does this mean for you? Some MSPs include varying degrees of issue resolution in your core service. Others may simply notify you of the issue. They'll give you the option to have your internal team address the issue or pay for additional support from your MSP's team.
Help Desk Support
Help desk support is another core component of most managed IT services.
A help desk is staffed by a team of technicians available to customers and end-users to troubleshoot IT issues.
Most help desks can solve basic IT problems through a remote connection to the end-user's computer. A basic help desk is usually staffed by entry-level technicians who can solve basic problems. More robust help desks are staffed by a team of technicians with varying degrees of experience and expertise (usually defined as level I, II, and III technician or engineer titles).
You need to understand the level of expertise and complexity of problems your MSP's help desk can solve.
- Some MSPs employ only entry-level help desk technicians who may be unable to solve complex issues on time, if at all.
- Others may have a more advanced team capable of elevating more difficult or specialized issues to higher-level technicians.
Most MSPs operate a help desk to support clients. More advanced or specialized tech support varies based on the MSP's service model. Some MSPs include it in their core offering, while others consider it an add-on service.
For example, some MSPs consider all advanced remote and on-site support an add-on service. Others include support up to a specific number of hours or service calls, limit it to remote-only support, or include unlimited remote and on-site support in your managed IT services contract.
Your basic managed IT services contract includes some level of network monitoring and help desk support. Some MSPs offer tiers of support that include different levels of these core services. They may also offer additional services that do not apply to all customers but can complement their core services in specific situations.
The most common add-on services offered by MSPs are:
- IT consulting.
- Disaster recovery.
- Proactive support.
- Data backup.
- Cloud solutions.
- 24/7 service.
MSPs know that any skilled technician can maintain IT systems and troubleshoot day-to-day issues. MSPs are experts in business technology infrastructure. They support a wide range of technologies and businesses. This gives them a unique experience with the technologies that make the most sense in different business scenarios.
Technical expertise, paired with business experience puts MSPs in a unique position to advise on business technology in the same way your accountant is uniquely positioned to offer tax advice.
Many MSPs offer this unique perspective as an add-on consulting service. Some MSPs include a certain level of technical consulting in their core services. Others may offer different types of consulting, depending on the level of experience necessary to solve your problems. IT consulting could mean a variety of things, from basic project scoping to long term strategic planning.
MSPs are also not consistent in their consulting terminology. You know you're getting some level of IT consulting if you see terms like strategy consulting, technology consulting, virtual CIO (vCIO), fractional CIO, or technical account management.
Your MSP likely offers, and may even require, some level of cybersecurity service. It may be as basic as an anti-virus solution and firewall or could include penetration testing and advanced intrusion detection.
Some managed service providers specialize in cybersecurity. They are usually called Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs) and do not provide the help desk and tech support services offered by managed IT services providers. MSSPs and MSPs often work closely, or even partner to offer comprehensive network management and security solutions.
If you're not working with an MSSP, your MSP likely offers some level of cybersecurity services. These add-on services could include anti-virus solutions, security consulting, email and data encryption, web filtering, dark web monitoring, end-user security training, and network security scans.
Disaster recovery isn't always a catastrophic event like a flood, fire, or cyberattack. An IT disaster could be something as simple as a failed hard drive or human error.
In IT terms, a disaster is anything that requires a system restore. Any unauthorized access (cyberattacks and hacking), intrusion by a third party (ransomware), or any loss or theft of company data (accidental or intentional) can cause a disaster.
When disaster strikes, you'll need your MSP by your side. MSPs may include limited recovery efforts in their core services, or they may offer varying levels of disaster recovery as an additional service. You are unlikely to find an MSP that includes total, catastrophic disaster recovery in their services.
They may include a disaster recovery effort limited to a set number of hours or scope of recovery attempt. Recovery beyond the included scope comes with an additional fee. Since it's impossible to predict the amount of time and effort a recovery could take, you should consider a cyber liability insurance policy. This helps cover expenses associated with a catastrophic disaster or data breach.
Network monitoring is included in the core services offered by most MSPs. But you'll only see value from monitoring when the issues identified are proactively resolved before they create a larger, more noticeable problem. Some MSPs include issue resolution with their monitoring service. Others have it as an additional service.
You may be wondering why an MSP would sell a monitoring solution and charge extra to fix the problems identified. That seems like a shady way to get you to spend more money. But consider that some MSPs work with businesses with their own internal IT staff that want to handle issue resolution internally. So, it's not uncommon for an MSP to offer monitoring alone. This support model is designed to alert an internal IT person to resolve the issue, requesting additional support from the MSP in only rare instances.
Businesses that don't have qualified internal IT teams should never buy a monitoring-only service. You must have monitoring and issue resolution to see any return on your investment.
Most MSPs offer, if not require, you to subscribe to a data backup service. This is especially true in cases where your MSP guarantees any level of disaster recovery. Managed backups are the only way an MSP can guarantee any level of recovery from a data loss situation.
No two companies' backup needs are the same. So, backup is almost always considered an add-on service, even if it's required.
Three factors determine type of backup solution your MSP should recommend and its associated cost:
- The amount of data you have.
- The frequency with which it needs to be backed up.
- The speed at which you need data restored.
Your MSP should work with you to determine how much data you have, how often it needs to be backed up, and how quickly you need access should you need to restore from backup. Based on that information they'll recommend a backup solution to meet your needs.
The "cloud" is simply someone else's computer. A cloud could be a massive, purpose-built, professionally managed data center housing data for hundreds of thousands of businesses and individuals. Or it can be a small server storing off-site data for one business. Long story short, not all clouds are created equal.
By now, most MSPs have gotten into the cloud business in some way, shape, or form.
- Some of the early adopters may run their own data center, hosting cloud data on their own devices.
- Other MSPs partner with large data centers to offer a broad menu of cloud solutions.
Cloud solutions offered by your MSP could include cloud backups, cloud-hosted servers, and website or email hosting. A more limited number of MSPs have even started getting into the custom cloud application space.
MSPs likely offer cloud solutions to suit your specific needs and opportunities based on the consulting services we described above.
All MSPs deliver support during business hours, usually an eight- to nine-hour window between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Large MSPs may run two or three shifts of technicians to support clients 24 hours a day. It's more likely your MSP offers more limited service after-hours or offers after-hours support as an add-on service. Some MSPs use their technicians on a rotating "on-call" schedule for after-hours support, while others sub-contract to a third-party help desk.
If your business operates outside of your MSPs regular support hours, be sure they can provide the level of emergency support that is necessary to maintain your operation.
Wide Variety of Managed IT Services
So, there you have it. The most common services offered by managed IT service providers. Keep in mind this list is extremely generic and applies broadly to MSPs that offer IT services. It doesn't address the types of services offered by MSPs that specialize in different types of office technologies like copiers, phone systems, audiovisual equipment, and building security systems.
If you're considering working with an MSP, be sure you understand:
- What services are offered as part of their core service contract?
- What services you need to add on to your core contract?
- What is the included scope or any limitations to those services?
If you are growing a business that depends on electronic data, prioritizes information security, and is headquartered within 50 miles of Hagerstown or Frederick, Maryland, Innovative is a great option to help you better utilize technology.
To help you better evaluate an MSP, download our list of 20 questions to ask a managed IT services provider.