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5 min read

What is an MSP (and how to choose the right one for your business)

When we talk about MSPs, we are not referring to Members of the Scottish Parliament. Instead, we are discussing a valuable business partner that can help manage your IT or cloud needs.

Digitalisation compelled businesses to transform their operations, making IT an integral part of their day-to-day affairs a long time ago. The importance of IT has grown ever since and it's now so complex and deep-rooted that businesses simply can't operate without it.

Managing IT in-house can be a daunting and costly task. There are so many elements that need to be managed that even the most IT-literate and enthusiastic business owner or employee can't do it justice in a part-time capacity. It requires a full-time role that most businesses can't afford. This is where Managed Service Providers (MSPs) come into play. They are third-party companies that businesses collaborate with to manage their IT and cloud needs.

MSPs provide the necessary technology and expertise to enhance your organisation’s IT, efficiency, security, and scalability, making them a crucial player in your business growth strategy.

The Benefits of Working with MSPs

what-is-an-msp-and-how-to-choose-the-right-one-3Collaborating with MSPs can bring tremendous benefits to your business, no matter what size you are. Their deep understanding of cutting-edge technology can help you improve performance, streamline operations, and bolster security, all while reducing overhead costs through their economies of scale.

MSPs will usually offer a variety of services to cover everything from your day-to-day reactive support needs, your software licences and management, your security, IT training, budgeting advice and even IT strategy. The level of involvement they have, and the level of service they provide will vary from provider to provider, and the level of support package that you agree with them.

Choosing the Right MSP

While MSPs can undoubtedly help take your company to the next level, it’s crucial to select the right service provider. Not all MSPs are created equal, and the success of this partnership largely depends on choosing a team that understands your business and can cater to its specific needs.

Hiring an MSP shouldn’t be a hasty decision. Instead, you want to take a variety of factors into account.

Here are seven important factors to keep in mind:

1. The MSP's track record

Look for testimonials, Google reviews, and case studies for prospective MSPs to demonstrate they’re suitable for your business. These will help you determine if the team has been operating for a while and if their reputation is solid. As uncomfortable as it may be to do so, it's worth reaching out to some of the companies that have provided the endorsements to check their veracity (and whether they still feel the same way).

Working with a reputable MSP can give you peace of mind with the knowledge that your system will be appropriately managed. That is not to say that newer MSPs who haven't had the time to build up a good reputation won't do right by you, but you do take more of a gamble by working with them and their fee should reflect this. MSPs work hard to build their reputations so you can rest assured that they will do everything within their power to preserve their name.

The MSP’s success hinges on yours, which is why they’ll view you as a valuable partner.

2. The range of services provided

MSPs offer a wide array of services. Some providers offer services that include mobile phone management, telecoms, bespoke software development and a range of bespoke solutions. You may even be able to 'recruit' them to act as virtual IT managers or directors to take the burden off your internal resources at board level without incurring the cost of a dedicated member of staff.

Other MSPs will offer a more restricted, but specialised service.

Reviewing what each provider offers is important to ensure they align with your needs. Therefore, consider your requirements carefully and ensure a potential MSP can meet them.

3. Reactive support times

MSPs have tools and sometimes even people working round the clock to ensure your business is compliant and maintained. 

You also want to know that they'll be there to support you when you need them. Looking at a prospective MSP's service level agreement response times is important. These are the contractual timescales that an MSP works to when resolving issues for you. Often companies will publish their real response times which will almost always be much lower than their SLA times as a way of demonstrating their responsiveness.

4. Incident response

what-is-an-msp-and-how-to-choose-the-right-one-1Malware attacks happen, even with the best security. Your network can go down for any number of reasons. When these things happen you want to know how your prospective MSP will react. Ask them what their incident response processes are and how they would respond if a situation like this arose with your IT. These situations can even cripple your reputation, customer base, and revenue if they are not handled well. In the worst-case scenario, it can even make you shut down your business.

Fortunately, a high-quality MSP should respond immediately. They will mitigate the risks as soon as possible to keep your organisation from crumbling.

They should have planned and practised incident response procedures that they can share with you to give you peace of mind. These should be clearly communicated so that you understand what will happen in such an event, and how your systems and staff will be effected. These plans should also ensure you know what part you need to play in a disaster scenario such as contacting insurance companies, communicating with your staff etc.

5. Training

A good MSP should provide a couple of different kinds of training.

Most will offer some form of cyber security training, and possibly Microsoft software training. This forms part of the cyber security defences that your MSP should offer to shore up your defences against cyber crime.

Another valuable form of training that a good MSP should provide is onboarding training for your staff. When you recruit someone new to your team you will undoubtedly go through an induction programme teaching them about your office, your ways of doing business, your health and safety requirements etc. Being able to use their computer is probably one of the most important aspects of their job, and almost certainly their computers will be one of their most used tools. Your prospective MSP should deliver tailored 1:2:1 onboarding sessions to teach new staff what they need to know, ensuring they have access to everything they need, and giving them an opportunity to ask questions. If your prospective partner doesn't offer this service it is asking if they can at least provide you with an induction video that can run staff through the generic setup of their computers, how to access your files, and use your tools. 

6. Security and backup

One of the most important duties your MSP should perform is to protect your data. Not only is your data of vital importance for your business to be able to operate, but your customer's data is of critical importance to you too. Between the fines and the reputational damage that can result from a data breach, it can spell the end for small businesses.

Once you work with an MSP, they should provide robust security solutions and endpoint protection to combat harmful software. Not all endpoint protection is equal either so understanding what you are being given is important. Check out our blog which explains what the different endpoint protection options are and what they mean. Compare prospective partners' security stacks (what MSPs call their combination of tools that they use to keep you safe). You want to make sure that what you are being provided with it a solid solution, not a cheap solution.

Another major part of their remit should be the implementation of backup software. Like endpoint protection, there are lots of different backup solutions available. You should ask your MSP what system they use, how often they back up your data, where it is stored, how secure it is, and how quickly your systems can be recovered in the event of a disaster.

7. Guidance

Your MSP shouldn’t just deal with support and cyber security. Through regular meetings with you, they should help you to plan for your needs and improve your business efficiency. They can advise on linking your systems or scheduling device replacements which can save you time and money.

Because MSPs deal with a variety of customers across multiple industries their cross-industry expertise can benefit you. You should discuss which sectors your prospective partner works in and whether they work with others in your industry already. This can reassure you that they understand your challenges and you might find synergies with similar businesses. For example, if you are looking for a new CRM then your MSP may be able to draw on the experience of others to help you make a quicker and better informed decision.

Choose your MSP carefully

While price is important when selecting an MSP, it pales in comparison to all the factors listed above. Be sure that the partner you pick is a good fit for your business, even if you need to pay more. The perceived cost will be worth it in the long run and should be viewed as an investment instead.

Partnering with the right MSP brings expertise, responsive service, an understanding of how to prevent threats, and a reputable team which can help you stay ahead of your competitors.

If you need more assistance choosing your MSP, get in touch and our experienced team can guide you through the tendering process (or take at look at our own IT Support page).

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