Rule 1: You Get What You Pay for
Recognize that quality IT services and the organizations that deliver them are not all created equal. Like any other service provider, there are good ones and there are bad ones. The key is finding an MSP that delivers real value-high quality services at a fair price.
That does not mean the lowest price. If you shop for IT services based on price alone, you will inevitably pay for it in the end with unnecessary and excessive downtime, poor service and lack of attention from your MSP.
Look for an MSP that emphasizes a solid value-proposition, offers current customer references and focuses on quality and reliability. Look for a company that is able to differentiate their services from those of their competitors, and can clearly articulate what they deliver and how they are better.
If they focus on price as the key differentiator, walk away-that's an indicator they have no significant skills or attributes that they can draw from, or articulate, to earn your business and trust.
Rule 2: Make Them Sell You More Than IT
Here's a dirty little secret about the way the IT channel markets its wares: Speeds and Feeds + Certs and Authorizations.
Here's how it typically works: An MSP approaches you, suggests a technology solution that may or may not be something your business needs, and then tries to convince you of its capabilities and competencies by positioning it as a partner of a large brand name vendor like Cisco, IBM or HP.
The MSP then proceeds to give you a long list of technical certifications that they maintain from any number of vendor partners, and asks you to make buying decisions based on that as the decision driver.
What's the issue here? They are using what you should consider table stakes-the basic essentials like technical competency and knowledge-as their primary differentiator. They are saying, in effect: "I'm a partner of so-and-so vendor and I have all the certifications to prove it. Hire me."
But these certs and authorizations are fundamental. They are a must-have, not a consumer advantage or competitive differentiator.
The three-pronged telling question you need to ask them is this: "What is my business problem, how will you address it and why are you the best provider to resolve it?" If this question confuses them, or they simply cannot give you a concise, specific response without including vendor certs, I'd say it again: walk away. This is not the MSP for you.
Rule 3: Decide What Is Important to You
Remember, no MSP can do it all alone. The really smart ones will leverage qualified partners to enhance their value and provide specific expertise within their portfolio-either for cost reasons or to take advantage of superior capabilities.
What this means to you is any IT business solution they propose will likely include additional third parties that will be engaged in the delivery of that solution. This is not a bad thing. All it means is that the MSP is bringing the best of what the market can deliver to bear for you.
But, before you sign on the dotted line with any qualified MSP, decide what's most important to you. What do you really need and what do you want to have? Do you care about the physical location of your off-site data or do you only care that your data is secure and accessible to you in the event it is needed? Do you want weekly onsite support or will remote support with a scheduled monthly visit do?
No matter what your answers are, the point here is to realize your service expectations upfront, and to understand that your needs and wants will change the costs and the solution that an MSP is able to deliver.
A general rule of thumb: Focus on the tangible business benefits of any given solution. Ensure the solution is sound and does what it is supposed to do (i.e., gives you the end result you want).
Don't worry so much about how the solution will be delivered, so long as the solution meets your expectations and the MSP is trustworthy with a proven track record for success. Also, don't take anything less than 24/7 support. A remote help desk should be a staple offering from any worthy MSP.
Rule 4: Do Business with Those Who Understand Your Business
Any business that is trying to convince you to pay them for their services should demonstrate they have done their homework. Any MSP that is knocking at your door should know your company's line of work and have an idea of what you are trying to do with your IT investment. You'll know they did their homework because they've asked you the right questions upfront.
The MSP organizations that are diligent about understanding your needs and your business objectives from the beginning will also be more diligent at delivering high-quality technology solutions to help you meet those objectives in the long term.
These are the true partners-the real MSPs that are worth every penny you pay for their services.
Crotty currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the San Diego/Orange County California chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of Massachusetts and an MBA from Bentley College in Waltham, Mass. He can be reached at Justin.Crotty@ingrammicro.com.