Selecting an MSP can be tricky. You are handing over the keys to your castle and want to make sure you pick a knight in shining armor, not a court jester. There are many MSPs out there, but they are not all created equal. Here are some questions you can ask as you perform your interview process to make things a little easier.
What can they do?
This can be broad, and largely dependent on your IT needs. However, the key here is to visit their website or review their marketing materials, or simply ask them. If you can understand quickly what they provide, they are worth pursuing. If you notice they are all over the place and say they can do it all, you should probably be at least a little concerned that the partner lacks focus and self-awareness.
Do they understand my needs?
To understand your needs, there must be a process for collecting this information. It may be a phone call followed by sending of specific marketing materials. It may be an in-person meeting with an initial needs assessment. It can be some or all these things combined. The most important part of interacting with a third-party IT provider in the beginning – do they truly listen? Are they taking notes? Are they asking questions based on what you have told them? If it appears the IT diagnosis is already taking place before all the facts are out there, there could be misunderstanding. And this does not bode well for the future of the partnership.
Are they flexible?
When vetting partners, especially MSPs, you may have a very specific set of tasks you would like them to do. They may want to offer to do it all for you. If they do not bend on this, you should walk away. Most good quality MSPs realize it’s a big step to outsource any, let alone a majority of IT functions. The same applies to technology. You may have reasons you have selected specific technologies, and your MSP should be able to adapt to your needs, not the other way around. If you are agnostic however, you should allow the MSP to move you in a direction you both agree on.
Are they proactive?
This includes whether they monitor and report system and network activity proactively. For example, are you hearing from your internal IT team that something went down, or are you reacting to a downtime based on detailed information provided to you by your MSP partner? Does your MSP have a plan for upgrading and replacing hardware before it breaks? Are you constantly asking, “what’s the latest on this?” or has this information already been provided to you? Proactive = less headaches for mission critical issues.
Do they have a local presence?
Depending on the size of your business, this may or may not be important to you. If you require a local presence for your IT needs, then you should ensure your partner is within a reasonable distance from your location when the time comes to service something in person. If they are not local, are they willing to move mountains to travel onsite quickly and address issues in a timely manner? Technology allows IT providers to do most work remotely (see cost effectively), but that does not mean you should wonder if they will be there when you really need them.
Do they have expertise in your industry?
This is especially important with things like HIPAA, PCI, etc. Does the IT provider understand and follow industry accepted practices? If you must maintain compliance in an area, can your provider do so as well? This is really all about protecting your company’s interests. You must find partners who understand the importance and gravity of following regulations around IT because IT is such a focal point of modern business. Your company is made or breaks on the quality of IT and abilities to prevent breaches, protect information and data, and more. Find a partner that can prove to you they understand your industry. Even if you do not have strict regulatory requirements, at the very least find an MSP that cares enough to learn the ins and outs of your business and industry.
Do they have case studies or references?
MSPs live or die by the success or failure of their customers, and the quality of the experience they receive from the IT services provided. If the MSP has trouble getting customers to broadcast their successes proudly, there may not be much success there to talk about. If your prospective MSP has no happy customers to speak of and hesitates or balks at sharing contact information for references – run! You would not hire an IT employee if they could not share their successes or provide references, so why would you hire an entire company without this information?
What is their disaster recovery plan?
You should care about the technology in place when IT disaster strikes, but equally, if not more important, would be what happens in the event of a disaster. Who is notified, and how? How often is data backed up, and how quickly can it be restored? In IT, disaster is more likely than not to happen – the question should always be: how will this MSP respond when it does?
Do they provide 24/7 remote monitoring and 24-hour emergency support?
24-hour monitoring should be included with MSP relationships because the threats faced in business today do not sleep. If something happens, you cannot afford to wonder if or when it will be addressed. There should already be a set of measures in place. MSPs can help tremendously in this area, so it’s important to choose a partner who offers this capability. If something happens, not only must it be communicated – it also needs to be addressed. You want to be able to pick up the phone and call a resource to verify that the plan that was created is being followed. It’s easier to do this with internal employees, but it should be made just as easy with your IT partner because of the critical nature of IT in modern business.
Do they keep up with IT trends?
A major advantage of choosing to work with an MSP is their ability to identify top-performing hardware and software to incorporate into their overall service offering. They do not have to make huge capital investments for IT initiatives, generally, and operate under a kind of “just-in-time” approach. Your MSP should be willing to do R&D, make investments in improving their technology stack, and generally have a solid understanding of IT trends that are real, trends that are going to be fads, etc. For example, if your MSP suggests going back to Office Exchange from Office 365, there might be a problem with their “trend-o-meter”!
We have listed several questions to think about and ask of MSPs as you are working through your selection process. In addition, you need to be able to trust them. You want to like the people working there. Your team needs to get along with them as well. All these things matter. What other questions do you think are good to ask of prospective MSPs? Please list your comments/thoughts below! -EB