10 topics and follow-up questions to ask when looking for an MSP

While technology is getting to be more and more advanced, some small to medium size owners still rely on an old-fashioned “break-fix” model, turning to their “IT Guy” when computers break, under a mistaken perception that they only spend the money when they need the computer support service.

While it may have been a valid approach in the past, with the evolution of technology a Managed Services model has become a superior choice. A computer is no longer a standalone unit that needs an occasional fix or a tune-up. It is typically a part of a larger network, connected to multiple devices and cloud resources, with various hardware and software requirements and compatibility constraints. Depending on an outdated break-fix model no longer saves, but costs both time and money for business owners.

Managed services are, in a way, like insurance. Your business  – your company is paying for uptime rather than downtime. It is predicted to grow at a rate of 28% annually, so now is the time for your organization to get on board.

Imagine your business computer network running smoothly, without you worrying about updates or patches to your systems, and still having access to quality IT support when service, repairs or updates are needed, all while having a predictable monthly budget for your IT needs? It can be done through Managed Services (also known as Managed IT Services).

What is  “Managed Services”?

Managed Services is an IT service model that utilizes monitoring and management software and processes to leverage resources and deliver ongoing maintenance and proactive support both onsite and remotely. The onsite service component typically includes network/desktop administration, physical hardware issues, and business-technology consulting and planning.

What is a Managed Services Provider (MSP)?

A managed services provider (MSP) is an information technology (IT) services provider that manages and assumes responsibility for providing a specific, defined set of services to its clients either proactively or as the MSP (not the client) determines that services are needed. Most MSPs bill an upfront setup or transition fee and an ongoing flat or near-fixed monthly fee, which benefits clients by providing them with predictable IT support costs.

So if you are ready and looking for an MSP provider, here is a helpful guide for this process.

Checklist of 10 questions to ask your would-be MSP

1. How do you deliver and charge for managed services?

One of the most important aspects of managed services is the method of service delivery. That includes a percentage of remote service, support response times, type of support available – in person, remote, helpdesk tickets, phone, etc. Who provides the support – is it in-house or is it outsourced to another company or even a country?

Follow-up question: Can you show me your helpdesk and network monitoring and operations center?

Some MSPs outsource their services – usually a tier 1 helpdesk support – to a 3rd party. It is not always a bad thing. Make sure the company you are about to trust your IT operations and business data security with, has the resources they claim to have. Ask the MSP if you can visit their local office or take a virtual tour of their organization.

2. How proactive is your service?

Contrary to the ways of the past, modern support is mostly done “behind the curtains”, in making sure your operations run smoothly to ensure a minimal amount of issues and fastest resolution times. After all, you are paying for your network to be healthy and to stay healthy – not for the unpredictable fix-ups after the costly breakdowns.  Ask the MSP company what do they do to minimize support time, what is being done proactively and ask them to explain how it saves you time and money.

Follow-up question: What % of services do you deliver remotely?

This is a simple question that should be supported by actual service metrics. Generally speaking over 95% of your service incidents can be resolved remotely with the majority of these being detected proactively through the network, desktop and security management tools. Managed services are mostly “unseen” by the customer, therefore monthly reporting on service metrics, IT performance and security is important. Ask the MSP company to show you a sample of their monitoring report.

3. How do I get charged for your services?

Ask the MSP to explain how they charge for their service: what is included in the fixed fee, and what is not. You may want to request a copy of their Service Level Agreement to help you understand the service plan better. Ask if there is a flexibility in the monthly plans – that usually means that while some services may be required to be part of the package, some of the others may be optional.

Follow up question: What would the contributing factors to the monthly support fees be for my organization?

While it may be tempting to ask how much companies of your size spend with your potential MSP provider, try to keep in mind that it is difficult to provide an accurate number, as it is may differ from company to company. Computer needs of a florist with staff of 20 may be different than computer needs of a medical practice with the staff of 20 – consider different software necessities, day-to-day business procedures, security requirements (a florist may not process social security numbers, while doctor do), government regulation compliance, amount of data processed and so on. Remember, it is not the size of the organization that influences the bottom line, it is what the organization does: as the business processes vary, so does the amount of proper support that organization needs. You can focus on companies “just like us” – in the same vertical industry, and there still may be differences in business processes that can significantly affect the bottom line.

After your future MSP performs your current systems state of affairs and determines the needs for going forward, they should provide you with a fairly accurate estimate of your monthly expenses, before you sign on the dotted line.

4. Do you have a usage-based managed services option?

Typical break/fix services are pay-per-use, and sometimes in time block increments – such as 4-hour minimum, etc. Most managed service providers base offer a fixed-fee or subscription-based services. Ask your MSP if they have a usage-based option. This works well in situations where you are unsure of certain variables such as end-user helpdesk usage.

Follow up question: What parts of the services will be fixed fee, and what parts may be usage based – and can it be scaled up or down?

In some cases, there may be a combination of fixed fee for necessary services (such as monitoring, backup, and other preventive measures), and some may be usage0based (such as X number of phone support hours and X number of support tickets opened that are included in the fee). In time, you may find you need more or less support – ask your future provider about the scalability of their offering.

5. Can our IT services be co-managed?

If your company already has an IT department, but you are still looking for an MSP for an extra boost of your resources, you may be interested in co-managed IT services. Co-management allows your internal IT staff to extend their capabilities through a partnership with external MSP, strengthening your  IT service and support. You can leverage services such as end-user helpdesk, business data and information security,  business software applications and even the network operations center.

Follow up question: How are the responsibilities divided between internal IT staff and outsourced MSP?

Well, this one is sort of a trick question, there is no right or wrong answer: understanding that internal dynamics may differ from business to business, there is no “typical recommended co-management model?”. Some businesses want their internal IT personnel to be in charge and have outsourced MSP handle daily tasks such as helpdesk services, while others want all the important management process run by an MSP, freeing their IT staff for daily user support. Tell your future MSP what is your organization’s current IT dynamic and ask for a co-management model recommendation based on your specific needs.

7.  What is your recommendation regarding hardware and software?

This question is important as it determines the complexity of your current (and future) on-premise infrastructure. The more hardware and software you have, the more it costs you to maintain – and not just the physical maintenance of the items, but also regular updates of the software licenses, important safety updates, and new releases upgrades. Today’s leading MSPs employ a virtual IT approach (aka “cloud computing”), to reduce complexity and costs while increasing your data security and disaster recovery capabilities.

Follow-up question: Do you perform the network hardware and software audit or an assessment before service engagement?

This one is super important. If your potential service provider does not perform a network audit, it is a red flag, and you may want to walk away, and here is why.

A trusted, reliable, truly professional IT company would want to make sure that components of your network are fully operational and your software licenses are up-to-date and obtained legally. Often times people get copied licenses, or “cracked” licenses from their previous “IT guy” believing they can save money on full license costs (or their IT guys saved themselves some money). Most of the time business owners are not even aware they have illegal software running on their systems – and to make it worse, they are not truly aware of the legal consequences that can simply put them out of business or even end up in prison.

A professional IT company would never use illegal software and would want to look after you ensuring your network is healthy and complies with the law.

8. Can you give me several references of businesses similar to mine?

Whether you are a 20-person small firm or a business with 100+ employees, talk to companies your size and in your market to understand the service model, quality of support and other elements your end-users will go through in moving to managed services. While working with a remote helpdesk for the first time may be intimidating for some new users, speaking to someone who has been already taking advantage of this support method should put your mind at ease. And checking on references is always a good thing, too!

Follow-up question: For how long have you been servicing companies in my industry

Experience matters and the more experience the MSP has within your industry, the better.

9. What MSP certifications and accreditation does your company have?

Managed Services is gaining popularity and more providers are getting in on the action. You need to make sure you are hiring an accredited MSP. In addition to making sure they are technically professional and recognized in the industry, you need to remember – your MSP would have full access to your business operations and data; engaging with a trusted MSP is very important.

Follow-up question: do you have peer recognition?

Having certificates and customer base is important, but so is being recognized by the peers, fellow providers, and partners. Ask the future MSP if they have been recognized by their channel, and how.

10. What is your organization’s data security policy?

If your company depends on data (and nowadays, who does not?) –  then your business relies on technology, including hardware, software, the intranet and the internet. That means your business, and your clients’ personal and corporate data is important – and vulnerable. Ask your future MSP what is their approach to a privacy policy, internal processes, and procedures for data information security.

Follow-up question: what do you recommend to take security beyond the policy?

A policy alone is not enough to make sure your organization operates within the legal requirements and keeps its business and personal data safe. Ask your future MSP if they recommend training, expert advice and clear lines of responsibility for your employees.

 Are you ready for a professional, reliable IT Support?

If you do not have an MSP lined up for your business, or if you need to break free from a bad, unreliable IT support provider, and if you are not sure where to start – give us a call. We will provide you with a consultation, guide you through this process to minimize the impact of the breakaway on your business, and of course, we will keep it confidential.

You can call us directly right now at (855) 551-7760 to talk to talk one of our specialists, request a call above, or fill out the form to your right so we can send you more information to start a conversation.


How is your state of IT? Call Us: (855) 551-7760 with any questions.