Gone are the days of using technology to streamline businesses and to gain a competitive edge. Improving productivity and making data reliably and securely available to the organisation and its partners is now so ingrained into the business psyche that these uses of technology are simply a requirement to compete at all.

But while it might now be a basic expectation, it is still often a substantial ask for most SMEs. Designing, deploying and maintaining such an infrastructure requires specialist skills, which in turn will likely involve hiring an external IT business partner, as the large upfront cost of hiring an internal IT team is often too high to consider. Although hiring an external team of experts is a good idea on paper, not all IT Managed Services Providers (MSPs) are created equal. Here are the three key considerations that will lead you to the provider that will genuinely impact your business.

Ensure the MSP understands your business and IT needs

An MSP cannot implement the optimal digital innovation solutions for any business without understanding its processes, goals and history of using technology inside-out. Each business is uniquely different, and will therefore require slightly adapted policies to suit their requirements. Without this understanding, the MSP is destined to treat your business with a cookie-cutter approach, at the expense of better-considered technology.

A good MSP will be able to take your corporate strategy and identify how and where technology can honestly help. They will optimize your existing resources and tools, while also constantly looking for ways to improve your operations, whether through new introductions or changes to the status quo.

For instance, we work with an interior design agency based in Ontario who had set itself a goal of improving collaboration and project accuracy. Rather than offer all our clients the same tool, regardless of their structure or needs, we introduced a Virtual CIO who worked with them to identify the most suitable solution for their business, which in their case was Microsoft Office 365. This selection and deployment resulted in us doubling their productivity and halving their IT costs – no other productivity tool could have achieved the same for them.

Ensure they constantly improve your ‘Business as usual’ policies

While ambitious new projects are a cornerstone of digital innovation, a genuinely valuable MSP will also take great care to deliver core, centralized maintenance and support services to a high standard. These support services are central to the ongoing success of a business, and in many cases represent the foundations upon which the more exciting projects are built.

A good MSP will have thorough and automated patching processes, rigorous inspection routines, and they will hold their support teams to high benchmarks and expectations. But no matter how impressive those benchmarks may seem, you must check they are sufficient for your business.

For example, different businesses require different speed or availability of help desk support. An ecommerce business operating across multiple time zones at all hours of the day, seven days a week, will need their MSP to ensure continuous uptime and rapid out of hours issue resolution.

On the other hand, some businesses mainly operate within normal business hours, and so have less continuous demands of their IT partners. But instead, they may have predictable peaks of activity during the year. For instance, accountancy firms during tax season will need extended hours support and high priority service to support their need to work the longer hours required to deliver the client service they have promised and to meet the tax authority’s deadlines. It is therefore important to find an MSP that is flexible enough to meet the particular demands of your business.

Ensure that your MSP ‘future-proofs’ your business

The third quality to look for in a strategic MSP is the ability to plan for the long-term. An MSP might recommend sensible technologies that initially work well for your immediate business needs, but may not be scalable or expandable and actually undermine future efforts to grow the business or innovate.

A classic example is where an MSP recommends new approaches without considering data privacy laws, and particularly how they may change in the future. Design an infrastructure and data governance processes that meet current data privacy requirements, such as GDPR or CCPA, and you will tick today’s box. But have you considered the direction of travel for data privacy? Or how it is likely to impact the security standards you just aligned everything rigidly to? Or perhaps the revolutionary data privacy bills that many globally-trading countries are about to enact, and that each carry never-before-seen data governance obligations on how their citizens’ data is treated?

Any MSP should consequently be sufficiently aware of the current and imminent obligations on your specific business, and on your clients, to be able to make recommendations. If you’re not sure of their knowledge, ask your MSP to provide a review of the pressures and changes that will impact your business and how they will influence your technology choices – and see if you learn anything.

Ensuring that an IT Managed Services plan is strategic rather than reactive is crucial for digital innovation, and to enable businesses to meet their ambitions. Ultimately, it comes down to whether they can align to and support your strategy. If so, the result will be an immediate and continued acceleration. If not, it could mean an irretrievable lost opportunity.

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