If they’re going to do it for you, they should do it better than you could

Spoiler alert. This checklist has only two items. Read on and you’ll discover why ­– but first, let’s give some thought to these questions. What does your business do well? What distinguishes it from others? Those are questions which The Balance Small Business website suggests you answer to determine your organization’s core competencies. It’s a core competency if:

  • It provides a consumer benefit
  • It’s difficult for your competitor to imitate
  • You can leverage it for multiple products and markets

Successful organizations have learned the benefits of shedding operational aspects that do not contribute to these core competencies. Often, these are IT-related functions. Thanks to the cloud, it’s become cost-efficient to outsource – but not necessarily easier. You’re trusting elements of your organization’s operations to a third party. Do they have what it takes to plug in and handle these operations?

Beyond the brochure

Exactly how a managed services provider (MSP) can help you will remain as vague and foggy as real clouds unless you are able to get granular about your needs. It makes this item first and foremost on your checklist:

☐ MSP Scope of Services

There’s a difference between an MSP that will support your staff and one which will actually provide the services. It’s important to be as specific as possible in defining the scope of services you need.

A reputable MSP will facilitate this process, and even push you for deeper answers. They need to determine if their own core competencies match what you need. Remember that one of the defining elements is the difficulty for a competitor to imitate. For this reason, look for an MSP that has a demonstrable track record of providing services specific to your industry. If your organization revolves around satisfying regulatory compliances such as PCI, DSS, or HIPAA, the MSP you retain should live and breathe that, too.

You can easily see that there’s a large number of preliminary boxes that’ll require a checkmark before you’re ready to conclude that the due diligence for the scope of services is complete.

Reference available upon request

Your suspicions should be raised to somewhere around the level of DEFCON 1 if an MSP courting you don’t want to lead a discussion with their list of satisfied clients. The internet didn’t change the value of word of mouth. Technology’s migration of services to the cloud hasn’t altered the necessity of making sure that an MSP hasn’t inflated its reputation.

Don’t just take their word for it. Ask for verifications. The popularity of professional networking sites like LinkedIn makes this crucial due diligence an easier task. This leads to the second and last item on the checklist.

Vet the MSP and its people

Innovation is the engine that powers the cloud and the MSPs who facilitate it. You’re not going find an MSP that can impress you with established partnerships spanning decades. You’ll likely discover that “why” will become one of the most often-used words in your vetting process.

It’s true that your MSP is judged by the company they keep, but you don’t get to follow suit. Telling your customers it’s not your fault if the MSP you select fails in their support isn’t an option. And, don’t think that your service level agreement (SLA) is sufficient protection.

Back to “why” again. An SLA generally establishes the minimum level of acceptable service. Do you know why this threshold was established? What happens if these minimum levels are all your MSP can achieve? You agreed that was okay.

An MSP should act as your partner when you turn over these responsibilities, and that means there’s a level of reciprocity. Look for an MSP that’s not afraid to clearly explain the responsibilities and expectations that will fall on your shoulders.

Finally, a reputable MSP should demonstrate to you that it’s not hiding behind the SLA. It is a pivotal document because it establishes service levels. Are you comfortable with the way those levels will be measured? And what happens if your MSP is unable to meet the terms of the SLA? The agreement may be akin to your MSP prenuptial agreement, but will you end up mired in a cloud-based marriage of convenience because it’s too costly or disruptive to go your separate ways?

Don’t make a checkbox for cheap

It’s true. Core components of a cloud-based MSP organization will come from the Titans – Microsoft, Amazon’s AWS, IBM, and others – managed IT services are not commodity-based. Shopping by price will get you what you pay for.

Consider what stands to be lost. An MSP absolutely should provide you with demonstrable cost reductions, but your organization is gaining something far more valuable. Your people will be free to focus on core competencies. What’s the value of innovation?

We’re a firm believer in innovation and continuous improvement. Learn more about our approach.