Shopping for a managed I.T. services provider (“MSP”) is difficult. Technology is confusing and complicated, especially today. It’s hard to know what your business needs, what solutions you should evaluate, and what differentiates one solution from another. Many MSPs are also run by techs, meaning conversations are often centered around the technology itself, which many business owners struggle to fully understand. It should be no surprise, then, that those decision-makers inevitably choose their MSP based upon simple factors such as price and how much technical support is included. There is one important factor, though, that business owners should focus on when evaluating MSPs: Operational Maturity.
What is Operational Maturity?
Today’s technology is unbelievably complex. Not only is infrastructure now distributed between offices, employee residences, and the cloud, but the cyber threat landscape has forced businesses to adopt dozens of new defense technologies. What is required to support a business today is exponentially more involved than it was 10 years ago. On top of that, technology is continuing to grow more and more complex every year.
Operational Maturity simply refers to an I.T. service provider’s ability to adapt to this complex industry in a way that is consistent, scalable, and effective. MSPs with exceptional operational maturity, such as Digital Boardwalk, deliver more value and peace of mind to their clients because they can quickly address important changes and align their clients with best practices at scale.
What Are the Signs of Operational Maturity?
While business owners may have a hard time comparing the technology solutions offered by one MSP versus another, identifying signs of operational maturity is fairly easy if you know what you’re looking for.
1. Standard Operating Procedures and Baseline Policies
As complex as technology is today, the only way an MSP can deliver its services consistently is if it follows a formal process. Did you know that a typical email threat protection solution requires over 100 individual policies and configuration steps to set up? Now consider that most I.T. service providers don’t have a written process for these configurations. The setup and configuration of your solution rests entirely upon the shoulders of the individual engineer installing it. If the engineer doesn’t understand how one aspect of the solution should be configured, your business could be left vulnerable to a cyber-attack.
When evaluating MSPs, ask them to provide you with a couple of standard operating procedures they will follow when implementing services for your business. A mature MSP should be able to provide you with this information immediately. Additionally, a mature MSP’s procedures will be detailed and thorough with screenshots, videos, attachments, and other supporting information. Be wary if the service provider can’t or won’t provide you with this information, or if what they do provide was clearly thrown together just to satisfy your request.
2. Quality Assurance Process
Assuming an MSP has a standard operating procedure to follow, how do you know they actually followed it? Ask the MSP to explain what their quality assurance process is. Most importantly, ask them who performs the quality assurance check. Anyone who has ever attempted to spellcheck their own writing knows that it’s easy to miss things when you’re evaluating your own work. A formal quality assurance check must be performed by a separate team that had zero involvement in the delivery of the work.
A mature MSP will not only explain this process, but they will also show you an example of a quality assurance audit. The audit will detail each item that is reviewed, what baseline or best practice it is audited against, when the audit was completed and by whom, what the result of the audit was (pass/fail), and what remediation tasks were completed if necessary.
3. Scope of Work
When you purchase services, the individual you were working with throughout the sales process is rarely the one implementing your services. So, how do you know what was promised to you during the sales process is what will be delivered to you during the implementation? A scope of work (also known as a statement of work) details exactly what the service provider will deliver to you and serves as the sole source of truth for the project. If you have a special need that was discussed during the sales conversation, be sure it is clearly detailed in the scope of work.
Not only will mature MSPs have a scope of work detailing everything that was discussed and negotiated during the sales process, but it will also include references to every single standard operating procedure that should be followed for the implementation of the services. It’s not unusual for a typical managed I.T. services onboarding to include 200+ individual standard operating procedures in a written scope of work. Be wary if the service provider doesn’t provide a scope of work, or if the scope of work only consists of a few summarized bullet points.
4. Structured Teams
A recurring complaint from businesses that are considering changing MSPs is that the provider’s quality of service went downhill because they got “too busy.” Less mature service providers typically work as one big team of technical resources. The engineer who installs your services is the same one who provides help desk support, and the engineer who sets up your new computers is the same one who responds to alerts about your backup failing. What happens if another customer has a big project that needs to be completed? All the MSP’s resources get pulled for that job, and everything else takes a back seat. If your MSP is slower to respond to your help desk tickets because they are tied up on a big project for another customer, imagine what is happening with backup alerts and other important “back-office” tasks that you don’t even see.
A mature MSP will strategically separate subject matter experts into different teams, each focused on a specific aspect of the service delivery. If the change management team is overwhelmed by a sudden increase in workload, your support requests are still handled just as quickly as normal. More importantly, critical back-office tasks, like ensuring your backups are still functioning, aren’t put on the back burner.
While many MSPs will deliver a similar initial experience to their clients, only MSPs with a high degree of operational maturity will continue to deliver that high quality of service over time. Taking the time to qualify a mature MSP will ensure your business establishes a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership with your service provider.