So you’ve been working with the same Managed Service Provider for years now and after taking a look at your year-to-date expenditures, you find yourself wondering if you’re really getting what you’re paying for. But is it time to break the partnership? Is the cost of moving to a new provider worth the administrative effort? Here are 10 ways to tell.

1) Recurring issues

Managed Service Providers (MSPs) use comprehensive monitoring systems in conjunction with a sophisticated incident database to detect and resolve (most) problems before they disrupt your business. In the event that an issue does occur, a good MSP should have the documentation and systems in place to prevent it from happening again, or at the bare minimum, an efficient process for resolving the issue the next time it occurs.

If your firm seems to be experiencing the same issues over and over again, you may need to find a new provider. Chances are they’re not monitoring your network accurately, they’re not tracking issues correctly, or they’re just putting duck-tape over the problem and hoping it goes away. Failed backups, low memory, PC or server crashing are all examples of problems your MSP should know about before you do. Your MSP should either prevent issues from happing or explain what steps should be taken to ensure they don’t reoccur.

2) Lag in response times

Have you noticed longer and longer waiting periods between the time you submit an issue and the time you hear back? Are you finding that you are the one notifying your MSP of high-priority issues such as an internet outage or a server crash? Do you find yourself needing to check-in on the status of issues because you haven’t heard from your MSP in days or weeks?

There are a number of reasons this could be happening. Perhaps they haven’t invested in the right technology in order to properly monitor and track your systems, or they may be short-staffed. Regardless, Your MSP should be communicating with you as much as possible. If you email in a support request, you should receive a confirmation that it was received, as well as a response within an hour or two (depending on the issue) from a technician. If they are unable to resolve it right away, they should give you some indication on when you can expect a resolution.

An in-depth look at response times…

Most MSPs have systems to help them categorize requests for support. These categories are typically defined as Critical, High, Medium, and Low. Each category depends on two factors: 1) the level of impact, and 2) the severity, or the number of people affected.

MSP Response Times

  • Critical – Major business processes are stopped and no work can be performed. An example would include a server outage that completely stops productivity throughout the office, your MSP should respond to you within about 5-15 minutes upon receiving an alert of this nature.
  • High – The entire business is degraded or group of people cannot function. An example of a high-priority issue would be if a group of people could not access their email or if business critical applications are not functioning. A high-priority issue should be responded to within 15 – 30 minutes upon alert.
  • Medium – A group of people are impeded but can still perform work or a single person cannot function. If you’re experiencing a medium issue, such as a missing file or slowness, you should expect to hear back from a technician no more than 1-2 hours upon alert.
  • Low – A group or single user is affected but productivity is not impeded. Some examples include ability to access a website, setting up an email signature, or installing new software. Low priority issues should be scheduled at a time convenient for both parties.

3) Constant Up-Selling

If your MSP is constantly trying to sell you new services or products that they (conveniently) offer, without putting much thought into what your firm actually needs, it may be time to switch.

A good MSP consults with clients on how technology can make their organization more efficient or how technology can deliver innovative solutions and service to their clients. Be wary of companies selling services that are unnecessary. Any recommendations should justify the costs through increase efficiency, security, or long term savings. They should also be able to support their recommendations through data and reporting. For example, if your MSP recommends a new backup server, they should be able to prove that your current server is insufficient by providing analytics that show failed jobs or rate of storage consumption. If they’re unable to justify the purchase, they may not have your best interests in mind.

Keep in mind, consulting and recommending additional products or services is not necessarily a bad thing. Many businesses don’t realize how much a simple firewall or vulnerability scan can do to prevent a major catastrophe. By keeping services within the same provider, you benefit from increased efficiency in the delivery of those services since they are already familiar with the intricacies and history of your business.

4) Too many “surprises” on your invoice

You sign up with an MSP in an effort to stabilize your IT spending, come to find that nearly every invoice is higher than what you expected to pay. There are a few reasons this could be happening.

If your MSP is purchasing and installing equipment w/out your knowledge, it may be time to look elsewhere. The role of a MSP is to help you prioritize and plan for additional expenses so that you can budget for them.

If you’re invoice is full of unexpected service charges, chances are there is a discrepancy between what you thought was covered under your contract and what the terms actually say. It’s not your job to understand all the intricacies involved in delivering IT support, but it is the job of your MSP to make sure you understand what’s covered and what’s not.

There are a few reasons, however, that your firm could be incurring out of scope charges at no fault of the MSP. Make sure that all employees understand the scope of your MSP agreement. This way, they know not to call for help with their daughter’s laptop or their home router.

If you’re firm has a block-hour agreement of, say, 10 hours per month, dedicate a single resource in charge of contacting your MSP for support. This way, if your firm is near the limit of support hours for the month, they know to wait a few days to call for support. This brings up another sign that it may be time to get a new MSP….

5) Lack of transparency

Your MSP should be completely transparent in terms of how much time you’re accruing and what your open issues are at any given point in time. The sophistication of ticketing systems these days makes it easy to track the status of every issue going on at your firm. If your MSP isn’t being completely transparent with the services they’re providing, or if you find that they are not explaining lengthy time charges in enough detail – then move on honey, you deserve better.

6) High turnover

Every business has its share of employees that come and go. But if you find it difficult to reach someone that has at least some intimate knowledge with the history of your business and your people, and therefore find yourself explaining past events over and over, it may be time to move on. A good MSP should provide you with a team of dedicated support representatives that are familiar with your business’ needs and workflow.

This is not to say that every issue should be handled only by the IT manager with whom you share 5+ years of experience with. Requesting that the Director of Technology help get your Yahoo! email account setup on your new mobile phone may be a waste of his or her talent and resources. It’s important to make room for less experienced technicians to gain familiarity with you, but it’s just as important to know that there are others watching out for your best interests.

7) Failing to understand what’s important to your business

A knowledgeable MSP will make recommendations for improvements beyond your hardware. They should provide insight for improved workflow, training, and software systems. Having industry-specific insights as to what can work well and what might not can be invaluable when trying to run a profitable business. For example, the legal industry is inundated with technology created specifically for law firms – make sure your MSP knows the ins and outs of these systems to keep you running at peak performance.

8) Blaming / finger-pointing

One of the main benefits of working with a MSP is knowing that all of your IT resources are being monitored and managed by a single company. Grant it, you’ll still need an Internet Service provider and a support plan for some types of software with whom you’ll work with from time-to-time. But if you find that your MSP is constantly blaming other providers for issues, it may be time to go shopping. A good MSP will have a pulse on the other IT services connected to your account, and they should take some responsibility when things go wrong, even if it’s not their fault. Say, for example, your business doesn’t have the appropriate internet bandwith, your MSP should alert you of this BEFORE something goes wrong. They should be an advocate on your behalf, not just another provider you need to “deal with.”

9) Security seems a bit too “loosey-goosey”

Is your MSP emailing you login passwords? Are you finding out that your new intern has access to your firm’s HR records by mistake? Are they confirming with someone on your management team that it’s okay to unblock www.bejeweled.com for the receptionist? Make sure your MSP is practicing what they preach in terms of security, because if they’re not, they are just as likely to be a victim of a cybercrime as anyone else.

10) Lack of flexibility

Chances are if you use a Managed Service Provider, you’re not a huge multinational corporation. Smaller businesses need service providers that are more flexible and able to adapt to their changing needs. If your MSP is unable to work with you in terms of services provided, pricing, or contract terms, you may need to look elsewhere.

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