Does a Managed IT Service Provider Make Sense for a Small Business?

The need for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to modernise their systems leaves many of them on the horns of a tricky dilemma.  Whilst going digital is essential in the modern age, it can also be one of the most expensive commitments to make, especially when you are just starting out.

When you recruit staff to maintain these systems the costs mount up even more.  Of course if you are to be a serious player in the world of commerce you really have little option but to invest in technology which will keep your business efficient and competitive.  But is it necessary to employ your own in-house team of staff to introduce and operate these systems, or is there a more cost-effective way?

For some SMEs the advantages of maintaining an in-house team outweigh the disadvantages.  For others though it makes much more sense to outsource the company’s IT operation to an external managed services provider (MSP).

These are some of the questions you should be asking in order to find out what works best for you:

How essential is IT to your business?

Different lines of business rely on IT to much different degrees.  Not every company will consider it to be integral, but those who do should reflect on whether it might not be a good idea to team up with experts in the field who operate independently and on their own behalf.  An MSP is one such independent specialist – and they’re likely to provide a range of services that’ll suit whatever size your business is – from basic support desk services, right through to the design and implementation of new infrastructure and the services you might require around that – tracking down suitable MPLS providers, for instance.

If you do decide to take on the services of an independent provider, it will be necessary to draw up a contract or a service level agreement (SLA).  This will set out your needs and requirements, which will be tailored to meet the specific demands of your business.

How proactively is your IT managed?

It is always tempting to proceed on the assumption that if nothing is broken there is no need to spend valuable time working on fixes for things.  But the problem with this approach is that what you are actually doing is waiting for things to go wrong, rather than securing systems to ensure that they never do.  When the inevitable system failure happens, your business is out of action unless or until somebody can resolve it.

A good MSP will be on top of your IT, identifying possible future issues before they arise and proactively intervening to ensure that they don’t.  They will be in a position to do this at all times, not just during conventional working hours, keeping an eye on your network to pre-empt any possible malfunctions.  Indeed, industry professionals would argue that the majority of their time is spent on proactive maintenance as opposed to reactive attention to problems.

When managing your systems they will be able to drill down to individual application level, examining the function of every aspect of your systems, identifying up to 95% of issues proactively and taking any necessary steps to override them.

Managing absenteeism, holidays and irregular hours

In the real world your integrated business is dependent upon your staff.  Whenever an important person is not in post, for any reason, an important job does not get done.  This can happen when a key person is sick, away on holiday or leaves your employment whether through their choice or yours.

Unfortunately system failures do not wait for a full complement of staff to be back in position.  Being thin on the ground can result in you having to bring in outside help at short notice when issues arise, usually at a very considerable cost.

Partnering with an MSP means there will always be somebody available 24/7 to attend to any emergencies, minimising any disruption to your business or loss of trade.

Recruiting an experienced team

Recruitment can be a time-consuming and expensive business, including as it does a lot of hidden costs.  Not least amongst these is the time spent by business owners or senior managers in seeking out the right people, interviewing and engaging them – and all that is before any commitment is made to training them up.

This is one more area in which taking on a managed service provider delivers you an immediate advantage.  When you take on an external provider you are instantly recruiting the services of a fully experienced, fully trained team.  No need to interview each individual who is going to be helping you with you work, you just take on the MSP as an organisation and the staff base is already there in situ, waiting to perform on your behalf.

The other factor which needs bearing in mind is that with an in-house team each individual whom you recruit will have their own inherent specialisms and weaknesses.  If you want them to be flexible they may not have the necessary talents you seek, which can mean having to go back to the drawing board and recruit somebody else. Subcontracting your IT needs to an external service provider will give you instant access to all the talents that exist within their organisation.

Addressing the cost of training

When it comes to training recruits to work with modern and sometimes complex IT systems in the way that you specifically require, there are few other costs in business that are likely to be so daunting.  Other than the cost of equipment and wage bills, it is liable to be the single biggest cost that you’ll encounter.

The reason for this is that information technology exists in a fast-moving world, and the expensive systems that you purchase today could be so much scrap in just a year or two’s time.  Not only will you then need to replace your equipment, but you will also need to retrain your staff to work with the new systems – and this is an ongoing, never-ending commitment. What is more, you will need to do this whilst retaining a core service in case anything goes wrong back at base whilst the training is in progress.

Once again, by taking on an MSP you ensure that these seemingly insurmountable problems are placed at someone else’s doorstep.  The IT contractor will take care of all the training needs of its own staff, and what you get will be the finished article every time.

Adam Hansen