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5 Ways to Improve Your MSP Service Level Agreement (SLA)

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5 Ways to Improve Your MSP Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

SLAs are the foundation of your MSP business. They are essential to building strong client relationships and must be clear, reasonable and well-constructed.

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How Can an MSP Increase Your SMB Efficiency/Profitability?

Posted February 25, 2016by Mary McCoy

Good IT help is hard to come by, isn't it? Sadly, the scope of IT support is no longer printer/copier configurations and Internet dial-up. With an ever-expanding digital waterfront, increased emphasis on data security and greater reliance on interconnectivity comes the need for highly skilled, reliable IT experts that can manage everything for you. Have you considered outsourcing your IT services to offload the required labor and expertise? Keep reading to learn how working with a managed services provider (MSP) helps yield greater work efficiency, scalability and profitability to help grow your business.


IT Support Services Before, During and After Business Hours

How can you achieve business efficiency when you can't even get online? It's fair to claim that the modern workplace is dependent on Internet access, with applications like Salesforce and Office365 in regular use. As business owners, you need IT processes to run smoothly so that you never have to suffer costly downtime. Wouldn't it be nice to not have to worry if your office network will be up and running when you return to work on Monday? You're not in the business of troubleshooting connection outages and service disruptions. In fact, wasting time with IT self help prevents you from performing core business objectives that actually increase your profitability and grow your bottom line. 

Round-the-clock IT support services is just one of many advantages of working with an MSP to increase IT efficiency. Viruses that lock you out of your computer and important company files can strike at a moment's notice. Because these bugs - commonly referred to as malware - don't follow a set schedule, SMBs need 24x7x365 IT support services. If you haven't yet explored the benefits of managed IT services, you probably face the following two scenarios when IT hits the fan during off hours:

  • Your in-house IT department arrives at work and loses valuable company time trying to resolve the dilemma. 
  • You call up your break/fix provider - IT support that only comes when you report and issue - to see how soon they can come onsite, evaluate and solve the problem. 

As you may have discovered, neither situation is ideal for IT efficiency. When you partner with an MSP, however, you receive proactive rather than reactive IT support services. This distinction makes all the difference when attempting to minimize business downtime. So how does this work? Unlike a break/fix provider, an MSP comes equipped with an IT management platform that allows them to monitor your network from afar. That's why this IT support service is referred to as remote monitoring and management (RMM). An MSP deploys agents to your site to be able to track the health of your IT infrastructure, using RMM. Unlike break/fix IT services, MSPs can therefore detect an issue as soon as it arises and fix everything remotely, rather than have to venture out to your office. One hidden benefit of this is that you don't have to wait in line. Whereas a break/fix provider may already have a full agenda of sites to visit and can't get to you until later, an MSP can act fast...so fast, you may not know there was a problem to begin with. Yes, if an alert hits after business hours, your MSP will be able to act quickly and without disturbance to you or your employees. 


Extension or Supplementation of Your in-house IT Team

How large is your IT department? Are there a few holes you wish you could fill, but either can't afford to employ more people or can't find enough qualified candidates? If you do have an in-house IT department, perhaps they could benefit from the additional IT services support an MSP provides. Then, there's the issue of turnover. Is it hard for you to keep true IT talent very long? IT is the glue that holds your company together and keeps business up, running and profitable. When you lose this vital component of your organization and you're not outsourcing additional IT help, business operations stall. As a result, you face downward pressure on your margins and work efficiency.

An MSP helps SMBs extend their in-house IT team, enabling existing staff to better manage their workload. This can be a huge relief for companies that only have one or a few dedicated IT experts on staff. Working with an MSP also opens you up to new expertise and skillsets. Managed IT services technicians hold a wide array of technical certifications, and can help you accomplish more complex infrastructure project work. There's no doubt that with more hands on deck, you can reach higher levels of business efficiency. IT solutions providers differ in the way they approach staff allocation, but some integrate the RMM solution described above with a network operations center (NOC). Even if they only have ten people at their MSP practice, for instance, they have the additional headcount of the NOC to scale their services and extend bandwidth. This, in turn, ensures speedy service delivery, while helping the MSP meet your demands and exceed your expectations.

 

Predictable Costs

"[B]y using an MSP organizations are able to forecast their monthly, quarterly, and yearly expenditure on IT, and are freed from having to focus on this area of operational readiness." 

This is a passage from the Benefits of Managed IT Services section of our What is Managed IT Services? MSPedia article, and indeed it's true. Let's consider our previous argument about acquiring more IT labor without having to hire more IT professionals. The cost of labor is expensive, and SMBs may not be able to spare the expense. That's assuming you have any room in your IT budget at all. An MSP helps you grow your staff without having to grow your payroll.

OK so we've addressed how you can cut costs, but how can you smooth them? Hint: You can't do it by working with a break/fix provider. You don't know if you're going to have five issues in need of correcting or 50 in a given month. The break/fix approach to IT is inherently unpredictable, which means your IT support services expenditures are just as volatile. To better manage cash flow, opt instead for a solution that lets you pay as you grow. When you work with an MSP, you'll be able to predict how much you'll spend on a monthly basis, regardless of the number of tickets you issue. A partnership like this can help your SMB increase its profitability, because the cost of managed IT services will never exceed your company's growth and operating expenses. Bottom line: you'll always be able to meet margins. 

 

Strategic Advisor and Virtual CIO

The right MSP is not just another vendor that you write a check to. The right MSP understands that you have many IT needs, such as backup and disaster recovery (BDR) and mobile device management (MDM), and can manage them all for you. Turning to one MSP practice to take care of all of your technological demands not only means you'll only have to pay one invoice, it also means you'll have an outside expert that's truly knowledgeable of your entire IT environment. That's immensely valuable! You can come to see this MSP as your virtual CIO (vCIO) or, at the very least, an IT consultant. 

What do you get from an MSP that acts as your vCIO? A strategic business advisor. While technical support can be done remotely, many MSPs recognize the importance of face-to-face time with their SMB clients. As part of this, they conduct semi-annual or quarterly business reviews (QBRs), in which they sit down with you and review the previous period. During this time, the MSP lets you hold them accountable for network performance, promises made during the sales process and service level agreements (SLAs) decided upon when first entering into a managed IT services contract. More than anything, this is a temperature check to make sure you're satisfied with the level of service you've received. On top of this, QBRs offer the opportunity to establish key performance indicators (KPIs), and see how well you're tracking against them.

Unlike break/fix providers, MSPs help you achieve business efficiency and profitability because they share your goals and interests. In a break/fix arrangement technicians are billed by the hour, so they're incentivized to take longer to complete projects. They have no vested interest in growing your margins and only show up to do the job that's asked of them. Conversely, an MSP acts as a strategic business advisor, mapping out plans in both the short and long-term to maximize your company's IT efficiency. 

Stronger Security Policies and Procedures

When you hear the words "data breach" and "data loss," what images do they conjure up? One very real consequence of compromised data is loss of business, delayed work efficiency or even going out of business. Are you aware of all the various contributing factors responsible for data loss and data breaches? Better yet, have you built and enforced security policies and procedures to protect against these threats? Let's first examine the role human error plays in weakened security. Poor passwords and password security are just the tip of the iceberg. Combine this with staff accidentally deleting files, leaving devices unattended without locking screens, misplacing devices, sharing files unsecurely and falling for malware, malvertising or phishing schemes, and you've got a business-crippling situation on your hands. 

According to the Webroot 2015 SMB Threat Report, 81% of SMB respondents agreed outsourcing cybersecurity to MSPs "would improve their bandwidth for addressing other tasks, while 53% agreed somewhat.” These respondents work with MSPs to circumvent constraints like lack of time and in-house expertise, thereby increasing their business efficiency. The rules are changing as rapidly as the cybercrime market is growing. Criteria for network security have become increasingly complex. While you can't afford to spend more time and resources correcting every vulnerability and protecting yourself from outside attack, you certainly can't afford to neglect these preventative policies and procedures. What kind of costs are we talking about if you do become the next victim of an attack? The same Webroot report finds that on average, "between 37% and 47% of losses across all regions to a cyberattack would total at least $100,000.” And that's just the direct impact to business financials, but what about your company's reputation with current clients? Tarnished. Not only will they lose trust in your ability to safeguard their data and fire you, they may also leave negative referrals and testimonials. 

Do you operate in any vertical with strict compliance regulations, such as HIPAA and PCI DSS complianceFor some organizations, especially in finance, healthcare, education, and other industries, regulatory compliance is mandatory for the IT portion of their business, and requires the expertise and experience that a managed services provider can offer. If you're a medical provider, for instance, you're legally required to be HIPAA compliant. SMBs found guilty of HIPAA law violation can be fined anywhere from $100-$50,000 per violation with an annual maximum of $1.5 million. Remember our point about MSPs sharing your business interests? According to the Omnibus Rule of 2013 and the HITECH Act, IT professionals—including MSPs—who do business with you are nearly always legally required to also be HIPAA compliant to the same degree. This means that MSPs will do everything in their power to protect your company's sensitive data, keeping a watchful eye on the health of your IT environment.

By now you've learned how an MSP's cybersecurity services help augment business efficiency and profitability, but what exactly do these IT support services entail? In addition to providing end user security awareness education and counsel, MSPs install trusted antivirus solutions to manage your endpoint security. These solutions typically detect malware and other malicious requests before reaching your employees. MSPs may also offer BDR and MDM services as part of their IT help portfolio. BDR is the ultimate failsafe against data loss and breaches. Because with it, you can access and restore data with minimum downtime, BDR is frequently described as a business continuity solution. True to its name, business continuity solutions allow you to continue your normal business operations, thus maximizing work efficiency. MDM is another security solution that's popular among MSPs, as it allows them to remotely wipe any mobile device that may have been compromised - even employees' personal smartphones and tablets! Whatever your vulnerabilities may be, see to it that your security policies, procedures and protocol are given the attention they deserve by working with an MSP. If you think your data is safe as is, have an MSP conduct a full network assessment before signing a contract. While you're at it, ask yourself these 10 questions. You could be taking your company's data security for granted and not even know it.

Meet Mary! Mary McCoy is a Demand Generation Programs Manager at Continuum, where she's worked for over two years. Mary primarily manages the MSP Blog and has consulted with hundreds of partners, lending website, blog and social media support. Before that, she graduated from the University of Virginia (Wahoowa!) with a BA in Economics and served as digital marketing intern for Citi Performing Arts Center (Citi Center), spearheading the nonprofit’s #GivingTuesday social media campaign. Like her school’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, Mary believes learning never ends. She considers herself a passionate, lifelong student of content creation and inbound marketing.

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