Choosing the right IT outsourcing provider can be a difficult task and your decision can have a lasting impact on your company’s operations. From sales and marketing to accounting and human resources, technology touches nearly every part of a business—so, if your IT is not aligned with your company’s goals, your growth may suffer.

To effectively compare managed services providers (MSPs), your business needs to consider more than just cost. All outsourced IT providers, and their service offerings, are not created equal. The provider’s remote and on-site support capabilities, depth of technical expertise, business reviews, account manager versus CIO philosophy, service desk size, and service delivery framework should all be factors in your decision-making.

1. Pricing model

IT outsourcing providers use several pricing models, including hourly, per device, per user, tiered and a la carte offerings.

  • Hourly support/block time pricing charges customers an hourly fee for time spent working on, or correcting issues within, their environment. Customers are typically charged by the hour as needed, however some providers that use this pricing model require their clients to purchase a minimum number of hours per month or blocks of time in advance.
    • Pros
      • The hourly pricing model can quickly and easily get your started with IT outsourcing. If you don’t have many support needs, have outages or need preventative support, you can somewhat control what you’re spending on IT each month.
    • Cons
      • The provider makes money when you have an issue. If your business suffers a virus outbreak or server outage, you’ll be billed for those support hours.
      • The total amount of time spent on IT is ultimately out of your control; for example, an emergency situation such as a server failure may occur, costing your business more than it anticipated.
      • Providers who follow this model don’t typically provide proactive consulting or support and only respond to problems as they happen.
      • As they’re being billed for any time spent working on their environment, many companies limit the number of employees that can request support in order to control costs.
        Mason jar with change spilling out of it.
  • Per device pricing charges customers a flat-fee per month, per device supported in their environment. Devices generally include workstations, servers, SANs, firewalls, routers, switches, wireless access points, and more.
    • Pros
      • Unlike providers that use the hourly pricing model, MSPs that charge a flat fee per device are responsible for keeping your environment up and running. These providers generally don’t charge extra fees if there is an outage or event that requires them to spend more time on your environment.
      • This model scales as your business grows. The monthly fee fluctuates as you add or remove devices.
      • The flat fee structure keeps your costs predictable.
    • Cons
      • In today’s workplace, many employees have, and need, multiple devices such as desktops, laptops, smartphone and tablets. The per device pricing model makes predicting your monthly fee difficult as these devices are added or removed.
      • You will need to maintain an up-to-date and accurate count of the total number of devices in your environment in order to ensure your billing is accurate.
  • Per user pricing charges customers a flat fee per month, per user. Per user pricing focuses on supporting the end user’s productivity and the technology needed to do their job effectively.
    • Pros
      • You know how many employees you have, and how many you’re planning to hire, so you can quickly and easily predict your costs as this number fluctuates.
      • The MSP is responsible for your uptime and works to make your company’s technology more efficient for your users. When things are working as they should, it’s a win for both of you.
    • Cons
      • Per user billing is typically handled by an identity database such as Active Directory, requiring your company and the provider to make sure the database is properly maintained.

Providers’ service offerings are never apples to apples—what’s included in one’s flat fee may not be included in another’s. Before signing a contract with an outsourced IT provider, make sure you know what isand is not, included in the monthly price. You should know which services are considered add-ons to your package, as well as what work is outside the scope of your contractBe aware that many providers keep their initial flat fee low and bill their clients separately for things like after hours support, new user setups, workstation deployments and on-site visitsYour business must decide which MSP pricing model best fits its needs and budget.

2. SLA

Before signing a contract with an IT outsourcing provider, you should ask if they guarantee a service-level agreement, or SLA. If they do, you should carefully review it. The SLA should establish clear commitments from the provider to respond to and resolve your service requests.

Many managed services providers only provide a response time as part of their SLA. Those types of agreements often lack a resolution guarantee. MSPs that include a resolution guarantee in their SLA understand that when you or your employees have an issue that requires support, your real desire is to get things fixed,  not just have your provider say they’re working on it.

You should also make sure you understand your options if the provider doesn’t meet the terms of their SLA, such as credits to your account or the ability to cancel your service. Make sure that you understand the terms of the provider’s SLA and that you’re confident it fits your company’s support needs.

3. Support capabilities, both on-site and remote

When you’re shopping for a managed services provider, be sure to choose a company that puts customer service first. It’s the provider’s job to quickly resolve your issue and get you back to work while also making sure you have a great experience with their service team. You should take care to avoid MSPs that simply take your service requests and rush you off the phone, or worse, force you to follow an inefficient process.

Employees working together in the same space.

The IT outsourcing provider you select should be able to assist and support your business remotely, as well as on-site if necessary. A quality MSP can quickly solve your problem from their remote help desk and get you back to work. If an issue is complex and requires escalation, the provider should be able to send someone on-site to resolve the problem within the timeframe specified by their SLA.

Before selecting a provider, you should know their service desk’s hours of operation. If your business needs support around the clock, you should choose an MSP that operates 24/7 x 365.

A smaller, less mature outsourcing provider may lack a high quantity of technicians and engineers, tools or technical expertise needed to support your business as well as the rest of their clients.

4. Account manager or CIO

Before selecting a new MSP, make sure you know who your point of contact will be. Many providers assign your company an account manager who is responsible for escalating your service requests, and is available if you want to buy additional products. 

Many times, organizations need more from their outsourcing provider and MSPs that offer CIO services understand this. The CIO is there to help improve your planning and budgeting efforts. Your CIO should be a resource for your business, consulting with your company’s leaders and working alongside them to create strategic plans that will align technology with your goals.

5. Business reviews and strategic planning sessions

The MSP should schedule regular business reviews with the CIO and your leadership team to discuss your company’s goals, challenges and the technology options available to your business. While the business review may touch on service statistics such as your number of resolved support requests, total uptime percentage and total bandwidth usage, these stats should not be the focus of the business review. The business review should cover progress or changes to your company’s strategic goals, and is a time for your company to receive consulting and discuss how technology can reduce your risk, decrease your expenses and increase your revenue.

6. Size of technical teams

The size of a managed services provider’s service desk, on-site engineer team, network operations center (NOC), escalation team, and projects team are important and speak directly to its ability to effectively support your business. While your partnership with a small IT outsourcing provider may seem more personal, these types of providers tend to have fewer resources than their larger counterparts. Small MSPs may have fewer technicians who lack expertise, and often lack the time and financial resources needed to quickly resolve your issues or fulfill your company’s needs—such as research and development of emerging technologies.

Generally, small providers assign a single technician to handle all of your company’s support needs. This often leads to a lack of redundancy—if that person leaves or is promoted, the knowledge of your environment goes with them.

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) generally choose mid-sized IT outsourcing providers that can combine the personal touch of smaller providers with the increased capabilities of larger providers into their service offering. If you’re an SMB, it may be in your best interest to choose a mid-sized managed services provider. Mid-sized MSPs are more sophisticated than small providers and don’t have thousands of employees who’ll see your business as just another number. Mid-sized providers also have a local presence and are able to spend the necessary time with you to understand your business so they can make technology recommendations that best fit your needs.

About Aldridge

At Aldridge, our team of IT professionals provide your business with the resources it needs to reach its potential. We put customer service first and deliver support and strategic planning that effectively manages your IT. Our approach relieves you of the hassle of technology management so you can focus on running your business. Contact an Aldridge representative today to learn more about complete IT outsourcing.