Businesses have two fundamental choices when it comes to managing the digital technology they use to accomplish their work, serve customers, and ensure their long-term viability. They can hire and retain an on-staff IT team, or maybe just one technology expert if their needs are basic. Or, they can contract with an IT managed services provider (MSP) to take responsibility for technology management. Today, it is no longer a given that companies have to bring IT in-house. They can choose among many MSPs who can provide a broad range of managed services, from support for everyday operations and issues to strategic consulting and planning. But why and when would it make sense to partner with an MSP? Let’s take a look at five important benefits managed services can provide.
Allow IT to work more strategically
In some companies it will make best sense to have on-staff IT professionals work on developing innovative solutions that solve unique business problems. An MSP could then take care of everyday management of applications and systems.
Imagine, for instance, that you design and manufacture industrial products and your engineers and customers could greatly benefit from a solution that lets them use augmented reality (AR) to collaborate on new features and then take those early concepts into design and, eventually, production—that could be a great opportunity for your IT team members to use their development and innovation skills in a strategic, value-creating manner. Their talent might have much less of an impact if you require force them to focus on relatively basic tasks—help employees address issues with their spreadsheet application, make sure the customer portal is running reliably and securely, or back up data—as well as more challenging work. Your trusted MSP could be accountable for those functions, deliver them efficiently to you KPIs and service levels, and help you unleash your team’s talent.
Bring more advanced technology skills into your business
On the other hand, maybe your IT team’s core strength is functioning as competent, trusted managers of your technology environment. They take great pride in delivering uncompromised uptime of applications the business depends on, they know exactly how to help users overcome software challenges and become more proficient, and they understand how to keep laptops, desktops, and servers running productively through their expected lifespan. IT may not be innovative, but it fulfills an important business function, and the costs are in a healthy ratio to the business benefits of running IT this way.
In that case, it makes sense to engage an MSP when it’s time to explore more advanced technology—say, hyperconverged infrastructure instead of physical servers—or when emerging challenges need a fast response, yet are outside of IT’s scope of skills. Cybersecurity and risk mitigation fall into that category for many organizations. The managed services provider could take on those more demanding assignments, put already gained expert skills to work, and predictably deliver technology benefits that might require your own team to go through a steep learning curve and manage through errors and unknowns. The client company and the MSP could also plan for a gradual skills transfer to in-house IT, so the existing team members can become more accomplished.
At Sikich, we are in long-term MSP engagements with clients who benefit from us fulfilling either of the roles we mentioned—innovative, strategic work or management of fundamental technology operations. And some have us do both.
Scale IT services and eliminate dependencies on internal resources
As you think about the potential MSP opportunity, you should weigh the costs, benefits, and dependencies of managing technology. In some growing businesses, considering costs and benefits may result in a compelling business case for a managed services partnership.
When you hire an IT professional or develop a small team, you need to invest time in recruiting and interviewing candidates, onboarding the right people, and integrating them into your organization. Given the current talent shortage, that is not a minor effort—and when turnover happens, you get to start over.
Also, consider that you might not know technology and its important trends and risks as well as you understand your business and customers. Even with all due diligence, your IT hires might be great for today, but when the business grows and its technology requirements change, they might no longer offer the right skills, maturity, and insight. Managing their performance and ensuring their professional growth along with making certain that they deliver the right value to the business might be a stretch. If your business grows and changes quickly, this could become even more of a challenge.
Sikich has sometimes seen that companies can suffer from their dependency on IT professionals who work hard and are committed to the success of the business, but who simply don’t have the technical reach and competence that would be needed at the current stage of the life of the company. Because these are highly trusted employees, they may inadvertently make decisions and purchases that hold the business back or expose it to competitive or financial risk. There may also be times when your one-person IT shop or members of a small team need a vacation, fall ill, or are not available for some other reason, and a bottleneck for addressing technology concerns results. When you partner with an MSP, you won’t need to grapple with these issues. Your best-fit MSP should have a large enough workforce to avoid any dependency on skilled, key individuals and keep services available 24/7 if that’s what you, the client, require.
Benefit from innovation that enhances your business
Another cost to consider in thinking about MSP collaboration is that of missed or delayed technology opportunities. For example, what would it take to equip your IT team with the skills to incorporate newer technology into the business—and ensure that both IT and the business groups are confident in moving forward? Maybe you could begin to collect, secure, and process edge data, rebuild your cloud environment to take advantage of containerization and modern architectures, or empower every employee to work from anywhere. Do you know what technology opportunities available today could help your company get to what’s next for it?
More than likely, technology could help you become more competitive or find unique ways to deliver value to customers. However, many innovations and trends are underway at any time in the various technology disciplines, such as cloud, data center infrastructures, cybersecurity, networking, communications, business productivity, collaboration, and mobility. Other important developments are happening around the ERP, CRM, and specialty line-of-business systems you depend on. It’s a significant, potentially distracting task to stay current with these evolving technologies and learn about innovations that could make a positive difference. Then you still need to source them from a solid provider, deploy them into your processes, and manage them well. That may be far too much to expect from most companies and their IT departments. A savvy MSP could help you identify promising opportunities, avoid risky investments, and realize value from newer technologies before they become common industrywide.
Create a strategy to future-proof your business and its technology
One way of telling whether an MSP can be a good partner for you is the readiness of the account reps and technical teams to learn about your business and discuss specific concerns with you, in the language of your industry. It’s a good sign if they understand your market and business model, and can thoughtfully address trends and challenges you face. It’s even better if they don’t just mirror what they glean from you, but can make helpful contributions of their own and elevate the conversation to a more strategic level. Today, even smaller businesses need to have their own IT strategy, or they will always have to be reactive and beholden to the status quo when new technology solutions, challenges, and trends come along. Your MSP should help you take the initiative instead of following the field.
Depending on your requirements and priorities, MSP consultants could help you in a number of ways to define a working strategy for technology and translate it into a roadmap for purchases and deployments. They could:
- Provide guidance and insight in response to your concerns, using their industry and technology knowledge to set the right perspective for your company’s technology journey.
- Work with your stakeholders to identify technology gaps, help you address them, and keep business groups productive and satisfied.
- Create evaluation templates for vendors and technologies, and collaborate with your teams to review and choose software, hardware, and other solutions that fit the business.
- Focus on one high-priority area at a time, such as customer engagement or manufacturing management, dive into the processes and technologies, recommend immediate adjustments, and develop a long-term strategy for continuous improvement.
- Provide a virtual CIO (vCIO) to guide your company’s use of technology as a strategic asset. A vCIO is typically a highly experienced professional who can build on a successful track record of helping clients. While contributing as a member of your executive team, the vCIO will be backed by the expertise and service resources of the MSP.
Taking the next step
Sikich serves as an MSP to many different clients across several industries, and is proud to enjoy their long-term partnership as they go along their digital journeys. If you believe it’s time to evaluate how managed services from Sikich could help you in your business, we should talk.