Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Questions to Ask a Managed Service Provider - Part 2


With more and more managed service providers (MSPs) entering the market, your choices are expanding. If you choose the wrong one, however, you might wind up with more challenges than benefits.

How do you know? According to Matt Cowall at Appia Communications, it’s often as simple as asking.

In part one of this post, we covered three of the top five questions to ask a managed service provider: How long has an MSP been in business? What kind of support does the MSP offer? And what kind of redundancy does the MSP offer?

Today we’ll cover the remaining two questions that Matt recommends you ask, and they’re arguably the two most important:

What quality of service does the MSP provide?
This is probably the most important question, of course. You’ll learn quite a bit about an MSP’s service quality when you check its references. Be sure to ask what happens when there are issues. Does the MSP respond quickly and take ownership of the problem?

Another key indicator is the MSP’s service level assurances. A service level agreement (SLA) is a document describing the minimum performance standards an MSP promises to meet. It should also clearly describe remedies — and even penalties — if the MSP ever fails to meet the minimum standards. An SLA is an essential part of a contract between you and an MSP.

Does the MSP have formal SLAs? Do the assurances cover what you’re buying? And do the assurances have ramifications? The willingness of an MSP to offer SLAs with significant penalties for service interruption is a sure sign that the MSP is a high-quality provider. No MSP can remain in business if it has strong SLAs and can’t deliver on its promises.

How willing is the MSP to meet your specific requirements?
Your company or organization is unique; it’s often that very uniqueness that has resulted in your success. Unless an MSP is willing and able to tailor its services to meet your specific requirements, you may find yourself bending your operations to suit the MSP — instead of the other way around.

You can tell a lot about an MSP’s flexibility during the procurement process. Do they ask a few questions and then send you a quote, or do they take the time to listen to your specific needs and develop a custom proposal? And since no MSP can meet every requirement, are they forthcoming about what they are able — and not able — to do, so you can make a fact-based determination of how well their offerings fit your needs?

Lastly, ask about a roadmap for their products or services. Your needs will evolve over time, sometimes quickly. Therefore, your MSP should have a plan that aligns with your future business needs.

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