What are Managed IT Services?

Ever wondered what Managed IT Services are?

Managed IT services allow businesses to delegate their IT operations to an expert third-party organization that specializes in handling responsibilities. These third-party organizations, known as Managed Service Providers (MSPs), are responsible for the entirety or portions of a business' IT systems, as agreed upon in a Service Level Agreement (SLA). The client typically procures IT equipment and depending on the SLA. Managed Service Providers may provide round-the-clock monitoring, issue resolution and reporting, and more.

According to the SLA, managed service providers charge a flat fee for delivery of their services over a set period of time. The SLA defines precisely what services will be furnished and the degree they will be offered, as well as metrics for measuring the success of these services.

Cloud computing has allowed managed IT services to expand beyond the regions and borders that would constrain the average break/fix IT through the adoption of Software as a Service (SaaS) technologies, as well as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service(PaaS) also. These capabilities allow managed IT services to scale at a rate dramatically larger and faster than in-house IT operation or break/fix providers.

Managed services has become a popular buzzword in business environments. However, with the myriad new features and benefits, it offers over traditional break-fix repair, many are still unclear about what managed services encompasses. In its most simple definition, managed services gives a 3rd party service provider complete responsibility for any aspect of your company, and is often related to IT support.

In this technology-focused age, businesses can live or die by the quality of their IT infrastructure. Entire companies are run electronically nowadays, and few wouldn't suffer immense losses if their IT network encountered a major issue. With managed services in IT, business owners no longer have to worry about data loss or computer problems; these are handled by experts and relieve owners to worry about what really matters to them - running the business.

Read on to receive answers to all your questions about managed IT support, and learn why this new method is quickly taking over from the break-fix model of old.

History of Managed IT Services 

At the outset of enterprise computing, information technology services and management was on a break/fix basis, meaning that computer systems were only managed by an expert when they did not work, necessitating a technician to fix it. This technician may also have been the person who built and/or installed the computer system, due to the proliferation of small IT shops that specialized in this small-scale client services at the time.

However, as time progressed computer manufacturing grew to large scale, leaving the small IT dealer to focus less on manufacturing and more on break/fix. This system was time-consuming, labour intensive, costly and reactive. It did not allow the technician room to grow their business or take on new clients without massive investments in labour and infrastructure.

As computing devices increased yearly, the divide between break/fix technicians and the number of computers they could reasonably service under the break/fix model grew wider and wider. Managed IT services emerged in the early years of the millennium to meet this need, shifting far from the break/fix model.

Managed IT services heralded a proactive approach to IT, attempting to conduct maintenance, upgrades, system monitoring and issue resolution on a routine basis, with the goal of preventing problems before they started. Automation, increased Internet capabilities and cloud computing allowed for monitoring and issue resolution to be provided remotely, enabling more efficient processes and a consolidation of resources.

Efficiency, consolidated resources and client satisfaction, coupled with fixed rates, the ability to offer greater service offerings and take on a larger clientele led to managed IT services becoming the industry-standard approach to managing computer systems large and small for SMBs.

Understanding the how and why behind the development of managed services allows a clearer picture of its usefulness. Computer systems make immense strides year after year, but the tools to service the changing systems have had trouble catching up. 

Companies who helped small service networks in the past have been hindered by the lack of tools to help with problems. Networks used to be developed as simple systems, usually built and serviced by a self-taught technician. Maintenance was break-fix only, meaning when something went wrong, the company called, and hopefully, the technician would come and fix it.

As time went on, the most advanced support people developed procedures to periodically come on-site to do a review of the infrastructure, looking for hints of issues before they snowballed into huge problems. The trouble was, however, that the service technicians could only see what was happening on the day they were there. If something happened in the future, they would never know about it unless informed by the customer and then it was back to the break-fix method.

Along with this troubleshooting inefficiency, backup problems and other errors continued to occur. The only professional test of backup systems happened on the check-up visit, which frequently resulted in days or more of missed backups.

This system was also prone to human error, with the technician trying to be accommodating and frequently having to spend his time correcting end-user symptoms and not being able to address the real issues. This inefficiency created a constant uphill battle for technicians, who were consistently trying to put out fires as more rapidly occurred.

Benefits of Managed IT Services

Through outsourcing managed IT services, SMBs are able to reap the benefits of receiving IT support at a significantly reduced cost in comparison to creating a comparable team in-house. Additionally, MSPs can also offer a wealth of experience from actively managing multiple client accounts that in-house teams would not collectively have.

Additionally, by using an MSP organization 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 allows SMBs to focus on growing their business without worrying about day-to-day IT issues or requirements.

Another benefit to managed IT services is a greater opportunity for security expertise and successfully enacted security policies. MSPs work with standards such as PCI compliance day in, day out, and should be able to steer your organization within the parameters and regulations it needs to adhere to. For some organizations, especially in finance, healthcare, educations, and other industries, this type of regulatory compliance is mandatory for the IT portion of their business, and requires the expertise and experience that a managed service provider can offer. MSPs can mitigate risk in this way while assuring that the experts in charge of your IT operations are always up to date on the latest information, technologies and processes that will keep your infrastructure working efficiently and successfully into the future.

Managed services also create a change in the overall philosophy of the way a business deals with its technology. Break-fix repair relies on waiting until servers, desktops, or other critical devices fail, then rushing to fix them as the company bleeds profit. A business operating under managed services, however, focuses on prevention rather than reaction, monitoring and resolving issues before they disrupt employees, management, and clients.

    • Freed-up resources and a renewed emphasis on core business - Both business owners and internal IT staff would much rather focus on revenue enhancing tasks like product development or the creation of cutting-edge applications/services. This is one reason routine monitoring and maintenance tasks are often neglected by an internal IT person or team, which always proves to be detrimental much later. Often misportrayed as a "threat" to an internal IT person or staff, MSPs can instead relieve internal staff of mundane network operations maintenance, repetitious monitoring of server and storage infrastructure, and day-to-day operations and help desk duties.


    • A true partner sharing risks and responsibilities - The goal of an MSP is to deliver on contracted services, measure, report, analyze and optimize IT service operations, and truly become an irreplaceable catalyst for business growth. Managed Service Providers not only assume leadership roles, they enable risk reduction, enhance efficiency and change the culture by introducing internal IT operations to new technologies and processes.


    • Access to expertise, best practices, and world-class tools and technologies - MSPs have experience with a variety of businesses and organizations. Managed Service Providers can keep your business relevant and on track with continually evolving technology, support, and productivity demands. Let's face it; no small or medium-sized business can afford to fall behind with technology trends in today's business world.


    • The benefit of a full-time fully staffed IT department at a fraction of the cost - Most small business owners live and die by proactive management. They just haven't had the budget, resources or access to on-demand expertise to be proactive with information technology management. A Managed Service Provider gives business owners and overwhelmed internal IT staff affordable server and computer support, remote monitoring of critical network components like servers and firewalls, data backup and disaster recovery, network security, custom software solutions, and technology evaluation and planning.


    • Managed service providers can decrease the overall IT support costs by as much as 30% to 50% - Rather than being stressed about technology, business owners can instead get back to focusing on growing their business. All while enjoying the benefits of highly-trained IT experts boosting their network's reliability and performance.



Why Are Managed IT Services Important?


    • It aligns the outcomes of the organisation. An IT company is incentivised to do a very good job; they want to minimise problems for your organisation because they have KPIs directly linked to the efficiency of your IT.


    • IT experts give you peace of mind. You're not an IT expert. Managed service providers take care of your IT, so you can focus on running your business.


    • Proactive support. Managed services offer proactive support. So instead of your IT firm constantly fixing problems, they will actually try to identify problems before they happen, keeping your systems up and your problems down.


    • Strategic IT planning. What IT systems do you need in 12 or 24 months' time? Managed services help you think ahead and give you advice on what you need to be planning from an IT department. This links to proactive support and ensures that your IT infrastructure and software is upgraded and updated to minimise risks such as downtime, viruses and crashes.


    • Complete outsourced IT. Managed services give you access to a complete IT department. You don't just get day-to-day IT support; you also get an IT manager and a virtual CIO so you can think strategically about how IT fits into your organisation.



Challenges of Managed IT Services

Here are some challenges that you need to be aware of when looking to move to a managed services arrangement.

    • Holding providers accountable. The reason you go with managed services is that you want to improve your operational efficiency and remove the number of IT problems or roadblocks that affect your team. You need to hold providers accountable and make sure they are delivering these improvements. Most providers will offer effective reporting so you can see exactly how much work they are doing for you and how much improvement in efficiency and productivity they are providing.


    • Getting strategic IT planning. As part of a managed service contract, you should be given some strategic IT planning. You might struggle to see the benefits of a managed services contract if you don't get this component. Make sure that your IT firm is proactively planning for the next 12 or 24 months and that it has strategies in place to improve IT infrastructure and upgrade software.


    • Finding a provider with a good track record. You need to check the track record of your provider before engaging in a contract. They should be able to demonstrate a track record on delivering proactive service and measurable outcomes. Check references before you commit, and ask what clients they have, and if they have experience dealing with companies similar to yours.



Which Type Of Maintenance Do You Have?

If you answer "no" to any of the following questions, then you are utilizing a break-fix methodology to maintain your network and may benefit from a managed service provider without costing you any more.

    • Do you find out immediately if your data back-up fails to run?


    • Do you know which equipment on your network is aging and might need replacing in the next six months?


    • Do you know if your server and all of your desktops have the latest antivirus updates installed and are functioning correctly?


    • Do you know if the latest security patches have been installed on your network?


    • Do you know who the heaviest internet users are and whether they are downloading large files which can slow down the network, or accessing inappropriate web sites?


    • Do you know which PCs are running out of memory, affecting user performance?


    • Do you have one number to call for all of your technology service requirements?


    • Do you hear from your computer guys before there is a noticeable problem affecting your technology?



High Availability, Efficiency and Productivity

For an IT Service, the saying "time is money" always applies. For optimal company performance, constant availability of mission-critical IT services is the top priority for many organizations. While assessing the true cost of downtime is hard, it is always recommended to take proactive steps to avoid it completely. At worst, the reputational risk could be a factor when the outage comes to the attention of those outside the company potentially eroding public trust. Clients experience better performance with minimal downtime when using a managed service. Many times, mission-critical applications involve multiple technologies and require them to be fully operational and integrated to achieve the IT service expected. All component applications must be available together for the IT service to function seamlessly for internal end-users. An MSP can ensure maximum uptime and minimal service interruptions.

Organizations that attempt to implement and support all IT services in-house usually have a much higher research and development cost as well as longer timelines to deploy -costs may also be passed on to the organizations wishing to consume these services. The MSP is highly efficient in delivering IT services in a way that keeps costs low and the time to deploy short while providing a high-quality service to the business.

Future-Proofing IT Services

IT departments will always have funding, technical, security, and operational challenges. As you look for strategies to minimize spend, I have seen many organizations effectively utilize AMS to achieve the full benefit of seamless service integration with less worry over resource constraints. MSP's will always have their staff trained on upcoming and new releases as well as new technologies with the ability to lock-in costs for a multi-year period. By creating more predictability, your business will reduce operational risk and challenges and minimize service disruption.

Managed Service Providers bring not only practical delivery of a predictable service model and cost to quickly and effectively deliver new IT service to an enterprise, but also enhance the stability and peace of mind for IT and business leaders alike.

The task of delivering new business services to the enterprise while keeping costs controlled is a difficult task in the modern business environment. A managed service is a great strategy to help your IT organization be highly resilient, and cost predictable, fiscal year to fiscal year. MSPs complement and do not replace existing staff but rather free those valuable resources to lead and deliver on the strategic IT programs necessary to advance business goals. In larger organizations, an MSP will help your resources to focus on more strategic projects. You can rest assured that your company is minimizing the risks associated with maintaining client data and sensitive competitive information and more with today's managed service offerings.

As you embark on investing in a new application, consider taking advantage of various managed service offerings to stay on top of IT business needs and minimize unsystematic risks.