How to Choose a Managed IT Service Provider

A comprehensive guide to transforming your IT solutions. 


Using a managed IT service provider can be a transformational decision for your business. But how does that partnership work, and what are the tangible benefits and results?

This comprehensive guide is a bumper introduction to managed IT support services and the benefits they can bring to a business.

What is a Managed Service Provider (MSP) in the IT Sector?

Managed Service Provider - often shortened to MSP - is an all-encompassing term for a company that provides IT support to businesses. An MSP is a company that manages the IT infrastructure and/or systems of another company. This is usually done through a retained contract or subscription model, where the buying company pays a monthly fee for the MSP’s services.

Read more: What is a Managed Service Provider and How Can it Help Your Business?

What Services do MSPs Provide?

MSPs offer a range of IT services to their clients. A company may engage and hire an MSP to manage part or all of their IT function. Services include:

  • Network management
  • Systems and infrastructure maintenance
  • Software and hardware set up and maintenance
  • Data storage, backup and recovery
  • Cloud service solutions and applications
  • Cyber security
  • VoIP telephony
  • Integrated mobile device connectivity
  • Printer management

Depending on the service level agreement, the MSP will be responsible for the maintenance and monitoring of these functions, which is often done remotely. However, in some cases, the provider may also be required to make site visits to resolve IT issues.

Why do Businesses Use Managed IT Service Providers?

There are a whole host of reasons why a business may look to outsource their IT to a managed service provider. Often, these reasons are dependent on the size of capabilities of the business itself, or come about because of growth or changes in direction.

Depending on the service level agreement, the MSP will be responsible for the maintenance and monitoring of these functions, which is often done remotely. However, in some cases, the provider may also be required to make site visits to resolve IT issues.

Here are some key reasons why businesses may use an MSP.

They Don’t Have an Existing IT Function or Team

Smaller businesses may not have an in-house IT department, which means there is a need for outsourced support to help keep the IT systems running. Without any form of support, systems are liable to fail or not run efficiently, meaning lower productivity levels. Partnering with an MSP helps businesses to avoid these issues.

The Internal Team Lacks the Necessary Skills and Experience

If an internal IT support team is lacking or thin in number, it may be difficult for a business to keep on top of all the necessary security protocols alongside resolving support tickets. In this instance, an MSP can help to support the overall IT systems.

They Need Strategic IT or Telecoms Support

In some instances, an internal IT team may need additional support from a more strategic perspective, or have an MSP deliver the day-to-day running of the systems while the internal teams focus on the business-driving initiatives.

They Need to Improve Their Cyber Security or Data Protection Processes

There are few hotter topics within the modern workplace than data protection and security. Despite that, many businesses aren’t adequately protected from malicious cyber attacks. For this reason, a managed IT service provider may be required to add that extra layer of security and some peace of mind.

They Want Access to Better Technology

The very best IT systems and software come at a premium - which means they’re often out of reach to many small and medium-sized businesses. However, partnering with an MSP can provide access to these state-of-the-art technologies, which can in turn help with business performance.

They Require Support With a Large Project

When undertaking large scale IT projects, internal teams can become swamped with their workloads - and in some cases are unable to see the wood for the trees. An MSP can be a helpful ally in these instances, providing additional support, expertise and wisdom to ensure the best solution to the problem.

They are in a Period of Growth and Need Additional Support

Businesses change at a rapid pace, and that can often mean certain teams are left behind. Hiring new IT staff is a long and sometimes arduous process - not only in finding the right candidate, but also in waiting for them to arrive if they have a long notice period. An MSP is able to respond more quickly and become an enabler for rapid business growth.

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What are the Benefits of Using a Managed Service Provider?

Managed IT services are popular for a reason; they bring a range of advantages to businesses. Here are some key benefits of using an MSP to support your IT systems:

  • Budget control - Using an MSP can provide greater control over your finances, as you’re able to clearly forecast the monthly outgoing and avoid unexpected expenses. It can also be a more cost effective option than hiring an internal staff member (a monthly MSP contract can be around half of a full time employee’s salary).
  • Strategic support - When you’re undertaking a large project, an experienced IT provider can help to provide invaluable guidance and knowledge on how to implement the most effective solution.
  • Proactive monitoring - A good MSP doesn’t just react to issues; it actively monitors and works to prevent them from happening in the first place, meaning better protection for your business.
  • Better cyber security - MSPs keep up to date with cyber security issues and have access to the best and most sophisticated cyber protection tools, allowing you better protection from cyber crime and attacks.
  • Knowledge and expertise - As well as their hands-on role, an MSP can also support from a consultative level, providing recommendations based on years of experience.
  • Reliable service - When partnering with the right MSP, you can be assured that you’ll receive a high level of service which is always available when you need it. Limited internal expertise, and staff holidays and sickness are no longer a headache for you.
  • Reduced downtime - Through a proactive approach and access to top of the range software and tools, MSPs can help to reduce the amount of downtime your business suffers - which in turn means better productivity.
  • Support for internal teams - Whether it’s at a strategic level to help support an internal IT team to accomplish their goals, additional expertise, or cover for when your own IT staff are unavailable through holiday or sickness, MSPs can be a reassurance that keeps your systems ticking over as normal.
  • Scalability - The best MSPs will be able to scale their level of service to meet your changing demands. For example, if you’re in a period of growth, an MSP should be able to increase its package to suit that growth and maintain the same level of service.
  • Access to the best tech - MSPs will typically use and have access to leading technologies, systems and software which your business can take advantage of. Often, these are premium products that are typically unattainable to SMEs.

Check out this video for an overview of how MSPs can help your business:

Read more: 12 Benefits of Having a Managed Service Provider For Your Business

How Much Does it Cost for a Managed IT Service?

Cost is often a major factor in business decisions, and choosing a managed IT service provider is no different. However, the price you pay is likely to be reflected in the quality of service you receive in return.

There are a number of factors that influence the monthly fee you’ll pay, including:

  • The size of your company (or the number of users/devices that are covered)
  • The level of service you require
  • The expertise and reputation of the MSP
  • The payment terms agreed

In terms of actual payment options, companies may offer the following terms:

  • Pay-as-you-go support - Paid at an hourly rate or a fixed price, and usually the more expensive option in the long run.
  • Break-fix support - Charged hourly, either paid in advance or afterwards. It can also be offered on a fixed-price contract.
  • Managed service support - The support company actively manages your systems on a retained contract to reduce the chance of things going wrong.

There’s more to think about than simply the price you pay. Think about the return on investment, rather than seeing it as an ongoing fee.

As mentioned earlier, one of the key advantages of outsourcing your IT is that it can give you greater control over your finances. It can help both in terms of budget planning, and in cost control by saving on things like staff salaries and unexpected IT costs. And IT support can also provide greater productivity by reducing downtime - which in turn usually means improved revenue and profits.

So, although cost may be a motivating factor, think about the bigger picture - paying more for a premium service usually means you’ll get even better results, meaning the return on your initial investment is greatly increased.

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Read more: What’s the Real Cost of Having a Managed IT Service Provider for Your Business?

What are the Different Types of Managed IT Services?

MSPs typically offer a range of different service levels to their clients, but these can usually be broadly divided into two key offerings; fully managed and co-managed support.

Each has its own advantages, and it’s usually a matter of determining the required level of support required when choosing between the two options. Let’s take a closer look at the two key types of managed service.

Fully Managed IT Services

Fully managed IT services mean that MSP takes on complete responsibility and accountability for the IT operations of the hiring business. This is the highest level of support that can be provided, with the MSP taking on the management and upkeep of the overall IT infrastructure, system performance and maintenance requirements.
The key benefit to a fully managed support package is that your IT becomes a controlled function that is looked after by a third party, allowing you and your staff to focus on your day jobs. The activities and monitoring carried out by an MSP will also help towards improving your company’s overall productivity and performance.

Co-Managed IT Services

Co-managed IT support is more of a ‘halfway house’ between a fully managed agreement and having an internal team overseeing the entire operation. With co-managed support, the MSP manages some of the IT infrastructure, while an internal team looks after the remainder. This is useful, for example, when internal teams who are stretched with service tickets; these can be handed over to the MSP while the internal IT department focuses on strategic goals.
This means you have direct access to additional support when you need it (such as when your staff are on holiday or leave), and you can also help to alleviate the pressure on staff who may feel snowed under.

Which Service Level is Best?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question - fully managed support is better for some companies, whereas a co-managed package is more appropriate for others.

Fully managed is typically the option of choice for smaller businesses who don’t have a full internal IT team, and helps them to focus on their own business goals without worrying about IT issues.

Co-managed IT is best for those companies who do have an internal team, but need extra support from a delivery or strategic perspective.

Read more: Fully Managed Vs. Co-Managed IT Services: What’s Best for Your Business?

What Should You Consider When Choosing an MSP?

There are many managed service providers out there, but good ones are much harder to find. Finding the right partner can be tricky, especially if you go into the process blind or without much preparation.

That said, there are some key considerations that should help you to make the right choice when it comes to hiring IT support. Here are some things to think about.

Do They Have a Good Reputation?

Reputation is key when choosing a service provider. You don’t want to partner with a company that has a reputation for delivering poor results or quality of work. Check out independent reviews about the MSP, and take a look at their website for any sign of genuine testimonials from happy clients.

Do They Deliver Results?

When you invest in IT services, you want a return on that investment. For that reason, it’s important that your chosen MSP is able to deliver the results you need. Read case studies from their other clients to understand how the MSP has helped them achieve their goals and ask them for specific examples of similar projects.

Can They Be Trusted?

Trust is a huge factor in whether or not a partnership is successful. There are certain things you can look into ahead of making a decision that will help you understand if an MSP can be trusted. Look for things like certifications and awards, and ask them whether they’re insured. Take up references.

Are They Reliable and Responsive?

You don’t want to wait for IT issues to be resolved. If you’re using a managed service provider, you need to have the knowledge that they’ll be available and responsive to your needs. Ask them what their typical response time is, as well as average time taken to resolve issues. You can also ask about their availability outside of core working hours.

What Systems Do They Use?

The best MSPs will practice what they preach, using up-to-date tech and state of the art systems that will have a positive impact on your business. Ask your MSP (or prospective provider) what systems and software they use so you can get a better idea of whether they’re going to be a benefit to you.

What Sets Them Apart From Their Competitors?

If you’re considering outsourcing and are not quite sure which provider to choose, you need to be able to separate them somehow. Take a look at their unique selling points (USPs) to identify how they differ from the competition.

There are many things to consider when choosing an IT provider, but often it comes down to your needs and how effectively your chosen MSP can serve those needs. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions before you choose your partner - it can really help you to make a choice you won’t regret.

Read more: 20 Great Questions to ask Before Choosing an IT Service Provider

What Makes a Good Managed Service Provider?

Not all MSPs provide the same level of service, customer satisfaction and quality of delivered work. The best providers are ones that can understand you and your business, and work with you to deliver a smooth and reliable IT function.

Here are some qualities you should look out for in an MSP.


Any relationship is doomed to failure if there’s no trust. One of the key qualities an MSP should have is trustworthiness. You should believe that what they say and do is for the benefit of your business and not just for their own gain.


It’s no use hiring an IT support company if you can’t rely on them to do what you’ve hired them to do. You need to be sure that your MSP is reliable enough to be there when you need them (and even when you don’t necessarily think you need them).


Good MSPs will take a proactive approach rather than a reactive one. That means monitoring your systems and IT processes in the background and acting to prevent disasters, malicious attacks or malfunctions.


An IT provider should be a specialist within their field - and that means having the required knowledge to provide a good service. You should also look out for areas of specialism within IT, as MSPs often have many engineers and technicians who specialise in a particular area


Your chosen MSP should be transparent and engage in an open manner. They should be clear and upfront from the start about what you get in your package, what they’re doing and how your systems are faring.


Honesty is another vital trait of a trusted MSP. You need a partner that will be upfront with you about your IT issues and systems, giving you all the information you need even if it’s not always what you want to hear.


A successful MSP-client relationship will be a flexible one, where the provider is able to adapt to changes within your business. For example, can they scale up their level of service during busier times or when your business is undergoing rapid growth?


Another key characteristic of a reliable partner is that they are attentive to your needs. That means they listen and take into account your company goals and KPIs when making recommendations.

Provides a Return on Your Investment

Perhaps most importantly of all, an MSP should be able to provide a tangible benefit to your business by ensuring a positive return on your investment. Consider the impact of the work they undertake and measure the return you get from increased productivity, better profits and increased uptime.

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Read more: How to Get Maximum Value From Your Managed Service Provider

Find the Right Managed IT Service Provider

This guide gives a comprehensive overview of managed IT and how it can become a huge benefit to your business. The key thing to remember is that there are many providers vying for your business, and not all are equal.

Take the time to read through all the information and understand the key considerations before jumping into a partnership.

If you’re ready to take the next step in hiring a managed service provider, give us a call today and we’ll be delighted to help build a service that works for you.

Our in-depth ebook - Managed IT Service Providers

A Guide to Choosing The Right Partner - provides even more information, insight and support to help you make the right decision. Download your free copy now!

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