What is a managed IT service?

With two-thirds of businesses using them, learn about what managed IT services are and how they’re being used

IT infrastructure digital illustration

Digital transformation is considered to be essential for a modern business, which mass remote working and COVID-19 have only exacerbated. However, the transition to new IT operations and systems is no small task.

Even though digital transformation has plenty of advantages and there is a huge need for it, it's not always clear what approach IT leaders should be taking, and while it can be tempting to do everything and anything possible to modernise a business, rushing into something without a route forward could be fatal.

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In order to reap the most benefits, a careful approach is needed with plenty of pre and post-transformation work - which can be extremely time-consuming and costly. This is where managed services come in.

Managed service providers (MSPs) serve as a pressure release valve, allowing a business to offload much of the day-to-day maintenance and operation of infrastructure and digital services. This can help relieve the digital transformation burden and enables in-house IT teams to build new tools, rather than constantly maintain existing ones.

Over the last year, MSPs have helped businesses adapt to pandemic-related restrictions which have seen them become high-valued assets. They have helped customers shift to remote working, essentially overnight, and have added value with the aid of business resilience solutions like remote monitoring and management (RMM), VoIP, and more.

What can a managed IT service do for your business?

The traditional break/fix model evolved into managed services, the former being something where businesses would hire a third party specialist to upgrade, repair or install systems on an ad hoc basis. On the other hand, a managed service model is more focused on a subscription-based model, where companies usually agree to pay a specific amount every month in exchange for ongoing system management.

What that management entails can vary considerably depending on your needs and the provider's skill set. Most MSPs are able to offer a basic package of daily support, as well as more sophisticated deals that include disaster recovery.

Managed services are an excellent option for those businesses that want to scale but don't have the resources available to support the necessary infrastructure, or simply want to focus their attention on changing business strategy rather than fighting fires in their systems.

Service level agreements (SLAs) are important when outsourcing services, as this states the expectations for the minimum level of service the customer should receive

Managed IT services can cover a range of business functions, from network, application, system, payroll, server, and backup/recovery solutions to workstation and printer management (commonly referred to as managed print services, or MPS).

An MSP can also be hugely beneficial for staff when it comes to new hardware. For instance, remote workers who require new equipment – think keyboards, a monitor or printer supplies – can order this themselves, while still giving IT and purchasing departments visibility and control over supplies. This makes the IT management process more streamlined, and if this new equipment is purchased via a corporate price list so then accounting won’t need to worry about running it through expenses.

One common example of managed IT services at present is cloud services, where SMBs lacking expertise and resources can use a managed service provider (MSP) who may provide in-house cloud services or act as brokers with cloud services providers.

Another growing area in managed IT services is security. With the ever-growing risk of a malicious attack, some companies find it more efficient to outsource their security to a specialist managed security service provider (MSSP) who will handle the day-to-day security workload as well as patch management, backup, and responses to any breaches.

The specific advantages and disadvantages of managed IT services depend in part on the type of service, but there are some more general factors which may influence a business' choice to outsource a function to an MSP.

Advantages of managed IT services

  • Expertise: For smaller businesses in particular, being able to outsource knowledge and expertise can be an enormous help, as well as having experienced technical support available
  • Predictable costs: Rather than incurring large expenses for an IT issue, businesses can instead account for potential problems within a predictable monthly fee
  • Maintenance and upgrades: Organisations no longer have to worry whether software is up-to-date, as all this is taken care of by the provider. They can also get access to newer technologies which they may not have been able to afford by themselves
  • Time savings: Outsourcing management of services like security and cloud reduces the amount of time that in-house departments have to spend on it.

Disadvantages of managed IT services

  • Control: If there's an outage or an incident, there's little a business reliant on managed services can do. Theoretically, a good MSP will be able to address issues much more quickly than an internal IT team, but it can be frustrating to not have visibility of serious problems and progress in dealing with them in-house.
  • Flexibility: In general, managed IT service providers will have a standard offering which is available to all their clients. They may be able to modify this, but it will usually be less flexible than having a solution that is customised to business needs.
  • Reliability: Should anything happen to the service provider, customers could be left trying to find alternative solutions in a short space of time.

Whether businesses decide a managed IT services provider is the right route for them, it's not a market that is going away any time soon. In fact, it's the market is expected to be worth approximately $350 billion by 2026, according to a new report from Global Market Insight. The report added that the large enterprise segment accounted for the highest MSP market share in 2019. The COVID-19 crisis pushed many organisations into adopting managed services and boost market growth.

As the number of offerings and the capability of existing offerings grows, there is no doubt that we will see companies of all sizes making use of managed IT services for varying parts of their business.

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