The truth behind managed services
It’s time to separate the fact from the fiction
Managed service providers (MSPs) have received an unfair deal over the years. Despite being a mainstay of the IT landscape for decades, many practitioners still look down their noses at MSPs and the companies that use them, often viewing them as poor relations to the in-house IT department.
This is partly caused by a number of incorrect and damaging myths, such as the idea that MSPs are solely suited to managing in-house IT equipment and on-premise infrastructure deployments, or that they're not suited to cloud-based IT models.
In fact, this could not be further from the truth. The modern MSP can actually support companies of any size in deploying personalised, enterprise-grade cloud strategies - and at a rate that actually offers greater value than maintaining your own IT department.
"Sometimes organisations can perceive cloud MSPs in a similar way to the more traditional approach," says CDW's head of cloud services Joel Berwitz. "However, the ability of MSPs to share their experiences with other customers, advise on best practice and ensure that investments are made correctly will make an organisation's cloud transformation gather pace. This, alongside the scale that MSPs can bring to the more traditional values of maintenance and monitoring, is a way of mitigating risk and saving time."
Far from being a sub-standard compromise for companies without the budget or skills to fuel an in-house IT department, partnering with an MSP can actually be the perfect solution for businesses who want to kick-start their digital transformation into a modern, cloud-driven organisation. MSPs such as CDW can offer these companies not just a wide-ranging level of strategic expertise and world-class support, but also battle-tested experience.
Major companies such as Atos, Hovis, and the Estee Lauder group have all partnered with CDW to provide various elements of their IT, and with good reason. MSPs can offer far more than simple commodity procurement or IT support services. Indeed, the best MSPs act as end-to-end partners, taking companies from the planning phase through to successful deployment, and supporting them on an ongoing basis. This is especially true of cloud migrations, where MSPs can help their customers cut through the complexity to help organisations meet their business goals.
Bridging the skills gap
Contrary to the idea that they're jacks-of-all-trades, one of the biggest advantages to partnering with an MSP is a deep level of expertise. Thanks to a widening skills gap within the UK technology industry, hiring talented, qualified IT staff can be a struggle for some companies, and tight budgets can prevent them from hiring specialists in every area they need.
Partnering with a managed services provider can solve all of these problems and more. That's because MSPs have a large number of people to hand with a range of skills and certifications, allowing businesses to draw on a wide pool of talented IT specialists. It also means they can make use of specific skills like cloud architecture as and when they need them, rather than hiring a member of staff who may end up being under-utilised for most of the time.
Strategic expertise is also one of the key benefits of engaging with an MSP. Having an MSP involved at the planning stage of a cloud rollout can be invaluable; because it is intimately familiar with the cloud industry's full range of tools and services, and can draw on that knowledge to craft a unique package tailored to your specific business challenges.
"Change is a constant, certainly with public cloud providers, and therefore the ability to keep up to date with the advancements in the services available is difficult for any organisation," says Berwitz. "MSPs who are close to their customers have the ability to advise on only the changes which are relevant to their organisation and therefore save time and increase efficiency in each case."
Another misconception about MSPs is that moving to managed cloud services means outsourcing your whole IT organisation and getting rid of all its existing staff. Again, this is most certainly not the case. While MSPs can offer a full-service package to do the job of an internal IT department, they can also provide a huge advantage to businesses by working in unison with a company's existing tech teams.
With an MSP taking care of essential, everyday tasks like printer maintenance, network monitoring, and cyber security internal IT staff are freed up to focus on projects that can deliver additional value to the business - such as upgrade programmes, cloud deployments and training courses.
"Organisations nowadays have somewhat expensive resources that are best utilised in building the services and applications in the cloud which are key to differentiating their organisation and adding value," Berwitz explains.
"MSPs can help where there is a skills gap internally or to take care of the more mundane maintenance tasks, alongside ensuring that optimisation and cost management/forecasting is under control."
The true value of partnership
One of the biggest - and least accurate - myths is that partnering with an MSP is more costly than using an in-house IT model, but this assumption can be safely put to bed. Indeed, partnering with an MSP is generally more cost-effective. As previously discussed, companies that work with MSPs don't have to spend vast sums recruiting technical specialists, nor do they need to invest in training existing IT staff to use new technologies.
MSPs can also scale up at no cost to the end-user company, while in-house IT cannot. Companies that make use of an all-you-can-eat service package are free to expand their business at whatever pace they see fit, without the worry of overstretching their IT resources or having to invest in more support capacity.
This is also true of cloud services; many MSPs will offer the option of rolling cloud-based services like backup, infrastructure or SaaS apps into a customer's monthly subscription, which means that (within reason) the customer doesn't have to sweat about incurring extra costs as they scale.
The savings from all of these cost reductions - recruitment, equipment, subscriptions, et cetera - mean the IT department will have a lot more room in their budget, which smart managers will invest in expansion of the business and its IT capabilities - whether that's hiring more in-house team members, upgrading existing equipment or adding new capabilities with the help of their MSP partner.
"CDW has an established cloud practice, having been through hundreds of cloud migrations," Berwitz says. "This experience has helped us to mitigate risk for our customers, ensuring that their cloud transformation is timely and, regardless of the business drivers and reasons for migrations, the organisation has a successful outcome."
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