August 4, 2015 by Tris Hussey

Spotlight on Managed Services at Microserve

Spotlight on Managed Services at Microserve

Proactive planning and processes for problem free IT

Managed services is one of those offerings that lots of companies say they do, but just what are managed services anyway? I sat down with our professional services team lead Nigel Brown to talk about what Managed Services really means and why Microserve would like to change how people think about IT outsourcing in the first place.

What does Managed Services mean to you?

If we go back as far as 10 or 15 years ago, Managed (IT) Services strictly meant IT Outsourcing. So a company comes in and replaces all the existing IT people with people from a new company. This tended to ruffle feathers with people in IT. Managed services meant people losing their jobs. It wasn't a good thing. Today we find the larger the company the more they want to keep their dedicated IT people for internal projects and bring in help to manage things like help desk, maintaining machines, and keeping the "IT you can see" running. Smaller companies usually don't have full time IT people and they often want us to come in and manage everything from the computers you see to the servers and network components you don't.

In the past Managed Services also meant being more reactive with a client. "Oh this is broken, fix it right away," or "We just brought on 20 new people, now we need computers for them..." Today we like to take a proactive approach so the "yikes, fix it now" stuff is rare and we have plans for a wave of new hires coming in or changes to servers or just changes period.

It's nearly impossible to have a stable technology environment if nothing is planned or projected into the future. For clients who are ready to embrace it, we like to solve problems before they are problems (or before people notice). You can't do that if you don't invest in the people and technologies to make it happen.

There are lots of terms people throw around for these services: Managed Services, IT Outsourcing, Managed desktop, Help Desk services, which term(s) resonate with you most?

I still like Managed Services the best. There isn't (yet) a really good term for what we do, but Managed Services is good enough. Talking about Managed Services and most executives and IT leaders know what that means. Using Managed Services as a term is no better or worse than using "the cloud" to talk about servers on the Internet.

Is managed services an all or nothing kind of service or are there different levels people can sign up for?

We like to offer customers a range of services from proactive desktop monitoring and patching, to being their entire IT department. There are lots of steps on the way. Larger companies often outsource just the day to day help desk tasks that bog down their more highly skilled IT people. For smaller companies, we can play a much larger role for them. Even beyond helping manage their IT systems, we learn about how their business works and runs. Understanding a business is essential for us to help plan their IT needs for them.

What is the biggest challenge businesses face with their IT systems today?

Often the problem is that an IT buzzword comes around and people think that they need to "embrace the cloud" or "fully support BYOD" without really having the whole picture. The media both over simplifies and confuses IT terms and issues. IT and technology has gotten pretty complex, even for those of us who live and breathe IT day in and day out. We find people come to us and say "we need this now..." and our job is to take that "need" and turn it into business and technical requirements that will reach the goal. Sometimes what people think they need because they've heard other people talk about isn't something that they do need (or sometimes even want).

Let’s talk BYOD. While maybe not usually part of managed services, how is BYOD changing the IT landscape?

BYOD can be problematic. It's a great goal to let people use the devices that they want use, but what does that really mean in terms of support? No IT or help desk department can fully support all the different makes and models of laptop, smartphone, or computer. If one person has a Lenovo laptop and the rest of the company has HP, that person using the Lenovo might be getting to use the computer they want, but they might not get the full support they need. If something breaks, the help desk won't have a replacement handy, parts, or even the experience to fix an issue. A set of new software updates that work on an HP laptop might crash a different laptop brand. There's no real way to know.

Essentially BYOD often comes down to people having to support themselves more often than not. That can make for a very fragmented and chaotic workplace where people aren't really sure what's going to work for a team. While web-based and SaaS tools can help reduce the dependence on the user’s device, simple day-to-day stuff like printing, connecting to networks, or using other software gets a lot more complicated when it's a mixed playing field.

The Virtual CIO is a new topic popping up in managed services. What does a vCIO mean to you?

The vCIO is another term that's been tossed around a lot. For a lot of Managed Service providers it really means an account exec or sales rep whose real goal is to get you to buy more products and services. For us the role of a vCIO boils down to being a company's IT consultant. When I go into a quarterly review, the first thing I want to do is hear what the business plans for the next quarter and rest of the year will be. Then we can talk about how those plans do (or don't) impact IT. Then I go over real data from the past quarter. I work like a real CIO would. My goal is to make sure that the IT systems in place can support their business goals. This is a proactive and consultative approach, not a selling approach. Just the process of working through how the IT systems are working can show how much a business depends on them. These quarterly meetings are also where we can plan for new projects and plan when and how to complete them.

A good CIO will help a business thrive. In our model, you still have a CIO, we're just not directly part of the company.

When and how should companies start thinking about outsourcing some or all of their IT?

The when question is pretty easy: as soon as you see IT tasks eating into people getting their core jobs done. When the highly paid programmer who is developing a new in-house system can't get anything done because she's always setting up printers and resetting passwords, you have a problem. When a sales person loses a deal because his presentation is lost when his laptop dies, you have a problem. If you're not in IT, letting someone else manage your IT for you lets you take care of (and grow) your business better.

For picking a Managed Services provider, you need to ask pointed questions about their policies, procedures, and systems. If the help desk doesn't have a ticketing system to make sure the most important problems are solved first...that's a red flag. If there aren't processes and procedures for change management or 24/7 monitoring of critical machines, that's a problem. Essentially if they look like they are flying by the seat of their pants or are a two-person operation, then how can they help you plan for the future. A good MSP has processes and plans in place and the ability to really leverage the skills and scale they have in house. Chaos is the kiss of death in IT. You can't manage in chaos, you have to have controls and systems in place so everyone knows what needs to be done next.

What’s special about Microserve? What do we bring to the table for customers?

It comes down to our basic approach: proactive planning, best practices, and bringing the right parts of enterprise IT rigour to smaller businesses. Everyone says they offer access to top vendors and have great people. Those are givens in our business. What many people don't do is create the plans and processes in place for IT initiatives that have real business goals and tangible value. We feel like the best IT is when you don't know it's there. Problems are managed and business tools are improved so seamlessly that no one notices. We'd like to be have systems in place so users never have to worry about machines not working because we've been proactively fixing and updating them in the background all along.

Microserve want to be just another arm of your business just as committed as you are to your business' success as you are.

Find out more about Managed Services at Microserve or contact us to learn how we can help you manage your IT resources to the fullest.

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