Technology is the lifeblood of modern business.
No matter the industry or company size, technology touches every aspect of business today, from marketing and sales to operations and manufacturing and finance and accounting. Technology is also the source of differentiation and competitive advantage for organizations that embrace it.
But how should growing companies manage technology? Organizations have many choices, from doing it yourself and building your own internal IT team, to outsourcing to outside experts, consultants, and services providers.
Managed services are a great option for companies that understand the importance of information technology but are perhaps too small for their own IT manager or department. But what are IT managed services and how do managed services work?
In this blog, we will supply a managed IT services definition, along with the ten most common elements in a managed services relationship.
1. Network Deployment and Management
Networks are foundational to a company’s technology infrastructure.
In a digital economy, where employees, customers, partners, and suppliers are connected 24×7, a company’s network is like its central nervous system. Managed service providers (MSPs) deliver clients secure and high-performance computer networks to connect offices, infrastructure, and employees to the Internet and the wide-area network.
MSPs typically serve as a single vendor for secure and reliable networking. It is rare that MSPs will build a client network from scratch. In most cases, when you hire an MSP, your organization will have some form of network in place.
The job of the MSP is to evaluate your current network and make strategic recommendations on how to upgrade and evolve your network over time.
Common network issues may include spotty or inconsistent performance, especially with Wi-Fi networks; capacity constraints or bottlenecks; older equipment using outmoded standards with slower data rates; or quality of service or security issues related to the network.
At NENS, we look after the switching, routing, Wi-Fi networking, and firewalls of our client networks.
We are usually responsible for networks in headquarters locations, remote offices, data centers, factories, laboratories, or warehouses, along with corporate systems on home-based networks of employees. We also provide secure remote access to the corporate network and applications for on-the-go professionals with laptops.
At NENS, we recommend Cisco Meraki networking equipment. Meraki supports the switching, routing, Wi-Fi, and firewall needs of our clients, whether big or small. Meraki stands out for the richness of its security features and ability to globally monitor and manage the network infrastructure.
Meraki also scales all the way down to the employee home and teleworker offices, which is vital in a work-from-anywhere world.
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2. Computer and Server Deployment and Management
Managed services nearly always include the proactive management of the client’s desktops, laptops, and servers.
From procurement to configuration and deployment, and ongoing management, an MSPs top priority is to make sure the client’s computing infrastructure is operating at peak performance.
Mature MSPs add value by helping clients standardize the right equipment for the job and proactively managing the equipment throughout its life cycle.
Companies face a range of challenges on the hardware front, from navigating supply chain disruptions to the vast array of computer types and technology choices.
Moreover, managing the life cycle of a company’s computing infrastructure requires careful planning, budgeting, and upgrade cycles to ensure high performance and maximum employee productivity.
MSPs are experts in the core technologies from the semiconductor providers like Intel and AMD, along with the OEMs such as HP and HPEnterprise, Dell, and Lenovo.
3. Remote Monitoring and Management
After computers and servers are deployed, they cannot be left to atrophy; they need constant remote monitoring and management.
MSPs help clients by proactively monitoring and maintaining the client’s computing and network infrastructure. In today’s complex operating environment, organizations are more distributed than ever.
Servers may be on-premises at the client HQ, data center, or hosted in various cloud environments, such as private clouds or public clouds such as Microsoft Azure or AWS. Employees and small office locations may be spread across town or across the globe.
MSPs leverage remote monitoring and management (RMM) technology to keep track of computing and network infrastructure wherever it may be. Since operating systems are continuously evolving, MSPs take the lead in patching and maintaining servers, workstations, and laptops.
A key part of cybersecurity management and operational resiliency is proactively patching and maintaining computing and network infrastructure.
4. Help Desk and Technical Support
MSPs provide vital front-line assistance to employees. In nearly every MSP engagement, the client and their employees receive help desk and technical support.
MSPs excel at delivering technical support that is easily accessible and staffed with experts who are trained to quickly resolve technical problems, ideally on the first call. MSPs employ sophisticated ticketing systems, which enable client staff to open tickets via phone, email, or via a support portal.
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Staying organized with tickets and support incidents is essential, especially for complex matters that may require emails and ongoing interactions.
MSPs also have remote control tools that enable technicians to remotely access employee machines to repair or reconfigure hardware and software.
For organizations with around-the-clock needs, after-hours support is also commonly offered.
5. Cloud Services
Today, cloud services are another key area where MSPs provide IT strategy, consulting, configuration, and support.
The cloud is the main delivery method for a wide range of traditional business applications, including email and calendar, file sharing and collaboration, chat and video-based collaboration.
Applications such as Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace are complete platforms for business and office communication and collaboration, yet they still require expert configuration, management, and ongoing support from MSP staff.
While the cloud improves the scalability and resiliency of corporate applications, these workplace platforms still require expert configuration and security management.
6. Identity and Access Management
Now more than ever, companies are highly distributed, with offices and employees spread throughout the globe.
MSPs help companies by implementing advanced identity and access management solutions that ensure that only the right people get access to the right corporate resources, applications, and data. In a borderless world, managing the identity of employees and their access is central to cybersecurity management.
At NENS, we help our clients by implementing single sign-on ( SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA), to combat the problem of password reuse and prevent security breaches due to stolen credentials.
MFA forces the use of something the employee knows (like a password) and something they have (like a one-time passcode generated from a registered mobile device) to authenticate to corporate systems and applications.
7. Mobile Device Management
Mobile technology is now ubiquitous in the workplace.
For most organizations, employees use a bring your own device (BYOD) smartphone that is owned by the employee but will likely be used to access many different forms of corporate data and information.
Common workplace applications on employee-owned smartphones may include corporate email and calendar, file sharing applications such as OneDrive, SharePoint, or Dropbox, and CRM applications such as Salesforce or Hubspot.
At the most basic level, MDM can allow the remote wipe of a mobile device or select applications if the device is lost or stolen. Other organizations may leverage the technology even further to lock down certain applications and data or monitor employee use of the device.
Cybersecurity is a core element in most managed services offerings.
At the outset of any MSP relationship, it is important for the client to undergo a cybersecurity risk assessment. This sort of assessment will benchmark the company against a cybersecurity standard, such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, and document serious security deficiencies or risks.
This assessment enables the MSP to remedy the highest risk or obvious items first while documenting a remediation roadmap that can be addressed over time.
At this stage of the relationship, the MSP adds value with additional consulting and advice on cybersecurity technology measures, in addition to recommended changes in policies and procedures.
After an assessment, most organizations find areas that need to be strengthened to improve their information security and acceptable use policies.
Beyond assessments, consulting, and policy advice, mature MSPs will usually have a set of standard and advanced cybersecurity technologies that are deployed to the client in a layered fashion.
An entire array of technology, software, and services are usually deployed to give the client the right level of protection. Basics include endpoint protection, email security, managed firewall, MFA, and cybersecurity awareness training and education.
More advanced capabilities will include enterprise SSO, managed detection and response (MDR), security information and event management (SIEM), and managed security operations center (SOC) capabilities.
9. Backup and Disaster Recovery
The last line of defense against cybersecurity threats is a comprehensive backup and disaster recovery (BDR) strategy.
MSPs are experts in BDR and help companies deploy software, hardware, and cloud services to protect an organization’s data and to ensure uptime in the face of cybersecurity incidents or other disasters, such as hardware failures, theft, fire, floods, or other natural disasters.
Backup and disaster recovery should fit into a company’s overall business continuity plan. MSPs will leverage various software systems to a backup server and workstation data and system images, store them locally on redundant mediums, and back them up to the cloud as well.
MSPs work to provide clients with fast and on-site recovery options for data or full systems, along with the ability to recover data and systems in the cloud when worst-case disasters strike.
Lastly, SaaS and cloud-based data and systems also need the same level of backup and protection provided to on-premises systems.
What are Managed Services? Finding the Right One for You
This blog has explored the common elements of most managed services relationships. At the end of the day, each client’s needs are unique.
The team at NENS welcomes prospective clients to engage with us to explore your company’s unique technology needs and how we can serve you with a customized managed service offering.