Why there are different definitions for Managed services
What does it mean to receive managed IT services? What is expected of a managed services provider (MSP) when they are contracted to manage the IT operations of an organization?
The definition of a “Managed Service” often depends on who you ask: the provider or the requester
How MSPs and Customers Perceive Managed Services
To the customer, contracting a vendor for managed services means the provider will set up and configure the items in accordance with best practices, ensure ongoing patching and monitoring, protect the equipment and the applications from breaches from a security standpoint, fine-tune the settings for performance and be prepared to change the settings to meet business needs or heightened threats. The MSP should resolve connectivity or functionality issues, after having identified it through their own efforts or logs, without the customer needing to report it. The provider will also keep the hardware in perfect running condition, adhering to the agreed service level agreement (SLA). The MSP will also be bound to provide reporting showing adherence to or breaches of the SLA. The MSP should also shield the customer from vendors and service providers who may be required to supply products or services. Over and above these mundane tasks, the MSP should also provide strategic directions to the company vis-à-vis their IT growth. Most importantly, every customer fears the loss of control of over his information and expects the MSP to show evidence that he can be trusted.
One cannot dispute that these are valid assumptions of what a “managed service” is. But, in reality things do not always go as per their perception
In the MSP’s mind, a managed services contract implies that they are going to take over management of the customer’s specified inventory of hardware and solutions. Invariably, an MSP assumes that the initial setup has already been completed by the customer before the onboarding. In the event new installations are required, that is the responsibility of the customer, the MSP presumes. At best, the MSP will insist, a change order involving additional fee will need to be executed for the initial deployment and configuration of those new items.
Similarly, terms like “Best practices” remain ambiguous. An MSP believes he just needs to make configuration changes in accordance with recommended vendor configuration settings. The MSP will create a RACI matrix and also an escalation plan which will be drawn up depending on triage specified by the tickets opened by customer staff. The resolution of incidents will be executed accordingly. As for physical repair\replacement, a typical MSP checks if the customer’s equipment is under warranty. An MSP assumes that he will need to work with the associated vendor to facilitate repair or replacement. As for safeguarding the information assets of the customer, an MSP assumes NDAs will safeguard the customer’s data and information.
It is clear from the above that the customer’s goal-based objectives are different from the outlook of the MSP.
How to Reconcile the Two Perceptions
One would think that a contractual document will resolve the issues? However, experience, and the numerous court-cases, only prove that the interpretation of many terms of the contract can be different, reflecting different mindsets.
Understanding Each Other’s Perspective is the First Step
Understanding each other’s perspective and building a partnership is the first step. The customer must understand they are essentially purchasing a maintenance service, and the MSP must provide a smooth path for the customer to meet their goals.
The second step is obviously to enter into written agreements which must validate each other’s mindsets. The customer must insist on terms that validate their goal-oriented mindset, and the MSP must specify clauses that compensate him for scope creep.
Even when the MSP will execute out of scope tasks to help a customer meet an objective, it should be communicated. Similarly, when the customer feels his goals are not being met, he must call the leadership of the MSP and explain his concerns.
MSPs should win the trust of the customer by gradually growing the scope of the project.
As long as there are humans in both sides of the negotiation table, there will be confrontation. However, realistic metrics and timely monitoring of service level agreements can allay many misgivings which are the product of differences in perception.