Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Misconceptions of Managed IT Services

Small businesses running on shoestring budgets often consider IT services as overhead.  While most rely upon Internet access, Wi-Fi, and shared access to data, they don’t view these services as part of their core business. Having any or all of these fail for an extended period of time could easily drive a small company out of business, yet many shy away from options such as managed services that might add stability and often reduce cost.

Instead, most still follow the antiquated "break / fix" model of IT management, where an IT consultant who was originally called in to set up a system gets called back in to fix things whenever there's a problem.  In most cases, the hesitation to engage for the long haul has to do with misconceptions about the managed services model.  A managed service provider keeps a continuous watch over a network infrastructure to ensure it is always operating smoothly and securely in return for a monthly fee.

Clarifying these misconceptions can help customers overcome misplaced concerns, and create new “win-win” scenarios for consultants and clients alike.

Misconception #1: Managed Services are More Expensive 

In truth, managed services tend to actually be less expensive over time. Clearly, there’s value in being able to plan a predictable and affordable monthly monitoring charge but that won’t be often convince clients to take the plunge. More compelling is the idea that managed service providers can catch most problems while they are still emergent, when they generally can be resolved more quickly and easily.  This produces major savings, and any client that’s suffered a debilitating outage can easily grasp that value.

Contrast this approach to the case where an IT consultant is brought in to fix a problem only after a crisis occurs, or a small problem festers over time and ultimately grows out of control.  The IT consultant can rack up many, many hours to fix a big problem and present a correspondingly large bill for services.  Such emergencies are unpredictable, and can lead to an accusatory and adversarial relationship between you and your IT consultant.

Misconception #2:  “If it Ain't Broke…” 

Most of us have learned at some point that it costs less to keep up with our every-3000-mile oil changes than to wait for the “check engine” light to come on. The same is true for the network infrastructure.

Network equipment vendors constantly release bug fixes and security updates that should be installed and tested. And the cybersecurity landscape never stops changing.  Small businesses may mistakenly feel they’re too small to be targeted, only to find themselves turned into an automated “bot” unwittingly doing the bidding of complex sinister cybercriminals or even have their hard drives encrypted and held for ransom.    

Again, this is an easily demonstrated value-add of subscribing to managed services and having a seasoned IT professional proactively managing the network.

Misconception #3:  I Don't Have to Worry about Downtime, Because All My Data is "in the Cloud" 

The proliferation of cloud services has made it much easier for small businesses to take advantage of state-of-the-art networking technology without having to invest heavily in owning servers and services.  However, relying on cloud services presents its own set of challenges:

  1. A company likely needs more one than one cloud service. Maybe they use email for sending documents to employees outside the office, and Dropbox for sending documents to third parties.  These are disparate services that, like their onsite hardware counterparts, may not work together seamlessly or securely.
  2. The cloud model doesn’t always scale cost-effectively for small businesses because, in reality, there is no one cloud.  For each service, data is stored on a server accessible over the public Internet vs. your private network.  Subscribing to multiple cloud services from multiple vendors may not deliver the same economies of scale as services using one managed service provider and having single point of contact when something goes wrong.
  3. Nobody ever really tests the backups until something goes awry, and suddenly data recovery is needed to keep the business running.  That is not the time you want to discover that something was misconfigured, or that the service doesn’t work the way you thought it would.  
Small businesses need to understand the fact that each disparate provider adds a layer of risk.  Most cloud services, even popular ones, are only small businesses themselves.  What happens to your data if their service gets hacked or the company suddenly goes out of business?  

Misconception #4:  My IT Guy Can Be Here in Ten Minutes 

Here, the misconception is that you can either have a trusted local IT guy, or contract with a local managed service provider but not both at the same time.  In reality, more and more IT consultants are transitioning to become managed service providers that enjoy higher growth and recurring revenues for monitoring and troubleshooting customers remotely.

This trend is being enabled in part by multiple evolving technologies, including the cloud.  One platform from start-up Uplevel Systems is designed from the ground up for IT consultants serving small businesses. The Uplevel model brings together the key elements of small business IT – access, Wi-Fi, security, storage, and management—on one remotely managed platform.  Customers enjoy better-than-consumer-grade features, functionality, and security at a predictable and affordable cost, with the added benefit of their local consultant’s watchful eye.

Using one integrated infrastructure follows industry best practices, simplifying configuration, maintenance, and troubleshooting, and reducing security risks.  Data is still shared and saved to the cloud, but now it’s the trusted IT professional evaluating data and making decisions on the company’s behalf.

Managed services optimized for small businesses offer a win-win by aligning the business goals of IT consultants with the unique needs of the clients they serve.  No more “bundling up” a bunch of IT issues until they become large enough to warrant the cost of a visit by the “IT guy.”   For the IT consultant, managed services mean more predictable revenue streams, faster growth, and opportunity to engage customers at a more strategic level. 

Done right, managed services help both parties avert the major problems that can shut down a small business and create emergencies that ultimately benefit no one. The hurdle to adoption – the misconceptions stated above – can be easily overcome with basic ROI models and a “try it you’ll like it” approach.

Wi-Fi, my frequent focus, is a great place to start.

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