I remember not too long ago, walking into a florist to purchase flowers for the special occasions of my loved ones. This was probably a quarterly routine and wholly dependent on my ability to actually remember these special occasions…a feat in and of itself. Now, we have the luxury of online florists that allow us to enter special occasions into a calendar and they remind you to send the flowers, chocolates, fruit, etc. Relationship maintenance automated (don't tell my wife)! Does this make me lazy? Nope. I am simply leveraging an industry improvement, which frees up my brainpower for other things, typically for professional strategy and/or how to entertain three kids under the age of 7.
So, how does this relate to IT support and consulting? Legacy methods of IT support required that a technical consultant/engineer go onsite and sit in front of a server or workstation to perform reactive or preventive maintenance. That's how I started my career, and was really the only option available to service providers until remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools were developed.
RMM tools provided the platform for service providers to evolve from the onsite time and materials engagement model (i.e., pay by the hour) to the managed services provider (MSP) support model which relies heavily on RMM tools to perform the preventive maintenance and is typically a fixed-price engagement. The reactive work is done by a service desk, which often alerts the customer to an issue rather than waiting for a customer to contact the service provider.
Dataprise has embraced this new model for about 5 years after providing the legacy model for over 15 years. We've noticed many benefits associated with the MSP model, both for the customer and for Dataprise. Below are a few that have stood out the most.
- Valuable Conversations
Much like my florist example, the face-to-face interactions have shifted from maintenance and repair to more strategy and digital business transformation. Instead of your staff preparing a list of items to fix for the next site visit, your executive staff can work with the service provider’s strategic consultants to outline company initiatives which will outperform competitors and industry disrupters. The speed of disruption across all industries over the next five years is going to require every business to digitally transform, and find ways to better deliver products and solutions to their own clients. These are the conversations you should be having with your service provider, not if you should add more RAM to your workstation.
- Fixed Fee Model
What makes the managed services model so attractive to customers is that it's provided as a fixed price engagement. This means the onus is on the service provider to ensure the technical environment is performing optimally within the expected budget, as opposed to the time and materials (hourly) model, in which the risk is on the customer. For example: when events like ransomware and hardware failures strike, the customer typically pays additional hourly rates to resolve the issues; however, in the MSP model, the service provider is incented to make sure these events don't occur. In the case of Dataprise, we proactively train, alert, and introduce advanced endpoint protection to prevent reactive scenarios. If the customer is not experiencing unexpected technical issues, they are happy; and if the service provider is not utilizing resources to remediate unexpected technical issues, the relationship is profitable.
As mentioned earlier, the RMM tools enable a level of automation that almost eliminates the need for a resource to be physically present at the customer's site(s). The better RMM tools enable service providers to monitor and alert system health and utilization, patch operating systems and applications, manage anti-virus/anti-malware, and automate software deployments, amongst many others. The need for hands-on support is still relevant, but greatly reduced. In the MSP model from Dataprise, if we cannot resolve an item remotely, we escalate and dispatch a technician onsite at no additional charge to the customer.
- Inventory Management
Gone are the days of label makers and Excel spreadsheets to track inventory. Previously, a technician would go onsite, walk around the office, and add/remove items from an inventory list. Now, if the device can be reached digitally, a service provider can identify and report on it using a combination of digital tools, which greatly simplifies software license tracking, warranty renewals, asset allocation, and hardware lifecycle management. In turn, this simplifies the budgeting and auditing routines most business go through, especially if bound by industry and/or government regulations.
- Proactive Repair and Scripting
Is this benefit title a contradiction? Maybe, but let me explain. The best RMM tools are useless if you don't have a competent administrative team behind the wheel. Service providers should employ well-trained and experienced individuals who can create and maintain custom scripts or procedures that can be deployed either reactively or proactively to keep systems running without impact to the user. Historically, when there is an issue with a workstation, the user identifies it and calls a service desk to create a ticket for resolution. For example: if we take a specific and common instance like printing issues, many times when a print job fails, it is because of the print spooler service on a workstation or print server. With proactive repair, the RMM tool automatically detects the event, runs custom procedures/scripts to repair the item, and then restarts the print spooler service. The user may never notice an event occurred.
- Reduced Staff Management
Over the years, service providers were engaged to either supplement or replace a customer’s IT staff, which required someone to either manage the internal staff or the task list given to the onsite technician coming in to help. The managed services model embraces outsourcing, and negates the need for onsite support, as well as the management of those in-house staff (e.g., salary + benefits, paid time off, staff attrition/turnover). Now, the customer point of contact works with the service provider’s account management team to discuss the success of the engagement and accomplish items on a technical roadmap.
- Timelier Resolution
The legacy support model required that a technician come onsite for either a proactively scheduled or reactive visit, which was limited to staff availability and technical competency. Any requests for support outside of scheduled visit would either have to wait for the next scheduled visit or come with a price tag associated with a special visit or call. With the managed service model, the customer has unlimited access to a service desk and they don’t have to worry about being invoiced for additional hours thanks to the fixed-fee engagement. The customer also benefits from a deep pool of expertise staffed at a central location and not running around from site to site for prescheduled onsite visits.
These are just a few of the many benefits of the managed services support model, and I didn’t even touch on the benefits afforded the MSP’s staff that provided the onsite technical support. Having been a road warrior technical consultant for many years, I can personally attest to it taking a toll on your car, body, and family. Dataprise has developed a career pathing strategy for our staff that enables them to continue working with our company and remain dedicated to their customers, just in a different capacity and, most often, from the comfort of an office.
Upgrading to the new MSP model can be a big change, especially for those that have established a relationship with their onsite technicians. We have a saying at Dataprise that if we haven’t been invited to our client’s holiday party, we’re doing something wrong. That doesn’t change just because we are sending someone onsite less frequently.
If you haven’t investigated the MSP support model, I encourage you to do so. It is the future of technical support and allows you to worry less about technology and more on being the industry disruptor. Work smarter, not harder, and buy the flowers online.