5 key characteristics to look for when selecting a managed service provider

Managed service providers are assuming a vital role in all aspects of business operations. As cloud-based technologies and applications evolve, businesses are eager to leverage virtual technologies to drive growth.

Organisations have developed new business models, services and products built around cloud technology, and are differentiating themselves by leveraging the operational intelligence extracted from the massive volume of data generated, stored and analysed through cloud technology.

Read more: What is a next-gen managed service provider, and how can you choose one?

Effective business leaders recognise that while they need to leverage virtual technologies to remain competitive, they are not in the business of managing applications, maintaining a virtual infrastructure or running a data centre. Those who most effectively leverage cloud and virtual technology often do so by partnering with a managed service provider whose core competency and expertise is architecting, maintaining and evolving their customers' applications to help them achieve their business goals.

Selecting an effective managed service provider is a critical business decision that can determine whether an organisation succeeds or fails. Businesses must ensure their managed service partner is equipped to navigate the sophisticated and rigorous regulatory and PCI compliance issues involved in working with financial, health, or personal customer data. With every headline of a breach, security is becoming a bigger challenge.

Due to the sophistication required to run a secure, compliant and highly functional infrastructure, businesses must systematically evaluate and vet their managed service provider to select a partner that best meets their needs. Below are five key characteristics to consider when selecting a managed service provider.

One: Comprehensive technology

It may sound obvious, but the most essential characteristic for a managed service provider is the ability to offer a comprehensive suite of technology solutions. Businesses should ensure the service provider they select has a broad set of solutions available to meet not only current needs, but to scale and grow as the business leverages cloud and virtual technology to develop new products and services.

A fully equipped managed service provider offers support for virtual infrastructures, storage, colocation, end user computing, application management capabilities and more. They can manage a service level agreement (SLA) starting at the application layer all the way up the technology stack. Since a business' applications may operate on a single, uniform platform or multiple systems, it is key that a provider is able to accommodate a range of applications and systems in their managed support.

Two: Customisability and best practices

A second consideration when selecting a managed service provider is whether the partner is able to architect and maintain a customised solution based on best practices designed to meet a business' unique goals and technology needs. Customisation begins at the design phase, and businesses should look for a service provider with the expertise to modify each architecture based on individual business goals.

A provider's best practices should ensure seamless migration for customers by taking an existing physical machine infrastructure and virtualising it. An effective service provider will have well-established onboarding capabilities that involve comprehensive support. To execute this transition effectively, a high quality managed service provider will have tool kits and implemented managed capabilities to ensure a seamless migration.

Three: Customer-centric orientation and mindset

Businesses should select a managed service provider with a clear, customer-oriented mindset. A service provider partnership is a high-touch experience and the relationship should be led by a dedicated account manager who serves as the single point of contact and escalation for the customer. This support should be readily available and should result in swift attention and escalation to other service channels, if necessary.

In terms of breadth of technology expertise, businesses will want to select a service provider with fast, responsive and effective trouble shooting capabilities. The most effective managed service providers will be available to address problems around the clock and be swift to implement a fix and then solve the underlying issue.

An additional component to effective customisation is the right ecosystem of partners. Although it is crucial for a service provider to offer comprehensive solutions, it is also important for a service provider to partner with other providers to offer increased products and services to its customers. This robust framework of partner relationships must be governed by best practices to ensure the partners are operating as a cohesive entity and the right people are in place to provide the right service to execute the custom solution needed by each business.

Four: Security implemented through a robust infrastructure and operational fabric

An effective managed service provider must have a sound, tested infrastructure and operational fabric that operates across geographies. If the service team and technology infrastructure operate in a single area, they become susceptible to natural disasters and service interruptions, jeopardizing their ability to ensure continuity and provide an uninterrupted level of service.

A business should have the flexibility to architect and design its infrastructure with security and disaster recovery elements across data centres and geographies.

To achieve a robust infrastructure, a service provider must embed security into every aspect of their operations, implementing proactive intrusion detection and having dedicated competency to maximize security. The team should continuously monitor threats and ensure the macro security infrastructure is being optimised both physically and virtually and that each system is designed with redundancy at every level.

A managed service provider with a comprehensive portfolio of solutions can address concerns around security and compliance. These capabilities are of particular importance for customers working in regulated environments such as healthcare and financial services. Different customers run different levels of alerts and threats at varying intervals, so it's critical for a provider to adapt to the needs of these specific customers.

Five: The right sized provider delivers valuable personalisation

Finally, it is important for businesses to select a managed service provider with whom they connect and can work with effectively. A key characteristic for selecting a service provider that will work over the long term is to identify a provider of the right scale.

Read more: How to choose a managed services provider you can trust

While breadth of service is important, if a small business were to select one of the largest service providers, it is possible that business would not receive a high level of customer-centric, flexible and customized support. Conversely, if a business selects too small a service provider, its provider may not have the scale and expertise to offer the necessary support.

Managed service providers should ensure their customers receive personalized attention. Having direct access to a senior member of the managed service provider's management team through a direct email or cell phone can be a good measure of the degree of personalised attention a customer is likely to receive.

Conclusion

In today's environment of increasing business complexity, it is critical that businesses select a service provider with a comprehensive suite of technologies that can be customised to securely meet their individual needs.

When business and IT leaders take the time to vet and select a service provider of an appropriate scale that operates according to the highest levels of security, they can leverage powerful cloud technology and managed services to optimize costs. Managed services allow businesses to effectively focus on their core competencies while deploying powerful cloud technology to drive business growth.

Sumeet Sabharwal is the general manager for NaviSite, a Time Warner Cable company. He is responsible for managing the overall performance of the NaviSite business and directing its long-term evolution as well as managing NaviSite's international operations across UK and India.