What are managed IT services?

Posted:
11/29/2021
| By: Geoffrey Willison

Every company needs someone to manage IT for business to run smoothly. From computers and phones to networks and passwords, many moving parts keep small-medium businesses (SMBs) running and their data safe. But many SMBs don’t have the time, talent, or money to keep IT tasks in-house.  

That’s where IT managed services come in. 

Benefits of managed IT services

Through MSPs, SMBs can reap the benefits of receiving IT support at a significantly reduced cost compared to creating a comparable in-house team. Additionally, MSPs can offer a wealth of experience from actively managing multiple client accounts that in-house teams would not have. 

When contracting with an MSP, organizations can forecast their monthly, quarterly, and yearly expenditure on IT, freeing SMBs from having to focus on this area of operational readiness. This allows SMBs to focus on growing their businesses without worrying about day-to-day IT issues or requirements. 

Another benefit is a greater opportunity for cybersecurity expertise and successfully enacted cybersecurity policies. MSPs work with standards such as PCI compliance day in and day out, and they should be able to steer an organization within the parameters and regulations it needs to adhere to. For some organizations, especially in finance, healthcare, education, and other industries, this type of regulatory compliance is mandatory for the IT portion of their business and requires the expertise and experience that a managed service provider can offer.  

MSPs can mitigate risk in this way while assuring that the experts in charge of your IT operations are always up-to-date on the latest information, technologies, and processes that will keep your infrastructure working efficiently and successfully into the future. 

More definitions for managed IT services

AgentA small program used by MSPs to remotely gather information about the status of machines and devices. Once installed, it allows MSPs to manage systems, update programs, and resolve issues faster.  

Backup and disaster recovery (BDR)—A combination of data backup and disaster recovery solutions that works cohesively to ensure an organization's critical business functions will continue to operate despite serious incidents or disasters or will be recovered to an operational state within a reasonably short period. 

Break/fix —An older style for delivering IT services and repairs to organizations in a fee-for-service framework. Essentially, a client contacts a break/fix technician to request upgrades, maintenance, or resolve issues, and the technician bills the customer upon completion of the work. 

Fully managed IT services —Services coupled with a Network Operations Center to monitor systems proactively, resolve issues and perform work with a level of expertise and efficiency unparalleled to other solutions. 

Help desk—A service that provides information and technical support to end-users. Some MSPs white label their help desk services to create a smoother experience for clients. 

Information technology (IT)—An enterprise solution for storing, transmitting, creating, and using data through computing devices, networks, and telecommunications. 

Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)—An MSP offering to SMBs. It includes virtualized hardware over a cloud computing environment such as server space, network connections, IP addresses, load balancers, and other computer infrastructure that allow clients to build their own platforms. 

Internet of Things (IoT)—The emergent network of tangible objects and products that contain software, sensors, and connectivity to the internet or private networks and can exchange information based on standards set forth by the International Telecommunication Union's Global Standards Initiative. 

In-house IT managed services—The process where an organization hires its own IT service providers and pays their salary, benefits, and further training, as well as the infrastructure they oversee. This is typically a costly endeavor. Businesses that try to procure in-house IT managed services often lack the capabilities to fully service their system. In-house IT only also affects the ability of the business to grow and scale. 

IT channel—An industry-exclusive marketplace where VARs, MSPs, and OEMs provide platforms, products, and services to end-users by partnering with hardware and software vendors.  

Labor arbitrage—The phenomenon of decreasing end costs by utilizing the abundant labor forces, education, and training of untapped global workforces. 

Managed IT services—IT tasks and processes that are fulfilled by a third-party organization. 

Managed service provider (MSP)—An IT professional (or IT organization) that offers managed IT services for a variety of SMBs. Their core focus is supporting customer IT needs as opposed MSSPs (see below) that also include a cybersecurity focus. An MSP+ adds basic cybersecurity to their services, but the offerings aren’t as robust as MSSP offerings. 

Managed service and security provider (MSSP)—An IT professional (or IT organization) that offers managed IT services for a variety of SMBs. Their core focus is supporting customer IT needs with the important addition of cybersecurity services, including firewalls, endpoint protection, email filtering, and more. MSSPs provide 24/7 protection to combat security breaches and other cybersecurity issues. Click here to read more about the difference between MSP, MSP+, and MSSP.  

Mobile device management (MDM)—A security platform used to monitor, manage, and secure employees' mobile devices (laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.) that are deployed across multiple mobile service providers and multiple mobile operating systems in an organization. 

Mobile device management (MDM)—A virtualized platform within a cloud environment that allows end-users to develop and manage internet applications that would otherwise require a complex infrastructure to launch apps. 

Remote monitoring and management (RMM)—A platform that uses a collection of services and tools to monitor, manage and deploy solutions to servers and endpoint devices utilizing agent software installed on endpoint systems. 

Service-level agreement (SLA)—A contract between a vendor and a client that specifies what the vendor will deliver in what timeframe and the criteria for measuring vendor success. 

Small- and medium-sized business (SMB)—On average, a business or organization that has 100 or fewer employees is considered small-sized; 100-999 employees is medium-sized. IT channel partners often seek SMB organizations as clients. 

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)—Sometimes referred to as “software on demand,” SaaS is a licensing and distribution model that utilizes a subscription basis for access to software that is centrally hosted by its provider and accessed by end-users via a client. 

Value-added reseller (VAR)—An organization that adds services or features to a product then resells it as a new product or solution. 

History of managed IT services

At the outset of enterprise computing, information technology services and management were on a break/fix basis, meaning that computer systems were only managed by an expert when they did not work, necessitating a technician to fix it. This technician may also be the person who built or installed the computer system due to the rapid increase of small IT shops specializing in these small-scale client services. 

However, as time progressed, computer manufacturing grew to a large scale, leaving the small IT dealer to focus less on manufacturing and more on break/fix. This system was time-consuming, labor-intensive, costly, and reactive. It did not allow the technician room to grow their business or take on new clients without massive investments in labor and infrastructure. 

As computing devices increased yearly, the divide between break/fix technicians and the number of computers they could reasonably service under the break/fix model grew wider and wider. Managed IT services emerged in the early 2000s to meet this need, shifting far from the break/fix model. 

This new, proactive approach to IT was heralded for attempting to conduct maintenance, upgrades, system monitoring, and issue resolution on a routine basis, to prevent problems before they started. Automation increased internet capabilities, and cloud computing allowed remote monitoring and issue resolution, enabling more efficient processes and a consolidation of resources. 

Efficiency, consolidated resources, and client satisfaction coupled with fixed rates, the ability to offer greater service offerings, and the ability to take on more clientele led to managed IT becoming the industry-standard approach to managing computer systems large and small for SMBs. 

Managed IT services tools for MSPs

MSPs use a broad range of IT expertise to resolve issues efficiently. However, there are only so many hours in the day. Using modern and ever-evolving processes, tools, and software, MSPs can provide more services with less staff. For example, professional services automation (PSA) software is built for MSPs to organize their operations. Everything from project management and help desk services to reporting and billing all happens in one place, helping MSPs save time and do more for all their customers.  

Other tools help MSPs provide managed IT services 24/7/365. As defined above, RMM, BDR, and remote control tools can work together to identify and fix issues before clients even know about them, keep client data safe and secure, and fix many problems remotely. With all this combined, MSPs can keep client costs down while providing better service. In other words, MSPs do the heavy lifting on after-hours tasks and processes, so their customers can take nights and weekends off with peace of mind. 

MSP software and other solutions are provided by information technology companies such as ConnectWise 

The managed IT services model

MSP services are typically offered at a flat, recurring rate in tiered levels, creating a greater level of automation and a higher degree of management at higher levels based on the specified service level agreement. Customers or end-users only pay for the services they require and can increase or decrease their tier based on business needs and demand. 

As with other necessary business functions, like utilities, the end user pays for off-site services, such as remote monitoring and management, help desk solutions, backup and disaster recovery, and more. These services become essential operating expenses to maintain core functionality rather than additional costs applied during exceptional issue resolutions with break/fix models. MSPs enable their customers to run their businesses more smoothly and more efficiently than they would otherwise. Additionally, they offer SaaS-based solutions at a price that can’t be achieved with in-house options. 

However, managed services do not necessarily make the enterprise IT professional obsolete; for the end user, an IT professional can act as an endpoint liaison that manages the relationship, provides feedback, and analyzes the reports provided by the MSP. Because the MSP is completing the majority of routine work, the IT professional is capable of greater efficiency and the flexibility to tackle more extensive, complex projects they would otherwise not have the time or capacity to take on. 

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