IT Support & Managed Services Guide
You may be considering your current IT Support set-up or wondering what IT Managed Services are? This guide is aimed to help owners & managers who are responsible for these IT functions in their business understand these services. People who need to know the options, understand best practices and where the market & technologies are heading. Most importantly, this guide shows how businesses can take advantage of IT Support practices and IT Managed Services for better business outcomes.
IT Support can be delivered in many ways and the most suitable options will depend upon the size of your business, your specific needs and exact situation. In summary the main options include;
Outsourced IT Support – Firstly, for most smaller companies of ~50 IT users or less, having your own IT team is probably uneconomic. Therefore, an outsourced support model from a specialist IT provider with a team of skilled engineers is often cheaper and less risky then employing someone in-house.
In-house IT Support – As your business grows and develops or if you have a high-demand for IT support developing your own in-house IT team maybe the way to go. This gives you full control, 100% of the resources and the scope to shape the service you need to meet your exact needs. However, you also get all the costs, employment, training and staff development responsibilities.
Co-Managed IT Support – Alternatively, a hybrid solution called Co-Managed IT support provides a blend of both in-house and outsourced IT resources & services. For example, outsourcing your front-end helpdesk support service, whilst retaining backend specialist support and system development. This model combines the best elements of Outsourced and In-house IT support, including flexibility and potential cost reduction.
IT Managed Services – An IT Managed Service is generally a fully managed service, that allows a business to consume as much or as little as they need. This pay as you use model is becoming common and examples include subscribing to an email services (such as Microsoft 365 Exchange Email) allowing provision of email on a per use per month basis. Compare this to setting up & running your own email server, and you can see the cost benefit for many small & medium businesses. IT Managed Services now includes a wide range of services, infrastructure, cyber-security, including Outsourced IT Support.
Key Business Issues
Uncertain business environment –Post Covid-19 and BREXIT present very uncertain times for business owners & managers, who may be looking to cut overheads, reduce staffing and seek more flexible solutions to meet their needs. The IT Support options outlined above, such as outsourcing or co-managed support allow businesses to reposition their provisioning in the face of these challenges. IT Managed Services that can be turned on and off on demand can also provide the flexibility and agility needed.
Wide mix of technologies – IT Support is more important than ever to ensure businesses remain operational and effective. However, the wide mix of IT, such as on-site & cloud-based systems, sometimes complex infrastructure, servers, backup, telephony and more present a bewildering range of stuff to support. Choosing the right IT support solution will depend upon your situation and context, so look at all the options such as outsourcing, in-house and co-managed solutions and if you partner with a 3rd party look for confirmation they can do what they claim.
Changing technologies – Businesses also face a rapidly changing IT environment, where digital technologies / cloud services are changing and emerging daily. This presents both opportunity and risk for those deciding to such solutions. What and when to change for maximum business benefit can be a complex decision. Whatever path you are taking, the on-going provision of IT support during this process is critical to business output. Make sure you develop a strong IT strategy, with detailed plans around change & migration to ensure your IT support and service provision is robust.
Cyber-security – Cyber-security is a key area and increasingly a part of the on-going support process. Further, IT support often includes small changes and minor upgrades, all of which must be reviewed in terms of their impact on IT security. In small businesses especially, the formal processes around risk & change are often missing. Therefore, consider the various options for IT Support from a cyber-perspective and look for services & solutions that address updates, patching and regular rebooting of systems to maintain cyber-security.
Service Delivery – At the heart of any IT Support service is customer service and the quality of the service received. The current business climate may also add additional strain to your current provider or in-house team. If you are suffering operational or service issues, it maybe time to review your strategic approach & options. Whichever way you go, measuring, base-lining and quantifying service levels now and in the future will be key to verifying that services are improving and you are moving in the right direction.
Business Change – Finally, major changes may also be a key factor in selecting or changing your IT Support solution. Business models change, staff move-on and businesses merge or relocate. Such events can place existing IT support models under pressure and bring new solutions or services into consideration.
Other Factors to Consider
Design & Planning – Things go wrong and you need to consider business continuity. IT system availability is based upon many factors, that range from the selection of equipment & services, to how they are connected and configured. Think about the design of your systems and how failure is mitigated. Think about both strategic and tactical change. Being pragmatic about which areas you prioritize, when and how much you spend is critical. Align IT strategy with your business strategy. Look for IT & telecoms solutions that meet current and future business needs, which can be easily changed, adapted and fit your IT support model. If you partner, look for a company who can create and develop your IT strategy & IT Roadmaps and brings together business needs and IT.
Getting the most for your Users – Consider your users & look for a service solution that puts them ‘front & center’ of all the things you do around IT support. Not just customer service, but also pro-active support and training for users. Getting the most from IT systems is frequently hampered by poor user knowledge, sub-optimal processes and lack of regular training. Make these elements part of the IT support process by creating building in regular update & briefing sessions on the latest features and be more proactive and collaborative with regard your IT users.
Measuring Service – IT systems are at the heart of running your business and staff productivity is essential. Reliable business systems & applications reply on a sound IT system, under pinned by great support. Ensure you have some measure to gauge the availability of your system. Think about service levels (SLAs) that your business needs. Monitoring and management visibility of things like utilization, availability and inventory need to be reviewed and relayed to management in everyday terms. This helps owners & managers relate to IT, remove ‘silo’ mentality and plan for better outcomes.
Best Value vs Lowest Cost – It easy, especially in the current climate to seek lowest cost solutions. However, seeking the best value, not lowest cost could be a major benefit to how your business operates. Reading guides like this can help, but also where considering a 3rd party, look at on-line reviews, talk to other people and ask for references. The choice of Single or Multiple Supplier is closely related and whilst you might get the lowest monetary cost by selecting multiple suppliers, unless you have someone to manage the ‘interfaces’, things can often go wrong. For example, where the ‘ball’ is thrown from 1-supplied to the another and you are in the middle having to go back and forth.
IT Support Processes
Focus on Solving Problems – We are seeing the collaborative approach to IT support is starting to replace the traditional 1st, 2nd and 3rd layer models. In some traditional IT support situations, especially the larger organizations, you may have experienced being passed from one agent to the next. Each time having to repeat your details, explain the problem again until someone, anyone could finally fixes your problem. A frustrating experience for customers and those providing the IT support. IT support teams can work better when there is a high degree of collaboration, where junior and senior staff are located together, where interventions and advice become the norm. Technology obviously plays a key part, with ticketing systems recording all actions, customer self-service portals and knowledge bases all helping to improve customer service.
Outsourcing Vs In-House IT Support
Size Matters – For small & medium sized business, using an IT Support company can save money over hiring staff. This can range from being able to reclaim VAT, avoiding paying staff salaries, bonuses, training and other employment costs. Depending upon the model you choose, you only pay for IT support when you need it. You also benefit from economies of scale and therefore, in practice IT support for a small business can be provided at a fraction of the costs of a full-time IT technician.
Expertise – We provide a team of experts, not just 1-person to support your IT systems. Our IT support team comprises a range of experts, with a wide array of IT skills, IT experience and IT knowledge. We work together to resolve your business IT problems, pooling our knowledge and skills to get your issues fixed. We provide IT support to many business users and have done this for many years. Therefore, if you have a problem, there is a high probability that we have seen this IT issue before and that we have also resolved it. This experience also includes how other businesses are using IT systems and improving their operations, customer service and other areas of their business through the use of technology. Our regular client reviews and IT Roadmap process mean you benefit from this insight. We share IT best practice and our business insight and add real value. This is hard for an in-house IT team to replicate.
Power & Control – Customer service is at the heart of what we do. You are a valued customer and unlike some employees, you won’t be getting HR issues. IT engineers can sometimes feel under-appreciated & disgruntled, leading to them looking for the next ‘opportunity’ – You won’t get any of these problems. In extreme cases companies feel they are ‘hostages’ to a key member of staff who is the only one who knows how to manage the company computer network – again you won’t get any of these problems. We provide you with a non-disclosure document (NDA), a comprehensive service agreement and have reliable on-boarding and off-boarding of clients. All this helps us to earn your trust and develop a strong business relationship.
Peace of Mind – You don’t need to worry! You don’t need to manage us and we don’t request annual leave, we don’t report in sick, go on holiday or ask you to train us. Our flexible IT service ensures you always have a technician on-call and that you don’t worry about being left without IT support. Our IT Managed Services covering everything from user & device IT management, through to IT backup & recovery, cyber-security and connectivity. A Managed Service is one that we fully manage for you, so you don’t need to worry. If it goes wrong, then we fix it. If it needs changing, we increase or decrease the service to fit your needs. We charge you each month, with a fully itemized bill. Simple and worry-free IT managed services.
Proactive not Reactive – We monitor your IT systems, servers & network equipment on a 24hr, 7-days per week, 365-days per year basis. We monitor these systems and report if they go down, automatically raising helpdesk tickets and looking at why systems have gone off-line. We monitor systems and ensure they are patched and constantly updated. System updates include routine and critical updates that improve system resilience and cyber-security. These IT support processes prevent problems before they interrupt your business or affect your company data. This monitoring & updating helps repair issues before they impact, and such maintenance avoids disasters from happening in the first place. Being proactive means staying ahead of serious IT issues. We do this by looking out for aging equipment & software and using our regular reporting, reviews and IT planning processes to proactively support your IT systems.
In-House vs Co-Managed IT Support
Increasingly due to various factors, the option of co-managed IT Support is becoming one that many SME businesses are now considering. Here are some of the factors causing this change in thinking;
Flexible – A co-managed solution can add a great deal of flexibility vs simply adding headcount to your in-house IT team. Because contracts can be flexible it becomes an easy extension to your current in-house IT team. This flexibility extends to the type of services & skills you can ‘draw down’ under your contract. For example, get cover for IT support when staff are training or sick, then next time get extra project resource to help with a desktop refresh or email rollout program.
Knowledge & Skills – Partnering with an MSP provider will mean you benefit from a wider skills pool, industry and sector experience gained through working with very many companies. Not only skills, but perspective too as its easy for any team to fall into ‘group think’ and ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it here’.
Tools & Systems – You are also likely to benefit from a wider array of enterprise IT tools that an MSP will use to manage other clients. No only might you get a better set of tools, but these may also be priced at rates you would not be able to afford on your own. For example, adding your devices to our RMM priced at a few pounds per device per month, removing the capital expenditure and one-off investment you would need to make if you deployed this in-house.
Processes & Accreditations – You can also benefit formal standards like ITIL, Cyber Essentials (CE), Cyber Essentials Plus (CE+) and ISO27001 standards. Not only benefiting from the efficiencies and risk reduction these processes bring, but also gaining an understanding of how these work for future potential application to your business. Partnering also means benefiting from vendor accreditations too, such as Microsoft, HP, Sophos and other key IT vendors. For example, A Microsoft Gold Partner will have priority access to critical support resources at Microsoft in the event of a priority issue around Microsoft Technology.
Reduce Risk & Stay in Control – There can be an understandable reluctance to bring in / work with an external partner. This can come from both management and technical staff who may fear this is the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and may lead to a complete outsourced outcome. These issues can be controlled by closely monitoring work and fostering a collaborative approach to working, with the benefit of changing your internal culture. Further, going co-managed can also remove a companys’ reliance upon specific individuals, where ‘technical power’ can make some companys’ feel they are being held to ransom by their own staff!
Be more Strategic – Co-managed solutions can also help you move away from day-to-day fire fighting and look at a more strategic approach, where you are developing your road mapping and where you are headed. And of course, your new partner can have an input here too.
Some Examples – Co-Managed IT Support services can include Network management & monitoring, Vulnerability testing & patch management, Security monitoring and threat protection, Backup & Disaster Recovery testing, Cloud service management, Business application support, Call-off IT Consultancy & virtual IT Director, Interim staff and special projects cover / resources.
Managed Services for SMEs
Running an SME business is tough and any way that business owners can save time and money is always important and worth looking at. Also, all business relies on digital technology, for things like banking, productivity tool, on-line conferencing, customer management, etc., so having the right IT systems is vital. The good news is that these digital technologies are now common-place and access to such services have opened up a wide range of possible options for SME businesses.
Managed service providers (MSPs) provide IT Managed Services that are changing the traditional supply of IT services from projects / consultancy / support and one-off expenditure toward on-going services / pay-as-you-consume models and on-going service fees. This offers business users the chance to try something without a high commitment and also the ability to be more flexible to meet changing needs / time / money savings.
Get the Latest – Because you ‘subscribe’ to a ‘service’. It is the MSPs job to ensure you get the latest technology, software and solutions. Because you don’t own the service and are a user of the service, for most SMEs this means paying a fraction of what the solution costs. i.e. All users pay a proportion of the total costs.
Partner – Partnering with a good MSP can also mean you get up-to-date software, full management & monitoring, automation, greater productivity, security updates and high-availability systems to name just a few benefits.
The New Outsourcing – IT Managed Service provide a new way to outsource your IT infrastructure & services so that you can get on with running your business. And because there is a team of dedicated technical experts in most MSPs, you save considerable cost vs running your own IT team and buying all the hardware & software needed.
Cyber – Cyber-security is of course a major concern around all IT provision and IT Managed Services and MSPs are now exception. Therefore, look for providers offering high-levels of security, such as 2-factor authentication for all users, auditing and logging of activities, updates & patching and of course backup.
Choosing the right MSP – If you choose the Managed Services route, we suggest looking for a provider with a proven track record, backed by leading industry providers (like Microsoft or HP) This will give you confidence that it’ll be attuned to your unique business needs. Also, a good MSP will give you advice on the best options around hardware, software and development of your infrastructure and applications.
Work Anywhere – Most IT Managed Services are now cloud based, meaning they can be used anywhere, anytime and are built with mobility and security in-mind.
Anything as a Service – The expansion of Managed IT services means that virtually anything can now be provided as a service. This ranges from phone systems, infrastructure, cyber-security to software licensing and even bespoke applications. But just like any product or service, you need to check its right for you and your situation. Look at the costs and the intangible pros & cons of all our options before making your decision.
Summing Up – Whichever way you go and whatever MSP you choose, they should be able to demonstrate ways to streamline your IT provision, so that you get a cost-effective & productive solution. There is still a balance between in-house, outsourced and managed services that is only determined by the exact nature and individual situation of each business. Where you are at, in terms of your investment in IT and the ‘product life-cycle’ of your systems and infrastructure is also a key factor in determining if IT Managed Services are right for you. Whichever way you go, give it some careful consideration.
About Charlton Networks
Charlton Networks provide a complete set of Business IT services for Small & Medium Businesses (SME). This includes working with business owners & senior management teams, assisting individual users and managing day-to-day ICT operations. By working at all levels across your business, we bring strategic and operational improvement aimed at reducing the IT costs, increasing business productivity and removing the ‘headache’ of dealing with multiple suppliers. Key services include;
- IT Consultancy & Planning
- Custom Fit IT Systems & Custom Software
- Flexible IT Support
- Essential Cyber-Protection
- One-Stop-Shop for SME IT Needs
Our 23-year heritage means we understand the specific needs of many business sectors and our varied client list includes private companies, manufacturing, local government, education & not-for-profit. Testimonials and case studies of our work is available upon request.
IT Support & IT Managed Services include;
- Flexi-Contracts – covering remote & on-site cover / projects, etc.
- Remote-Assist – remote support covering 95% of all IT support needs
- Pay&Go with RMM – Small monthly retainer, plus pay as you use each 15-minute slot
- Pay&Go – No retainer, pay as you use each 60-minute slot
- IT Managed Services – Backup, Email, Collaboration & Conferencing, Microsoft 365, Cyber-Security, Infrastructure, Cloud Servers and much more.
Our aim is to provide the very best and most comprehensive IT support & installation services. We achieve this by using our own in-house team of dedicated IT professionals to deliver cost effective IT systems that are consistently reliable, providing our clients with both peace of mind and value for money. Our Team comprises;
Business development & consultancy
- Helpdesk & operations
- Projects & installations
Our partnerships are a major element of our success, helping us build solutions based on world-class products and the highest levels of accreditation, including;
- Microsoft Gold Partner
- Sophos Gold Partner
- Altaro Gold Partner
Product offering are wide ranging and include;
Remote access, VPN & 2-Factor Authentication. Microsoft server networks & Active Directory. Wired & wi-fi network infrastructure. Telephone lines, broadband & connectivity. Cyber-security, EndPoint Protection, mobile device control, device encryption and network security. Backup & recovery solutions, disaster recovery & business continuity. Cloud computing, public cloud, private & hybrid cloud systems. CCTV. CRM, intranet, extranet and custom software solutions. Firewall, content management, intrusion prevention and UTM devices. Host servers, virtualization, VMware, Hyper-V and virtual server solutions. Hosted voice telephony, VOIP, phone systems and ACD. Hosted email, Microsoft Office365 and Microsoft Azure. Risk analysis & assessment, IT security policies & cyber essentials. IT strategy, IT roadmap and IT project planning. Interim IT resources, IT director, IT engineer and IT consultants. Altaro, HP, Sophos, SonicWall and Microsoft. Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Skype for Business, Microsoft SQL, Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Server 2016. Vulnerability scanning, OpenVAS and Cyber-Score. Web Hosting, websites and SSL certificates.