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Five tips for diving under the hood of a managed services provider

Twenty years ago, when I was a young foolish nineteen-year-old, I bought a car. Knowing nothing about cars and choosing not to take the advice of my father – what would he know – I bought a 1987 Ford Escort, 1.6ltr in bright, but faded blue. I was proud of this car. I didn’t have a driving license yet, but I was able to drive it up and down the 100 meters of my road feeling the freedom as I struggled to get out of second gear. When buying the car I spent zero time thinking about the buying process or who I should buy from, and the natural result – I was swindled. My car was actually two cars welded together to make one, what I now know is referred to in the trade as a “cut and shut”. My father wasn’t impressed.

Working as part of Data#3’s Managed Services team, architecting solutions for Data#3 customers, this story seems pertinent.

Throughout the years, I have seen many different customer approaches to sourcing a managed service provider. However, despite these differing methods, customers always face the same challenges. Budgets are constrained, timelines are compressed and the business is pushing for an outcome that must be delivered now! This can lead to pressure on the buying process that can represent an opportunity for providers to gloss over the cracks of their service – ultimately, leading to a less than an ideal result – and one that is costly and time-consuming to fix.

So, if I were to step into the customer’s shoes; what would I do? How would I speed up the process of looking under the hood of the provider? How would I determine if the car I am looking to buy has an engine?

How to Dive Under the Hood – Five Tips

Let’s imagine that you have gone to market, received some competent responses, selected a shortlist of providers with strong brands and good reputations. What next, how would should you dive under the hood? Let me share my top five tips.

1. The Model

The first thing I would request is the one-page service design model. Can the provider clearly explain my requirements to me on a single page? Can they detail the roles and responsibilities of the service for the entire solution without reams of text, paper and detail? Alarm bells should ring if the provider has trouble explaining the roles and responsibilities for the managed service. A managed service is a partnership. You are inviting an outside organisation into your business to deliver part of your operations, which will have an impact on your ability to deliver stock, provide services or even build cars. Let’s not get into a contract situation unless we all have a clear understanding on what I expect from you and what you expect from me.

2. Service Levels and Service Credits

What I am looking for here is backing. I would like to know that the provider backs their claims, whatever they are. Are they also going to incur risk for this service? I am seeking clear concise service levels that do not read like a contract to buy a house. I am also looking for service credits based on the performance of the service. Is the provider going to financially back the service they say they will deliver? If they won’t, are they confident they can deliver it?

3. Termination Clauses

Providers that have confidence in their service will primarily offer two things within a contract. Firstly, they will ensure service levels and service credits are clear, concise and easy to calculate. Secondly, they will offer termination clauses should service levels consistently not be met. I am looking for the ability to walk away should the provider’s claims not be upheld. It is important to note, I am not seeking a right to cancel just because I changed my mind; I am seeking further backing that the service proposed is one that is mature, consistent and backed by the provider. I pose this question – Is a provider going to make claims they are unsure about if those claims are also backed by financial penalties and termination clauses? They would be unwise to do so.

4. Process, Process, Process

I don’t expect you to read dozens of process documents. Does anyone really have the time? However, I would like us to have the comfort that they exist. Many providers will gloss over processes with statements like “we operate to ITIL guidelines.” However, this really doesn’t mean anything to me. I would request process documents, policy documents and process swim lanes. Let’s look at an example: A provider tells me they operate to ITIL guidelines. Okay, how do you differentiate Incident Management to Major Incident Management? Can you show me the process documentation for each with a process swim lane? If a provider hides behind IP rights, offer to sign an NDA. If they push back further, ring those alarm bells a little more.

5. Toolsets

At this point, I hope that together we have found a short list of good providers. We have gone under the hood and we have found an engine. The engine is connected and appears to run well. The manufacturer has offered a long warranty and there is even a returns policy should the car conk out and die after we drive it out of the dealership. The final step is the test-drive. I would ask for a toolset demonstration – more than screenshots. I would like a live demo of the tools to ensure consistency of your process and my service.

I hope that this blog will assist you with choosing the right partner, one you can invite into your business with confidence.

How Can Data#3 Help?

Data#3 has operated local Managed Services for 25 years. We have an average customer satisfaction score of 4.4/5.0. We have invested in tools and processes targeted at the size and scale of our customers, not at the whole market. We do not sell cars, however if we did, I’d like to think they would have an engine, a long warranty, and long list of happy customers.

Tags: Cloud Management, IT Service Management, Managed Field Services, Managed Services, Service Desk

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