What Is Managed IT Services and What Does It Include?

When you handle your own IT infrastructure and software, you're probably missing out on the best possible solutions. A managed IT services provider has IT professionals on staff that can examine your IT systems and suggest improvements based on their expert analysis. Servicing a company's IT systems involves so many different fields of activity that it takes a large team of specialists to make the best choices.

With managed IT services, you can outsource everything to do with running your IT systems, or you can choose to get support only for the parts that aren't working well. Managed services providers also differ in what services they offer. If you just need help with security, there are providers that specialize in that. If you want broader support, a managed service provider can take on as many IT functions as you wish. The first step is to decide what services you want an external provider to manage for you.

What Managed IT Services Are Available?

Managed IT services can include anything from around-the-clock technical support through malware protection and data security to hardware monitoring and maintenance. To decide what you need, you have to examine how well your IT systems are performing. Frequent downtimes can be an indicator of hardware problems, while data loss can be due to improperly configured software. If your operations are often disrupted by viruses or malware, you have security issues. If you're spending a lot of money fixing computers and servers, you may want to look at a service that tracks hardware upgrades and warranties. First examine what you have, then look at what's available to fix your problems.

Managed IT Support Keeps Your Employees Working Rather Than Troubleshooting

Having an external company manage IT support is often more efficient and can result in quicker resolutions than handling IT support with in-house teams. Depending on the volume of support calls, you may want to make sure your provider has a system for tracking issues and the time required to fix them. Online chat, self-serve and email support are often inexpensive and adequate for many remote support services. For persistent problems, on-site support may be required. When you opt for a comprehensive suite of managed services, technical support is often included.

Hardware and Network Services Monitoring Checks for Problems

Managed monitoring services keep track of IT system operational characteristics such as network traffic, storage, log-ins, printer activity and computer functionality. Hardware will often become unreliable before failing, and remote monitoring can detect early signs of trouble. If there's a problem in your system, you'll know right away and be able to trace the origin. If you've opted for managed services that include repair, you may find out about the problem just as your provider is fixing it.

Security Management Keeps Unauthorized Parties Out and Your Data Safe

If your systems contain sensitive data, private information or proprietary intellectual property, you have to make sure unauthorized individuals don't gain access. Security becomes challenging when you have to keep external threats out while monitoring insiders such as consultants or suppliers for suspicious activity. Service providers that can deliver managed security services have an advantage over in-house personnel because they handle a variety of clients and counter many kinds of threats. Such experience is valuable when they have to protect your IT systems, keep your data safe and avoid attacks from malware such as viruses or ransomware.

Cloud Services Management Provides Safe Backup and Improved Collaboration

Cloud-based data backup is a key cloud service, but putting your data in the cloud can also improve collaboration among your employees. Cloud backup can be part of an overall disaster recovery plan that details how your company can resume operations after an unexpected event such as a fire or flood. You can choose a global managed services package that includes cloud backup and collaborative tools, or you can get a specialized cloud services supplier. In either case, your cloud services have to fulfill your needs.

Typical questions for cloud backup systems are whether you can restore individual files easily, whether the backup system saves different versions of a file and how backup system performance is monitored. At the same time, you have to make sure the backed up data is kept securely and data integrity is preserved. A competent and experienced managed services provider can answer your questions and advise you on the type of system that's the best solution for your business.

Software Management Services Handle Updates and the Latest Versions

Keeping track of your software versions, licenses and patches is time-consuming and costly. If you miss updates or patches, your security could be compromised and your systems placed at risk. If your software licenses aren't in order, software suppliers may ask for substantial additional licensing fees, and some of your software might stop working altogether.

Many managed service providers are experienced in dealing with software updates, security patches and licensing issues. They often have many clients that all have similar updating and patching requirements, so the tasks become routine and the process is quick and efficient. At the same time, having a service provider ensure all your computers are running the same software versions reduces incompatibility problems and makes your IT systems run more smoothly.

Managed Communication Services Can Include VoIP

While mobile smartphones have their place, high-volume in-office telephone communications can be expensive when carried out over cell phone networks. If your managed services include communications, VoIP may be an attractive option. Customized VoIP services can optimize routing as needed and help improve team collaboration. A services provider that offers VoIP can install, configure, manage and support your VoIP service so you don't have any additional responsibilities.

How Can Managed IT Services Benefit My Company?

Most of the benefits from managed IT services result from transferring management of specific functions from employees to outside specialists. IT services can often be carried out more effectively by professionals who work exclusively in a specific IT field. Functions such as security, communication, networking or support can be challenging for employees who may have to handle a variety of roles. A services provider will have teams that include experts who can quickly find the best solutions. When such teams keep your IT infrastructure running smoothly, your company can often increase productivity while reducing IT costs.

A Competent Managed Services Provider Can Improve Your Operational Efficiency

A typical company's IT system usually hasn't been designed from scratch. Rather, it's grown organically as the company has grown and new technology has become available. Networks may not be optimized, server loads might be unbalanced and security could be either incomplete or overly intrusive. Managed IT services providers handle many systems at different companies and know what works. They have experience with best practices and can monitor your systems for ways to improve performance, reliability and security.

If you have a managed services package that includes a comprehensive list of functions, problems identified from employee support calls and network monitoring can often be fixed on the maintenance and update side. The result, over an extended period, is that your network operates more efficiently, system response times are down and employee productivity may increase.

Costs Are Often Predictable, Based on the Number of Employees or Computers

A major benefit of managed IT services is cost control. Employee overtime to fix urgent IT problems, unexpected licensing fees or unforeseen hardware upgrades can make budgeting for IT services difficult. When you use a managed IT services provider, costs can be more predictable. The cost for a package of services is often based on the number of employees or the number of computers, resulting in predictable pricing,

A good services package will include software and hardware management. As security issues are discovered, software providers issue patches and updates or new releases, while hardware manufacturers supply upgrades. When your services provider takes care of your hardware and software, you'll always have the latest, most secure versions running on your upgraded computers and the licensing will be up to date. Costs for such a service can be included in the "per computer" price so you can budget accordingly.

Improved Hardware Management and Less Downtime Can Reduce Costs

An experienced and competent services provider can deliver IT infrastructure management that identifies problem areas and develops optimal solutions. Cloud migration becomes an important consideration for reducing in-house hardware and the associated costs. Data backup in the cloud is a good starting point, and the transfer of additional services to the cloud, such as cloud file sharing, depends on the needs of your business.

Many companies opt for a hybrid approach where some business services operate out of the cloud while others are retained on in-house servers and networks. Your managed services provider can often help you evaluate what makes sense for your business and propose solutions that fit your needs. As you improve performance with the provider's help, operating costs are often reduced.

What Should I Look for in a Managed Service Provider?

Because managed IT services providers are plentiful and offer a broad range of services, you have to establish clear goals for what you want. Do you have a specific issue you want help with, or is IT taking too much of your time in general? Many managed services providers offer complete packages that take over most IT-related tasks, but they can also help you with specific functions. Other providers are specialized. Once you've decided what services you need, you can start evaluating possible candidates.

In addition to being able to supply what you need and having verifiable experience, a managed service provider should be a good fit for your company culture. For example, if your business is in an industry that has highly formal procedures and documentation, you need a provider with a similar culture. If you operate in a more casual way, you need a provider that doesn't have to document everything. A lot of the details of your relationship can be set out in a service level agreement that can be as detailed as you want. It forms the basis of your future work together, but it can be updated as you become more familiar with your provider.

Some key aspects of the services to be provided have to be settled up front. Does your provider offer 24-hour service, and how is its availability for on-site support? What's the average response time for an on-site service call, and is there a guaranteed response time? What are its capabilities for telephone technical support and online support? Can your provider break out the costs for some of these options so you can decide whether they make sense for you? Your relationship with a managed services provider is typically long-term, so it makes sense to explore proposals in detail.

Your IT infrastructure fulfills critical and valuable functions for your business, but you don't want it to be a source of unexpected difficulties or generate additional costs. Managed IT services is a solution if your IT systems use up too many resources. Bringing in a managed services provider to handle the functions that cause the most problems can make your overall operations more efficient. Possibilities range from including all IT-related functions in a comprehensive package to identifying specific areas and getting help with those. Evaluate your IT systems in terms of the functionality you need and the resources you want to dedicate to them. Then look for a managed IT services provider that can help you get what you need at a reasonable cost.