Managed IT services overview

In this article, we provide a comprehensive managed IT services overview, helping you understand what managed IT services are and how they can help organisations overcome IT challenges and achieve business goals.

What are managed IT services?

Managed IT services are a form of outsourcing that involves hiring a third-party provider, known as a managed services provider (MSP), to take care of your IT needs.

Each managed service will be unique, but managed IT services typically cover most or all of the common IT functions, such as service desk support, infrastructure and cloud management, monitoring, network management, end user devices, data backup, software patching and more.

Most managed IT services are billed monthly as part of one to three-year contracts.

The scope and quality of a managed service can differ greatly between providers, or a service can be tailored specifically to an individual company’s requirements, so not all managed IT services are created equal.

For example, higher-quality managed services might include, or offer, additional services such as managed cyber security, or they might deliver more mature processes as part of the service.

Managed IT services pros and cons

There are many reasons organisations choose to move to a managed service. Common reasons include an organisation struggling internally to manage support tickets and manage expectations, or they simply lack the knowledge or size of team internally to achieve the organisation’s IT goals. Some organisations want to grow and need an IT service that can align to that, while price is often a big factor too.

Therefore, it’s important to consider both the pros and cons of managed IT services before outsourcing some or all your IT.

While managed IT services have become the norm for many UK businesses, they won’t be the best option for everyone.

The benefits of outsourcing IT services

Outsourcing IT services to an MSP can relieve much of the pressure placed on IT leaders and their teams, with many core benefits such as:

  • Proactive and preventive approach: Managed IT service providers monitor your IT systems 24/7 and detect and resolve issues before they affect your business operations. They also perform regular maintenance and updates to keep your systems running smoothly and securely.
  • Improving productivity and efficiency: Managed services allow you to focus more on business needs, wider IT strategy and more complex internal projects, leaving daily IT tasks to your IT partner.
  • Reliability: You’ll benefit from faster and more reliable IT services that support your business processes and workflows, minimising downtime.
  • Skills and experience: MSPs have a lot of combined skills and experience, with large teams of certified experts. Because MSPs will have often dealt with similar problems before in other customer settings, they will often be much quicker to solve issues than in-house teams, especially as there is always someone available to help.
  • Security: With experts configuring your systems, there’s less likelihood of simple mistakes being made which could leave gaps in your security, although not all MSPs will have the same cyber security expertise as a managed security services provider (MSSP).
  • Optimised IT costs: A managed service can improve your return on investment across your technologies, while reducing recruitment and salary costs, also lowering operational costs across things like software, hardware and licences. Good MSPs can also help you switch from costly on-premises infrastructure (CAPEX) and applications to cloud-based subscription services (OPEX). This makes your IT budget more controllable, easier to manage and frees-up resources for strategic innovation.
  • Scalability: Good managed services will enable an organisation to scale quickly, making things like new starter processes simple and delivering flexible technologies that can be scaled up or down depending on your organisation’s needs.
  • Competitiveness: Outsourcing IT services enables you to leverage the latest technologies and solutions that can help you improve your products and services and gain a competitive edge in the market.
  • Innovation: Managed IT service providers can also provide you with strategic advice and technology roadmaps, with guidance on how to use technology to achieve your business objectives and grow your business.
  • Resourcing: Outsourcing IT can also help you reduce the challenges and costs of staff resourcing. You don’t have to worry about hiring, training, retaining, or managing a team of IT professionals, or dealing with absences, holidays, or emergencies. Instead, you can rely on a managed service provider who has a team of experts at their disposal and takes on the risk and responsibility of ensuring your IT needs are met.

Managed IT services offer numerous benefits, but we’d argue the most crucial is having a proactive partner who stays ahead with the latest technology and industry updates. A valuable MSP foresees changes such as licensing updates, price fluctuations, and end-of-life support for your systems, allowing for proactive planning rather than having to react at the last minute. However, many MSPs fail to stay current, resulting in rushed adjustments across their customer base.

The disadvantages of managed IT services

When choosing whether to outsource your IT, it’s also important to consider the potential disadvantages to managed IT services, such as:

  • Less control: Outsourcing your IT functions to an MSP means passing on responsibility for how they are performed and managed. This is why it’s important to choose a provider that puts a strong emphasis on communication with regular service governance meetings and points of contact, maintaining sufficient insight and control.
  • Dependency and lock-in: Relying on an MSP for your IT needs can create a dependency that makes it more difficult to switch providers or bring back some functions in-house. You may face contractual obligations, technical barriers, or knowledge gaps that make it harder to change or leave the contract without significant costs. However, a good MSP will help guide you through the transition period between service providers at the end of a contact, making this a much simpler process.
  • Security and compliance risks: Entrusting your IT infrastructure and data to an external provider is a big responsibility. It’s important to ask how your sensitive data will be stored and transmitted. A good MSP will be able to clearly articulate how they will protect your data and provide evidence of having stringent data protection standards in place.
  • Hidden or unexpected costs: Pricing can vary significantly between MSPs. While a lower price might be tempting initially, you could end up paying more than you expected due to several reasons e.g. hidden fees, additional charges, or scope creep. This is why it’s important to understand the value being offered to you when comparing pricing, as you might be getting considerably better value from a more expensive service when you understand what’s included.

What’s included in managed IT services?

A typical IT managed service includes several key areas within the wider service:

  • Service governance: This is a formal approach to oversee and manage the quality and performance of the services provided by the MSP, as well as the alignment with your business objectives and requirements. It’s a crucial part of any managed service. Service governance will usually include regular service reviews, reports, risk management, improvement plans, and more.
  • Service desk: The service desk provides a single point of contact for all your IT-related issues and requests. A good MSP will make this service available through multiple channels such as phone, email, chat or portal (self-service). The service desk provides incident and service request management, user support, troubleshooting, and resolution. To give you piece of mind that support will be provided swiftly, service level agreements (SLAs) are put in place, which means the MSP is contractually obliged to address the issue in a given timeframe, depending on the severity of the issue.
  • End user compute: This aspect of a managed service involves the management and support of your end-user devices, such as laptops, desktops, phones and tablets. This may include mobile application management, mobile device management, security updates, anti-virus and anti-malware protection, web filtering, remote monitoring, device disposal, and more.
  • Cloud and infrastructure management: A managed IT service will usually include management and support for your cloud and on-premises infrastructure, such as servers, storage, virtualisation, and backup. This typically includes operating system and core service management, patching, monitoring, alerting, backup and restore, capacity management, disaster recovery and more.
  • Network management: Management of your network infrastructure will likely be included, such as switches, routers, firewalls, wireless access points, and internet connectivity. This includes network configuration, security, performance, availability, and troubleshooting etc.
  • Procurement services: A good procurement service will help you source and purchase the best IT products for your needs, from hardware and software to licenses and warranties. The MSP should also be able to provide advice on standard product specs and how they can meet your specific requirements, as well as cost optimisation, and vendor management.
  • Third-party management: A managed IT service should include coordinating and managing the involvement of any third-party providers that are required to deliver the IT services, such as software vendors, cloud providers, or network operators. The MSP will usually act as a liaison between you and the third-party providers, ensuring timely and effective communication and resolution.

Some advanced service governance features that a higher quality and more advanced managed IT service may offer might include:

  • Continual Service Improvement: This process aims to identify and implement potential service improvements on an ongoing basis, in alignment with the changing needs and business requirements of the customer. It involves analysing service performance data, identifying gaps and opportunities, proposing and prioritising improvement initiatives, implementing and evaluating the outcomes, and updating the service catalogue accordingly if the managed service provides one.
  • Change Management: A more mature managed service will include change management, which controls the lifecycle of all technical changes to the service, with the primary objective of enabling operational changes to be made with minimum disruption and maximum efficiency. It involves assessing the impact and feasibility of proposed changes, obtaining approval and authorisation, planning and scheduling the implementation, testing and verifying the results, and documenting and communicating the change.
  • Problem Management: Problem management is a highly valuable process that resolves the underlying causes of incidents, with the intention of minimising the adverse impact of incidents to the customer and preventing the recurrence of incidents. It involves identifying and analysing trends or significant problems, performing root cause analysis, finding and applying solutions or workarounds, tracking and monitoring the progress, and reviewing and learning from the experience.

What does an ITIL-aligned managed service mean?

The more advanced service features such as continual service improvement, change management and problem management are processes associated with the standards and best practices known as ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library).

ITIL provides a common language and methodology for delivering high-quality IT services that meet the needs and expectations of customers and stakeholders.

You’ll often see managed IT services being referred to as “ITIL-aligned services”. ITIL-aligned means that the IT service provider follows the ITIL framework.

An ITIL-aligned service can be a marker of a good managed IT service, because it ensures that the MSP follows a consistent and effective approach to deliver and improve the quality of the service, while managing risks and costs.

ITIL-aligned IT service providers use a systematic and structured approach to plan, deliver, operate, and improve IT services. They also align their IT services with the business goals and strategies of their customers.

Managed IT services vs IT support

It’s not always clear what the difference is between IT support and managed IT services. There is overlap between both, which means the terms are often used interchangeably.

In general, both IT support and managed services are different ways of providing IT assistance to your business. However, IT support is usually more limited in its scope than a fully managed service. For example, an IT support service might have less mature processes in place, and be more reactive than a managed service, simply fixing IT issues when they occur (known as a break-fix model), rather than proactively engaging in problem management and trying to prevent the same thing from happening again.

A break-fix IT support model is all that some organisations want, especially smaller businesses with limited IT budgets. This means support is there if something goes wrong, there will be someone there to fix things. However, this type of support is often centred around supporting your current environments, without a focus on future modernisation initiatives to gain more value from IT and keep up with the latest developments in technology.

In contrast, a good managed IT service will be a strategic and long-term service, which can take care of your entire IT environment and align it with your business goals, with your MSP guiding you through a journey of digital transformation and continual improvement, aligning this strategy to your business goals and the needs of your customers.

Every organisation outsourcing their IT will have different requirements. While some will want the more comprehensive benefits of a fully managed services, others won’t want to spend more money on mature services that they don’t feel they need. A hybrid model might also be possible, where the MSP agrees to delivers a standard IT support service with a few elements of the more mature managed service at an additional cost.

How to choose a managed services provider (MSP)

Choosing a managed IT service provider is an important decision that can have a significant impact on your business success and growth.

  • Reputation and experience: You should look for a managed IT service provider that has a good reputation and track record in the IT industry and has experience in working with businesses of a similar scale to yours, or potentially the same industry if you’re in a niche sector or heavily regulated industry.
  • Expertise and accreditations: It’s important to check that an MSP has the relevant expertise, accreditations and certifications in the IT services and technologies you need, as well as demonstrating compliance and commitment to quality in certain areas. In the UK, this might be checking to ensure the MSP holds the ISO 27001 data protection standard or ISO9001 for quality management etc.
  • Partnerships: Find out if the MSP partners with top technology vendors and manufacturers, so they can get access to the latest technologies and best pricing. Also, if you mainly use Microsoft technology with Microsoft 365 licensing and Azure, look for MSPs that are Microsoft Partners. This means they’ll have expert skills and key relationships that help them get better prices and the latest updates in those technologies.
  • Service level and scope: You’ll want a managed service provider that offers clear and comprehensive service level agreements (SLAs) and a scope of service that covers all your IT needs and expectations. You should also check their service level targets and performance measures to ensure that they can deliver reliable and consistent IT services.
  • Cyber security: Technology decisions should always consider security as a top priority, especially around something as significant as outsourcing your IT. Therefore, you should look to work with MSPs that have genuine cyber security expertise and accreditations, rather than those presenting lightweight security offerings simply to keep up with competitors.
  • Communication and support: Communication can make or break a managed IT service. From service governance reviews to the service desk, you’ll want to work with a partner that provides responsive and effective communication with great customer service. You’ll want multiple support channels, such as phone, email, chat, and self-service portals, and evidence of fast response times and high customer satisfaction.
  • Cost and value: Naturally, you should only consider MSPs that can offer a transparent pricing model that suits your budget and preferences. You should also consider their value proposition and how they can provide you with the best IT solutions that can deliver business value and benefits for your organisation. With a lot of variation between MSP’s pricing structures and service scopes, it’s important to gauge the value of the services being offered between the providers, not just the total cost.

It’s common to see customers opting to partner with MSPs based on aspects such as company culture, honesty, and effective communication, not just on the service scope and cost.

While you should make sure your MSP can offer a high-quality service delivery that can suit your organisation’s technology, processes and strategy for the present and the future, it’s also essential that you select a provider that you’ll enjoy working with.

Are you considering managed IT services?

Chorus is a Microsoft Partner and managed services provider based in Bristol. We have over 20 years’ experience providing managed IT services to businesses and charities across the UK.

As members of the Microsoft Intelligent Security Association (MISA), we’re one of a select group of Microsoft Partners that can deliver Microsoft-verified managed security on top of our ITIL-aligned managed IT services.

For enquiries, please contact our friendly team today.