11 Questions to Ask a Managed Services Provider

11 Questions to Ask a Managed Services Provider

Do your homework and find the right provider

Partnering for services doesn’t always make sense, but in many circumstances it does. When choosing your SharePoint managed services provider, I recommend you evaluate the following elements to help ensure your experience is positive and meets your long-term expectations.

11 Things to Research About a Provider

The list below is by no means exhaustive. Still, I hope it gives people some discussion points to get started in choosing a managed services provider for SharePoint. 

  1. Look for a partner, not simply a vendor.  Does this company want your monthly revenue to add to their Help desk, or are they engaging and asking you all the right questions about your environment, organization, and long-range plans for the platform?  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. Does your provider engage in other service offerings?  Can your new partner engage when you have projects (upgrades, migrations, training, and customizations) and need more than support?  What else within the boundaries of SharePoint can they help you with?  If they are a big company and do more than just SharePoint, dig into that and make sure that SharePoint isn’t just their flavor of the month.
  3. Find out who you get when you call in for support and need help.  Is it a call center, or will a SharePoint resource with actual experience get back to you?
  4. Make sure you will receive proactive maintenance, analysis, and recommendations.  You don’t just want help when you have a problem--you want someone who will help to avoid the problems on an ongoing basis.  An initial assessment is great, but it’s just the beginning of active management.
  5. Does your provider encourage, support, and even enforce proper change control and documentation?  They should.
  6. Ask about a disaster recovery plan.  If you have one, ask them to critically evaluate it.  If you don’t have one, ask if they can help you create one and test it during a drill.  Use this to gauge their level of expertise.  Questions like this will clearly demonstrate the difference between a Help desk and an experienced professional.
  7. As your organization’s needs grow in the area of SharePoint, how will this be planned, managed, and allocated by your provider?  Look for them to discuss a strategy with you that you can believe in.  Will they come in for quarterly business reviews to work with you on longer-range planning?
  8. How does your provider manage continuity and consistency of service for you?  Do you have access to a set of resources, are your organizational details and incidents stored somewhere for reference?  What happens if one of their resources leaves the provider’s organization?
  9. Does your provider create a customer portal on their own SharePoint environment that manages a Knowledge Base, ticketing system, communications, scheduling, etc.?  They should have a system you can see and use.
  10. Does your provider have a specific set of services they provide or will they customize a service to meet your needs?  Be cautious of companies that have a very specific set of services and hesitate when you ask about options outside their comfort zone.  You aren’t buying a product with fixed features, you need real people that will help you with your needs.  They need to be able to handle a curveball.
  11. Do you want or even need, named resources?  This can be a double-edged sword.  Dedicated resources will have greater familiarity, but unless you are willing to allocate them full-time from your provider, they may be out sick, on vacation, working with another client, or leave the company. Consider a hybrid model where you have primary and secondary resource allocation.One of the main reasons for choosing Managed Services is to eliminate the risk of a single point of failure in a resource. Even if it’s your provider’s problem to manage, it can still become your problem if there’s an issue. Work with your provider to come up with a solution that meets your needs, but one that they can also manage effectively. Remember, this a partnership--it needs to work well for all parties.

Making Your Decision

Deciding which managed services provider to choose isn't always a numbers game.  Downtime, resource availability, perception, and peace of mind all factor in to the decision.

Ryan Thomas has spent more than 15 years in the technology industry. Prior to forming Timlin Enterprises in 2010, Ryan was the director of a Boston-based consulting company, where he specialized in expanding and managing a flourishing SharePoint consulting division.  Before that, Ryan worked with Monster.com as a key contributor in the architecture and implementation of their migration to the Microsoft .NET platform.  He still maintains his current Microsoft technical certifications as a Microsoft Certified Professional and Microsoft Certified Application Developer.

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