Making MSPs your MVP

Eamonn O’Neill, chief customer officer at Lemongrass Consulting, explains how vendors should work with services providers to establish a common purpose

If you’re going to use a managed service provider then you want to get some bang for your buck. It may seem counterintuitive for us to offer this advice – it’s a bit ‘gamekeeper advising poacher’ perhaps – but we’ve found again and again that our best work tends to come for our most demanding customers. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

If your opening position in taking on an MSP is to know exactly what you want from them and to make it plain from the get-go then you immediately eliminate the risk of misunderstanding and establish a common purpose.

At Lemongrass our central purpose is to assist enterprise organisations migrating their SAP IT estate to Amazon Web Services but there are countless other iterations of the MSP role in our sector – and I’d argue that what works with us probably works with them too.

Walk in their shoes 

Before they enact any changes, it’s imperative that your MSP has a 360-degree view of your business from day one. Let them in and let them get close-up to everything you do so that they can understand what’s important to you and appreciate what success actually looks like seen through your eyes.

That ‘walking a mile in your shoes’ process is an imperative step in defining a roadmap of short, medium and longer-term goals for both parties. This will ensure that all incentives are aligned and that both parties are on the same page and driving towards the same outcomes. They should be giving you their best people, their full attention, their best pricing. If they’re not you need to ask if they are the right MSP for you. A good MSP wants to know they are adding value to your company and that the work they are doing is important. We want success stories.

This is the key to seeing that the initial goal of a long-term ongoing relationship which is mutually beneficial to both parties is met. If it’s making your customers happy then it’s making you happy – and your MSP’s new business team will be happy too.

Meeting expectations

There’s no point in them being obsessed with your business and its workings unless they are also obsessed with their own. Having immersed themselves in your affairs so that they completely get what it is that you want from them, your MSP then needs to know how to provide it.

They need deep expertise with the solutions they can offer to be sure they channel the right ones. That’s where those success stories come in. Look at who else they’ve worked for and see how it’s gone. If those other case studies from their existing portfolio don’t seem comparable to your specific needs then have a conversation around that. If they know their stuff they should be able to communicate what they can do for you and how so that there are no grey areas. And no back corners of your system that are left just bumping along. Make them make everything highly functional. If you get the right MSP they can.

Next, it’s important to hardwire all your expectations and aspirations into your initial agreement. Most businesses just use SLAs. But while these are undoubtedly useful in setting basic standards like formalising system performance, at this point it pays to be a bit more creative – to look at outcomes beyond that basic system performance metric.

Look at innovation, look at value added to the business, quantify them and write them in – in measurable, definable ways. Be clear. Defined roles and responsibilities, for example, are a classic grey area – as are the finer details around customer expectations around responsiveness and resolution.

Don’t just copy and paste a previous contract. This is your chance to set out exactly what you want and theirs to agree to deliver it. So think very clearly about what that means. Write it down, spell it out.

By this point you should be set for a successful relationship. But nothing is ever certain. What if they don’t live up to their promises? You should be prepared in advance for a worst case scenario. So pack a parachute. If things go wrong you need to be able to get out. The final part of this process is to give yourself a series of clearly defined “walk away” positions. Just as you’ve set out what success will mean you now need to decide what failure looks like. What are the likely areas where things could go wrong?

Try to foresee what might disappoint or break down and cover those possibilities off now. What if your operating costs start creeping up instead of down? How many system failures, how far off those KPIs and for how long, can be defined as failure? What if those longer-term refinements you’ve heard so much about end up in the long grass? Do your stress tests in advance.

Redefining relationships  

It’s worth a final look at the landscape of the MSP sector. Hyperscalers have completely disrupted not only infrastructure, but IT services as well. This means that what you buy in the way of services is very different from what it used to be. Also, because of the disruption being driven by modernised infrastructure, the contracting process has been dramatically altered. It’s very different now – it’s not your father’s IT contract anymore!

The disrupters are redefining the relationships between MSPs and enterprises and you need to rethink and redefine your relationships as well.

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