Friday, March 15, 2013

Trust But Verify: It Goes Deeper Than That

Managed Services Part 2

Read Part 1 Here

I continue to struggle with how an MSP fits into the broader strategy of a competent IT department. I've come to the conclusion that many of my issues are trust related. As I think through the list of service providers I've dealt with over the years I can only name three or four that I really trusted. All the others seemed to go to great lengths to destroy any vestige of trust and some even seemed to revel in the fact they were fleecing the customer.

Why does this happen? What is going on that MSPs and service providers in general feel no shame in providing terrible service? I mean, service is in the name of their industry category, right?

There are a few things that jump out at me.

  1. All the businesses I've spent my IT career in are located in an area identified as "Rural". We're a solid 2 hours from the Twin Cities metro area. 
  2. Contracts seem to universally favor the service provider
  3. Many service providers are bigger than the companies they "serve"
  4. Service is hard and service providers are often bare-bones staffed to maximize profits
It's hard to be a service provider. I've been in that boat and I know how much work it is to keep it above water. It doesn't need to be this way though. Good service is hard but it's not difficult to maintain a high level of service if you make it part of your culture.

As I lamented the "just trust us" mentality of MSPs this morning, a friend reminded me of the "Trust but Verify" edict. I think it goes much deeper than that (and so does he). That's really where I start to struggle.

You can monitor and manage an MSP or service provider just like you would an employee or even more than that. You can subject them to strict monitoring and compliance auditing. The fact remains that the worst that happens to a service provider is that you sever your relationship with them. They lose some money. If you have enough clout you might even be able to make sure they lose some reputation. Not much of a consequence for most providers, eh?

They have dedicated sales staff that are professional job seekers. Service providers interview very well. When you are courting a provider you'll never find them providing you references from companies that were unhappy with them. Due diligence is not an easy thing when it comes to service providers or MSPs. Sometimes there isn't much choice available (see #1 in the above list).

The relationship is skewed and very profitable for one party. I don't want to take lightly the qualities an MSP brings to the table. Expertise and knowledge are expensive and just as hard to find as good service is. For many, it's far cheaper and feasible to bring in an MSP than hire staff. It's unimaginable to expect a small business to hire an IT staffer when they only have 10 people on the payroll and technology is not their core business. MSPs fill an important role to be sure!

So I continue to have trust issues with MSPs and service providers. Accountability for the relationship would help a lot with my issues. I look forward to the conversations I'll be having over the next few weeks. Maybe I'll learn to trust again?