The Ultimate Guide to IT Managed Service Provider in 2023

By definition, Managed Service Providers (MSPs) of 2023 should offer businesses a broad range of IT services. They are supposed to understand the technology and how it works and make it work for your business. But is it the ground reality? From our interactions with VPs, heads, and CIOs of the world, we see a sharp contrast to what an MSP should be doing. With most IT service providers offering Microsoft 365, mainly advertising the same USPs, there is a clear gap in perception between an MSP and an actual MSP. MSPs in 2023 are just resellers – reselling cloud and other services and promising it will all work together but delivering a patchwork of frustration.

We interviewed our customers, partners, and their competitors and found that most MSPs offer the same services with different packaging. Whether these services are Azure virtual desktops, Citrix Virtual Apps and desktops, or Microsoft 365, most MSPs offer these services in some shape or form. The biggest irony is that these MSPs are unique by being “your outsourced IT department” or perhaps by attempting to focus on a critical area like a cloud or cyber security. But aren’t these MSPs no more than break-fix service providers?

Yes, the stats say that the demand for Managed Service Providers has grown exponentially. Some estimates say that 90% of Fortune 1000 companies use MSPs to provide at least part of their IT infrastructures or services. The current market was valued at $152.02 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $274 billion by 2025. Covid-19 has also sped up the onboarding of MSPs by many businesses that were traditionally slow to embrace this concept. These companies are looking for trusted business partners in MSPs under pressure to catch up and become more effective and efficient. However, it’s not uncommon for companies to find that their MSP no longer fits the bill. What was working for a business may not be working significantly if the business has grown or changed.

What is a Managed Service Provider?

A Managed Service Provider gives your IT systems ongoing maintenance and management, virus protection and control, day-to-day management of hardware and software, disaster recovery, operational efficiency, and end-user support. MSP provides you with the technology solution you need to take your business to the next level. They help your business move forward into the digital age with maximum stability and control, allowing you to scale your company without inflated IT costs.

Managed Service Providers are responsible for

  • Handling the management of IT infrastructure
  • Adding cybersecurity measures to IT
  • Providing technical support to staff
  • Managing user account access
  • Offering risk and compliance management
  • Handling contract management
  • Providing payroll services

How do MSPs work?

Managed Service Providers are responsible for meeting the objectives of an organization. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for every business, so MPSs offer a menu of services to meet the IT needs of each organization. The engagement typically starts with an assessment to discover the current technical environment, areas that need improvement, and opportunities to support businesses.

Help desk support, monitoring, security training, ongoing maintenance, and reporting are delivered based on a Service Level Agreement. It sets the parameters for what you require or expect from your Managed Service Provider. The parameters include performance targets, response times, security guarantees, and balancing the needs with your budget.

What does a Managed Service Provider do?

A Managed Service Provider augments your IT department to maintain, service, and support everything internet-related for your business, from configuring new devices to maintaining connectivity and supporting your infrastructure. On a high level, MSPs:

  • Offer 24/7 remote system monitoring
  • Provide End User Computing Support (desktop PCs, laptops, mobile devices)
  • Support your IT infrastructure, including servers (physical and virtual)
  • Monitor, update and maintain IT systems security
  • Fix network or internet problems
  • Accountable for data security, backups, and data recovery
  • Office 365 setup, hosting, and management
  • Mitigate risks related to data security, and cyberattacks
  • Report a monthly summary of your issues, preventive/restorative steps taken, and advice for future planning.
  • Create a Disaster Recovery Plan as part of your Business Continuity Strategy.

An MSP ensures that you and your employees have access to the internet, communicate with each other, manage data transfers and maintain one or more websites. An MSP keeps your IT up-to-date, essential to marketing your products or services, driving sales and support for your customers, and completing back-end administrative tasks related to inventory, data analysis, etc. Partnering with the right MSP means more security, service, productivity, and love from your user community.

What are the types of Managed IT Services?

An MSP, or Managed Service Provider, can offer various services to help your business succeed using software, online services, and tech-related. Those solutions include Technology consulting, 24/7/365 monitoring, helpdesk support, managed cybersecurity, and disaster recovery. Typical offerings provided by MSPs are listed below:

Managed Infrastructure:

Comprehensive IT support includes hardware configuration needs, software updates and patch deployments, and robust infrastructure support.

Managed Security:

Increased dependency on mobile devices and work-from-home employees creates new vulnerabilities in your network. MSPs can help in threat prevention and management, including 24/7/365 monitoring of security issues.

Managed Cloud Service:

Cloud computing allows modern companies to scale at will, permitting data storage to be expanded as needed and higher-bandwidth operations at a lower cost.

Managed Contact Center and Unified Communications:

Your company’s internal and external voice and omnichannel systems can be moved into the cloud for fully unified communication, delivering seamless user and customer experiences.

Managed Network

Includes networking applications, functions, and services ranging from direct network access and transport services like traditional leased WAN and LAN lines to newer software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) connections and virtual network services.

All of the above can be covered under Managed IT Services, delivered remotely through the same cloud interface to keep your entire organization running smoothly.

Why Should you hire an MSP?

Traditionally, MSPs gained acceptance as companies tried to cut IT support and maintenance costs. Managing IT for a decent-sized business requires varying skill sets, in-house technical staff costs, hiring costs, tools/training costs, and other benefits provided to permanent employees like insurance. An MSP, on the other hand, is cost-effective and efficient.

Plus, their price is predictable. High-quality Managed IT Service Providers charge a flat monthly rate for proactive monitoring and maintenance of your workstations, servers, and IT infrastructure. Moreover, a proper IT Managed Service Provider aims to minimize IT downtime by preventing issues before they happen.

An IT service provider can also help you determine where you’re wasting money in “Nice-To-Haves or outdated systems” For example, if you’re using an outdated Wi-Fi router, increasing your network’s bandwidth won’t provide you the expected result. Working with an IT service provider will equip you with the latest trends and tech expertise. You can make well-informed decisions and find ways to cut costs and boost your team’s productivity.

Some common signs you should hire a Managed Service Provider.

  • IT cost is skyrocketing
  • Extra support for remote employees
  • Limited IT staff
  • Need help migrating
  • Facing excessive downtime
  • Want to grow strategically
  • Lack of system monitoring
  • Lack of compliance

Finally, you’ll never have to worry about falling behind regarding your regulatory or legislative compliance with managed services. MSPs keep you updated with compliance laws, regulations, and procedures and thus avoid potential fines.

How much do Managed Service Providers charge?

Prices for Managed IT Services can vary from one company to another, and there are many factors to consider that can influence how much you’ll be invoiced. For example, the more users you have, the more devices (like desktops, laptops, tablets, printers, etc.) and licenses you will have to manage. Your MSP can define the cost model per user by knowing what you want to be addressed. Here are the most common cost models.

  1. Fixed Price or Flat Rate
  2. Per-User
  3. Per Device
  4. Metal Grading or Tiered
  5. Customized

It is vital to understand that the best offering from an MSP will include a service that provides a high level of business availability paired with strategic thinking and advice. And this will be at a cost that is considered less than the cost of downtime and consulting packages. Even better, if your MSP charges you a fixed price, irrespective of downtime episodes or maintenance calls. Many MSPs charge per hour or include X hours per month, and if the client goes beyond, they pay extra. Actual MSPs always charge a flat rate.

What are the challenges of outsourcing to Managed Service Providers?

MSP-related challenges can drastically reduce your technological effectiveness. And the success of your MSP depends on trust, honesty, and transparency in your approach and activities. Remember, it’s a collective responsibility, and understanding each other’s perspective maximizes the ROI. Adopting a partnership approach, these service providers will work closely with you to understand your business and provide strategic thinking aligning technology with the business plans. Below highlighted are a few challenges and how to mitigate them.

State of Hardware and Software

Take your MSP’s opinion about your hardware and software condition. You might consider your tech landscape state-of-art, which might not be the case in reality. If your MSPs think there is much work to be done to harmonize between equipment and software stack, sit with them and be on the same page. Understand how much work is required to maintain your infrastructure and set clear expectations.

SLAs Vs. Expectations

The MSP and the customer are typically bound by a contract with a standardized service level agreement that defines the expectations and quality metrics of the delivered services.

Once defined and agreed upon, expect your MSP to stick to it. After all, that’s what you are paying for. If you feel there needs to be a revision, revisit your contract. Just because your MSP could help you out faster last time doesn’t mean they’re doing a lousy job by sticking to the SLA this time.

360-degree feedback

Your operating model takes a new form as your MSP’s contract starts. Your expectation with the incoming vendor will be they adapt to your working culture. However, there can be several areas where your operations need an overhaul. Your MSP can present valuable inputs to your business, to which you might be blindfolded. You must be open to an effective governance structure that flows both ways. Take time to meet with your MSP at an operational, tactical, and strategic level and exchange feedback.

A gap in Insurance Liability

Due to outsourcing-related exposures, you may have to purchase extra layers of insurance protection. Insurance ramifications while negotiating contracts with your MSP can be significant. The best practice is to understand the insurance mentioned in the agreement and compare them with your company’s insurance cover. Any gaps hidden in fine prints can fail to recover losses from an offshore MSP’s insurance.

Perception of Losing Control

Once MSP takes over, you lose the ability to respond to changes rapidly because there’s an additional layer of processes and people to work through. Thus, resulting in a perception of losing control. However, such a change is good. It’s structured and systematic, provides empirical evidence for improvements, reduces tap-on-the-shoulder culture, and optimizes your cost by eliminating ad hoc urgent service requests.

How do leading MSPs differentiate themselves from the rest?

MSP’s operating model is a paradigm shift from reactive to proactive support.  This means one KPI for an MSP must be to ensure your IT doesn’t fail while ensuring optimal performance. So, beyond keeping your IT lights on, MSPs that stand out provide good business value for their job. Here are a few differentiators of modern MSPs.

Advanced security offerings

Cyber-attacks are mainstream, particularly for small to medium-sized businesses. Threats are more frequent, targeted, and a lot more complex. According to a report by Accenture — Cost of Cybercrime Study — around 43% of cyber-attacks are aimed at small businesses, and only 14% are prepared to defend themselves. A quality MSP company should ensure that you are safe from online threats rather than waiting for the disaster. Instead of dealing with cyber attackers or ransom calls as they come, a good MSP can target vulnerabilities in advance and shut them down before it becomes a problem. Yes, some attacks can penetrate even the best of systems. However, having robust threat prevention in place will de-risk the threat of an unexpected event. Your MSP must offer a comprehensive plan that can prevent even sophisticated threats.

Cloud services and automation

Modern MSPs are switching to cloud-native solutions and automation levers to improve the quality of their services. Cloud solutions provide scalability and on-demand disaster recovery to their clients. Automation brings efficiency with lower dependency on humans, thus reducing manual errors or discrepancies.


Best IT service companies focus on innovation, which can benefit their customers. These companies know the importance of tracking the latest industry trends. With their help, you can utilize digital technologies to get ahead of competitors. Best MSPs are not stuck with their approach and technology and update their offerings based on trends, geography, and industry. For example, new forms of cybercrime develop every year. A company that focuses on innovation will know how to safeguard you from further attacks.

Value creation

Leading MSPs consult and advise on the best technologies or tools. They help build a customized program based on your business goals and strategic vision, manage the program’s implementation, and run daily operation and maintenance of those critical functions. MSPs must keep up to speed with the latest developments and develop new services to deliver value to their customers.

Customer Experience (CX)

CX has already been the buzzword for the last half a decade. The concept was initially driven by big consulting firms and is now necessary for IT customers. As modern users prefer being at the center of things, they expect self-service via knowledge forums, chatbots, and service catalogs, i.e., omnichannel communication. A Managed Service Provider for the helpdesk supports these areas to improve your NPS and CSAT. Your in-house team can focus on the strategic aspects of improving tech adoption.

Adaptability and Resilience

The disruption caused by the pandemic demonstrated that adaptability and resilience — from both MSPs and their customers — are essential to survive. As companies adopt a hybrid working culture, MSPs must shift their operating model to suit the situation. E.g., MSPs need to equip their employees and their clients with the right tools to support remote working remotely.

Red Flags: It's time to switch your IT Managed Service Provider

Technical hiccups happen regardless of your business’s size, niche, or geography. And outsourcing your IT infrastructure services to an MSP provides you with a dedicated team that can take care of all such issues. This team is always on alert to address any issues, getting you back up and running as soon as possible. You hire MSPs to fix your problems and reduce your downtime.

But fixing issues and keeping it running are slightly different things, though. If you find your MSP fixing the same issue numerous times, you’re probably with the wrong MSP. Actual MSPs must be less product-focused and more focused on solving client problems. In addition to billable hours, your MSP should track the uptime of your systems.

Sometimes with specialized services, like those an MSP provides, it can be hard to assess how well they perform their job. But the bottom line is that outsourcing your IT to a Managed Service Provider (MSP) is supposed to make your life easier. If it doesn’t, something has gone wrong. There are subtle signs that your MSP is no longer the right fit for you. A few questions to introspect are:

How often has it happened that your MSP doesn’t even know there are issues until you tell them? Do you consider your MSP as an on-demand IT service provider?

The answer to this question is about strategic fitment. Do you consider your MSP a transactional partner or partner to work with you? It’s not enough that your MSP is fixing IT issues that arise. They should proactively assess hardware and software needs and security practices bi-annual or quarterly. And this can be even outside their written contract (scope of work). Proactive maintenance makes all the difference when it comes to IT management.

Does your MSP over promise and under deliver?

MSP industry has cut-throat competition. And to survive, many MSPs rely on the effectiveness of their salespeople. However, the challenge with this method is that sales calls or pitches often commit big promises upfront to secure your business. In reality, the service provider might not have the capacity or competency to deliver such services. By reviewing your IT service agreement, you can pick areas where your MSP hasn’t delivered up to its promises.

Does your MSP have the vision to plan and execute for the future? How good is your MSP in project management skills?

The sole purpose of your MSP is to provide reliable IT services. And that can’t be achieved with a myopic view of day-to-day operational issues. Your MSP must champion taking cues from regular issues, devise long-term plans that put you in the driving seat, and execute with a transparent governance model.

Do they track response time? How well do they handle complaints? Does your MSP manage stakeholder communications effectively?

One of the best indicators to answer this question is MTTR (Mean Time To Repair/Resolve/Recovery/Response), MTTF (Mean Time To Failure), MTTA (Mean Time To Acknowledge), and MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure).[1] These can be a good baseline or benchmark that starts more challenging conversations regarding the process, RCA methodologies, response protocols, and more.

How well does your MSP align with your organization’s culture? Do they own your issues? Do they consider your users as their ‘own’ users? Do they track CSAT?

Can you ring your MSP at 2 AM and be assured that someone will be working on the ground to resolve a critical business issue. Does your MSP empathize with you in a significant outage and work tirelessly to bring back the system? Does your MSP think about the solution first or bring the contractual scope of work in every discussion? How well does your MSP resonate with your user community, values, and vision?

If answers to the above questions are No, is your service provider an MSP then? Yes, an MSP is responsible for a specific set of technologies for an agreed-upon subscription cost. But, if your MSP only does time and materials on a break-fix basis, they aren’t an MSP. You mustn’t forget that an MSP is a Managed Service Provider. The effectiveness of managed services lies in their simplicity. They augment your competency rather than you shifting your operational complexities. Actual MSPs think beyond their scope, which benefits your entire landscape.

What to look for in an MSP? Mention some qualities

Here are some of the rates for a Managed Service Provider.

  • Take a shared approach to managed services
  • Provide a flexible service model
  • Offer advanced services
  • Offer round-the-clock support
  • Support multiple time zones
  • Solid strategic relationship with your cloud provider
  • Leverage remote monitoring for proactive maintenance
  • Robust backup and disaster recovery plan
  • A dedicated, reliable, and single point of contact for your business
  • Work with your legal team to address compliance issues

How do I choose a Managed Service Provider?

What should you look for in a Managed IT Services provider? This is a severe technology investment. Many fly-by-night companies offer managed IT that don’t have the track record, experience, or bandwidth to adequately serve your organization’s needs. Review each vendor you consider with the following criteria to ensure you make a wise choice.

Flexible, Scalable Plans:

What type of plan does the service provider offer? If they are complicated and have a lot of fine print, chances are you’ll be getting charged for a lot of stuff you don’t need, or else you’ll find yourself in crisis only to learn that certain services aren’t included in your service plan.

Look for a simple, easy-to-understand billing agreement with transparency around what is and isn’t included. If you’re unclear about anything in the contract, seek advice from experts before signing. Avoid companies that want to lock you into a multi-year agreement but are reluctant to convey their responsibilities. Are they playing a leading role in continuous improvement and staying up to date with changing technology and data compliance regulations, are they playing a leading role?

Robust Customer Support:

You usually need it right away when you need customer support. You don’t have time to wait until business hours begin in a different part of the world or try and explain a complex problem to a chatbot that can only deliver answers from a preprogrammed FAQ. Ask what kind of support is promised, when and how it will be given, and what your options are in an emergency.

Service Level Agreements:

Uptime is critical to your company. If your organization isn’t accessible to your customer base, you aren’t making money. A service level agreement (SLA) will promise a certain uptime, typically well over 99%, and a response time during outages within a specific time frame. If the Managed Services provider fails to meet these obligations, they will typically be subject to a penalty (often a free service period to make up for their breach of service.

Final Thoughts

A Managed IT Service delivers outsourced support, maintenance, and monitoring of your critical infrastructure and end-users. They augment you with the right expertise, including proactive device management to minimize future issues and reactive support when you need it most. Whether a more significant server issue or minor user issue, MSP supports your staff wherever they are using your technology. Also, MSPs can facilitate shifts and thrive in the post-COVID world by embracing innovation, flexibility, and agility.

And, like all relationships, you need to review your engagement to guarantee value for your money critically. Modern businesses leverage technology to stay competitive. So, your MSP must remain at the top of their game to keep your technology reliable. And we often hear from businesses working with their current provider for years but are too nervous about finding an alternative partner. Changing providers come with a perception of a complicated process that involves days of IT downtime and business disruption. Surprisingly or not, switching your MSP can be a cakewalk when you find the right partner.

If you are unsure of your MSP, we will audit and discover your potential areas of improvement.

We start every engagement with a discovery process to identify your business goals, risk areas, and technological priorities. We then create a strategic plan that is mapped to your business goals and provide ongoing monitoring and measurement to track the success of our solution. Protected Harbor’s team of engineers, consultants, and certified technicians work with you to implement the best-fit technology to meet your organizational goals. You benefit from working with one trusted partner who understands your unique organizational goals.

Protected Harbor manages your IT infrastructure from soup to nuts. We’ve covered you from email to teleconferencing, website hosting, cloud storage, computer repair, etc. We stay on top of your technological demands daily, keeping the lights on and providing strategic guidance to higher-ups.

Protected Harbor offers customized IT solutions to businesses looking to scale their technology, and we’re on a mission to give you the best customer service possible. We are constantly innovating to ensure you have the best experience with our products. As one of our customers, you can expect excellent service, quick response times, and an eager team to help. We are not your average MSP. We are engineers, software developers, analysts, designers, and lifelong learners. We offer a tailored approach to managed services designed to meet each client’s unique needs.