Choosing an IT services supplier

If you do not have an IT department, you may also need to buy external IT services. These services can help you set up and maintain hardware and software and provide tech support to staff. 

Managed services providers (MSPs) are companies that look after your computer systems on a day-to-day basis. 

At a minimum, MSPs should:

  • monitor your network, servers and computers for issues – this includes critical services like backups and security systems
  • provide maintenance so that your computer systems run better for longer 
  • support your team when they have IT problems

Some MSPs will provide additional services, such as helping you to connect to the internet or providing strategic advice. 

Internal IT managers vs managed services providers

If you are a larger organisation with lots of people relying on IT, you may need an internal IT manager. This person can learn about your business and needs in depth, and potentially respond quicker to challenges. 

If you don’t have the skills or capacity to manage IT internally, you’ll need external IT support. Even with an internal IT manager, you may still need extra support. An MSP could bring additional capacity and a broader range of skills and knowledge. 

Choosing a managed services provider

Choose an MSP that understands your needs as a social care provider. They should understand the importance of keeping information safe, and ideally have experience in supporting clients through governance processes such as the Data Security and Protection Toolkit

A good MSP should be:

  • personable and able to speak to your staff in non-technical language 
  • consistent yet adaptable to your business needs (they can adapt their offer to your requirements) 
  • constantly improving their services (for example, through training their staff or building new services to help their clients) 

Ask for references from other social care organisations with similar needs to you. 

Some IT businesses offer managed IT services as a ‘bolt-on’ to their service or product, but it is not their core business. Be aware that these kinds of services may tie you into using a particular product or service. 

What to ask potential suppliers

Before agreeing a contract with a new MSP, find out about the following: 

  1. What service level agreements (SLA) do they offer?

An SLA is a commitment made by the MSP of the service they will offer you. It will include their response times for fixing problems. 

Nearly all MSPs will offer a ‘response’ SLA –- this means the time they will respond to your requests will vary, and you may need to pay more for a quicker response. 

Fewer will offer a ‘fix’ SLA, because it’s hard to predict what will break and how long it will take to fix it. 

Ask MSPs what types of service levels they offer. Consider what technology you rely on and may need fixing right away, and what could wait a few hours or days.

Ask MSPs how they measure the performance of their service levels and report that information back to you. Check what happens if the MSP fails to meet the agreed service. 

2. What is and isn’t included? 

Clarify what the service does and doesn’t include. Ask what else may be required later to avoid surprise costs. 

Some MSPs differentiate between ‘managed IT services’ and ‘managed IT support’. For managed IT support, you would expect them to:

  • check backups are running 
  • help staff with local issues on their computers
  • install security patches and updates

For managed IT services, you might expect support with setting up with services like Microsoft Office 365 and Google Workspace.

MSPs may not be able to help with issues with third-party software, such as your medication management system. Ask if they can support you with this, or whether you should expect to ask the third-party supplier for support instead. 

3. What are their service hours and how do they charge for support? 

Ask your MSP what hours they work. Check what happens if you report a serious issue out of hours, or close to the end of the working day or week.

Some MSPs include support hours in their costs, and others do not. They may charge extra for:

  • out of hours support
  • support beyond the first 15 minutes of a support ticket
  • on-site support
  • adding new users
  • additional support hours beyond your monthly allowance (check whether unused time will rollover into the following month) 

Find out which of these terms apply to work out whether the MSP is affordable for your needs. 

4. What are the contract terms? 

You should expect a contract of at least one year, but some contracts may be two to three years. Be wary of contracts that are longer than this. If the supplier asks for a longer contract, ask about break clauses (opportunities to end the contract early) to protect both parties. 

Ask the MSP what will happen at the end of the contract term. Will the contract automatically renew for another long contract period or, will it continue “month by month”?

Ask what happens if the MSP does not live up to your expectations – will they offer money back? How much notice will you need to give to end the contract (a fair notice period is usually between one and three  months)? 

5. What is their onboarding process?

Ask the MSP about their process for taking on new clients. 

Some onboarding jobs will include: 

  • removing access from your old MSP into your systems. 
  • installing tools to allow the new MSP to provide technical support. - Writing up initial documentation on your systems
  • password changes
  • health and safety assessments
  • establishing contact with your other IT-related suppliers

The MSP may have identified a package of work that needs doing before they can support you. This might be updating settings or installing extra security measures.

Check how they plan to communicate with your team during the onboarding process. Do they have documentation to explain what’s going to happen? 

6. Do they have testimonials from other clients? 

Ask for reference clients and contact other social care providers who use their services. 

You could ask the references: 

  • what does the MSP consistently do well? 
  • what could the MSP do to improve? 
  • have you had any issues with MSP and how did they overcome them? 
  • have you had any success stories or “big wins”? 

7. How will they keep data secure?

Your MSP will need full access to your systems, so you must trust that they are keeping their own systems safe and secure.

You could ask them:

  • whether they have a cyber security accreditation like Cyber Essentials, IASME or ISO27001 (this is a requirement on the Data Security and Protection Toolkit)
  • how they provide security awareness training to their people
  • how they track their people accessing your computer system
  • how they keep the passwords to your systems secure? 

Ask the MSP how they’ll track which of their support people have been accessing your systems. They should be able to tell you who, when, and why your systems have been accessed. You will need this information if you have, or plan to get, Cyber Essentials

Your MSP will also have access to highly sensitive and confidential information. Ask them to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to provide you with protection in case they share confidential information without your permission. 

8. What insurance do they have? 

If your MSP causes you a serious issue, there may be grounds for compensation or a refund. Ask your MSP what insurance they have in place, to what financial limit and request a copy for your records.