My roots are in the construction industry. My maternal grandfather and my father were both home builders of considerable accomplishment. In particular, my grandfather had as many as 15 carpenters working on the payroll. And most of these carpenters did the plumbing, electrical, and painting, too. This was 'old school'.
But the trend 20-30 years later was for the more successful home builder to hire independent subcontractors, especially for such unique skills as drywall or roofing. Then there were framers, finish and trim subcontractors, landscapers, painters, plumbers, electricians, etc. But the sign on the lawn in front of the new home still displayed the name of the builder with the various subcontractors remaining anonymous. While the subcontractor chose this path of anonymity, they gave up the overall responsibility along with notoriety. That said, they were responsible to their trade and were required to produce consistent workmanship, else they were not hired again.
In real estate 50 years ago, agents worked for a small office and worked alone. Now real estate agencies are mostly franchised, and most agents work as part of team, some split into buyer representatives and perhaps another faction of the team working for the seller. But the agent in charge of it all is the one that gets the notoriety, the monetary rewards, and the upset clients.
In the IT industry, the technician formerly wore every hat just like the early builder and their tradesmen. But now we have printer/copier people, cable specialists, developers, security analysts, web designers, server and network techs, social media experts, website hosts, PowerShell scripters, cloud architects...
But another trend in IT is to subcontract helpdesk and network operations center (NOC) to an independent firm, the Master Managed IT Services Provider (MMSP). While some have disparaged this method, I would argue that this should be the support infrastructure that clients seek when sizing up their next prospective Managed IT Services Provider (MSP). Here’s why:
1. The client wants the option to pick up the phone and call the IT person in charge.
They might not want to speak to the tech person on night duty, but there is a different phone number for that. Instead, they want to have that one-to-one conversation with someone that they know and trust, someone with whom they’ve established a rapport that is ultimately responsible for the technical duties.
But ultimately, the client has only one ‘throat-to-choke’. And when that client wants to have a conversation with the person who took on the responsibility of maintaining their tech, they do not want a busy signal, be sent to voicemail, or end up with an unintelligible foreign accent on the end of the line.
2. The Master Managed Services Provider performs under contract.
So does the client, and so does the MSP. Employees can also perform under a contract, but I’ve experienced situations where these types of contracts are practically unenforceable. But the MMSP is bound to the duty of the agreement between them and the MSP. The MSP can dictate the manner in which the independent contractor MMSP performs, which by law and by reputation maintains a steady balance between client expectations and MSP responsibilities.
It’s been debated that the MMSP is the ‘fox in the henhouse’ when considering the mergers and acquisitions happening all over the IT industry. I would argue that the tech(s) are also foxes in the henhouse. With the proper agreement and honor among its participants, a contractual arrangement can keep everyone pleased. Another builder metaphor: When my father was asked for a contract late in his home building career (he never used contracts), he responded to his client by extending his hand and said, “Here is your contract.” It was likely considered a binding contract because there was a meeting of the minds.
But the dynamics between the providers (MSP and MMSP) determine the quality of their relationship, which spills over to the client. To use the builder metaphor again, if (s)he hires a skilled and reputable painter, then the home will be spotless when the home buyer arrives. If the MSP hires the right Master MSP within a proper framework, then the client will be pleased and contribute to a healthy business arrangement.
3. The MSP with an MMSP solution provides a consistent quality of service.
Some might argue that rapport is lost when helpdesk and NOC are outsourced. On the contrary, a pool of unique technicians from a Master MSP can be assigned to a specific client so that there is a familiar, reliable, and consistent customer experience. More than that, availability and scalability become factors when a client expands or contracts – the MSP can adapt to client size by enlisting more or fewer resources.
For the small business owner considering a new IT firm, they should best consider that the IT firm might be too large or too small. Too large an IT firm means a disconnect between client and provider. Too small a firm could mean a chaotic outcome and service degradation as the IT firm’s clients might grow unexpectedly. But for the IT firm that has a dynamically sized and multiple-skilled human resource pool at their disposal, then growth is scalable while the consistent quality of service is maintained.
4. SMBs want to do business with SMBs.
If given the choice between Behemoth IT Corporation, Dynamic IT, or Puny & Struggling IT LLC, which would you want as your technology partner? Behemoth IT is represented in today’s IT industry by such giants as All Covered and their parent company, Konica. If you contract with them, will you get the attention to detail that you require? Puny & Struggling IT LLC are trying to grow their staff to meet demand by an initially good reputation, but then one tech jumped ship for a better paying job, another got in a fight with his girlfriend, and yet another tech forgot to back up a client, just before that client was hit with ransomware. An IT firm with a dynamically sized staff can scale to your needs, while still maintaining rapport. The outsourcing of helpdesk and NOC services means that the leader of the IT firm inherently has more time to spend on quality control and sealing that ‘glue’ that holds them invaluable to one another.
5. A dynamic IT firm can put ‘boots on the ground’ - anywhere at any time.
Any established IT firm will tell you that about 95% of their remediation is performed on a remote basis. The helpdesk and NOC services account for that percentage, but what about the rest? From Wikipedia: “WorkMarket is a New York City-based company that provides an online platform and marketplace for businesses to manage freelancers, contractors, and consultants.” This means that WorkMarket vets the worker in terms of legality, criminality, and certifications. It’s a full-time job, but that’s what they do – find and scrutinize good technicians to qualify them as qualified representatives that would enter your workplace.
Everything has changed. Again. What worked during former times is not necessarily what works today.
Resolute IT has been 100% cloud-based since 2009. During the prior ten years, we were a small and conventional IT firm on Cape Cod with big servers and big gas bills as we traversed the dunes in a frenzied fashion, putting out technical fires here and there. Today we’re a calm and proactive firm that can provide its services anywhere in the US in a smart, efficient, predictable, and cloud-centric manner.