With the Canadian economy now returning to a period of strong growth, businesses across the nation will no doubt be looking to expand operations. Yet with globalization having lowered the barriers to entry across almost every industry, competition to attract new customers has never been fiercer. Businesses can no longer afford to fall behind in the race to better and cheaper services backed up by strong delivery.
But how to do so? There is only one route to take - digital innovation. Through optimizing internal processes with new hardware and cloud-based collaborative platforms, companies of all shapes and sizes can deliver cheaper and better products or services to their customer base. Nevertheless, digital innovation cannot be a singular event, but instead must be part of a long-term IT strategy that ensures operations are reviewed and improved regularly to maintain a competitive edge.
Digital innovation can be achieved in one of two ways. Firstly, through curating an expert internal team of IT engineers who work solely to improve your business. With enough resources to play with, a large corporation could hire developers, cloud engineers and network administrators to improve their IT environment from the inside. But for most businesses, this approach is likely to be financially unrealistic.
The second approach is to hire an external IT Managed Services Provider (MSP) who can develop and enact a digital strategy. Outsourcing your business’ IT strategy in this way is often the best approach, as it grants you access to experts with cutting-edge knowledge and skills without breaking the bank.
However, not all MSPs are created equal. Without a growth-focused, bespoke strategy in place, an MSP can simply become reactive to day-to-day issues rather than truly being ‘strategic’ in their plans. Adding tools and platforms without ensuring they actively and measurably support the business’ operations, employee productivity or customer experience is essentially worthless. Strategy has to come first, else any IT initiative - however well-meaning - risks not delivering benefit, costing more than planned, or even compromising data security, as seen with the recent Capital One data breach.
A business must therefore seek out an MSP that puts as much effort into strategy and high level business goals as into the routine maintenance and the delivery of IT projects. Here are the three key considerations that will lead you to the provider that will genuinely impact your business.
1. Ensure the MSP understands your business and IT needs
An MSP must understand a client’s industry and goals inside out to make genuinely impactful and practicable recommendations. Without this understanding, the MSP is destined to treat your business with a cookie-cutter approach, at the expense of better-considered technology.
A good MSP will be able to take your corporate strategy and identify how and where technology can help most. They will optimize and protect your existing resources and tools, while also constantly looking for ways to improve your operations, whether through new introductions or changes to the status quo.
For instance, we work with an interior design agency based in Ontario who had set itself a goal of improving collaboration and project accuracy. Rather than offer all our clients the same tool, regardless of their structure or needs, we introduced a Virtual CIO who worked with them to identify the most suitable solution for their business, which in their case was Microsoft Office 365.
The monthly per user pricing model made clear financial sense compared to individual software licences and their renewals; while the intuitive, recognizable interfaces of Microsoft’s collaboration apps meant that users would adopt the new tools easier and experience less downtime.
2. Ensure they constantly improve your ‘Business as usual’ policies
While digital innovation will often focus on ambitious new projects, a strategic MSP will also know when time should also be spent on making sure their day-to-day activities are of a high standard. They will ensure that patching processes are well automated, that inspection routines are rigorous and that the metrics and processes - no matter how impressive they may seem - match their own specific requirements.
For example, different businesses require different speed or availability of help desk support. An e-commerce business operating across multiple time zones at all hours of the day, seven days a week, will need their MSP to ensure continuous uptime and rapid out of hours issue resolution.
On the other hand, some businesses mainly operate within normal business hours, but have predictable peaks of activity during the year. For instance, a Canadian accountancy firm will need extra support and high priority service during T1 tax season, while retailers or e-commerce businesses might require increased levels of support throughout December in the run up to Christmas.
3. Ensure that your MSP ‘future-proofs’ your business
The third quality to look for in a strategic MSP is the ability to plan for the long-term. An MSP might recommend sensible technologies that initially work well for your business needs, but may undermine future efforts to expand operations due to a lack of scalability.
A classic example is where an MSP recommends new approaches without considering data privacy laws, and particularly how they may change. Canadian businesses who target the EU market, for example, are now subject to GDPR rules. If the introduction of this law was not considered when your MSP redesigned your infrastructure, you may find that some of your data management processes are undermining your adherence. The same may occur again if your MSP is not aware of new data privacy legislation or new industry-specific regulations that are due to be introduced and that will impact your business.
Any MSP should, therefore, make recommendations in the context of those current and future regulations, especially with cloud-based technologies that need to be carefully assessed in terms of the data they process. No matter how financially-beneficial an MSP is in the short term, if it is not sufficiently skilled to make recommendations in the context of the wider industry and economy, it is only a matter of time before the strategy puts your business at risk.
Ensuring that an IT Managed Services plan is strategic rather than reactive is crucial for digital innovation, and ultimately for the business to meet its ambitions. Ultimately, it comes down to whether they can align to and support your strategy. If so, the result will be an immediate and continued acceleration. If not, it could mean irretrievable lost opportunity.
Author Julian Box is CEO at data privacy specialist Calligo. For more information about Calligo, visit https://calligo.cloud/