How to Choose a Managed Service Provider

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Working “in the cloud,” by and large, has become commonplace and just how work is done for accountants. But there comes a point where you just want to have one place to go for everything you work on as it can become untenable and, let’s be honest, not as secure as any application on your machines.

While security alone needn’t be the only motivating factor to seek out a managed service provider, the fact is the digital world is not getting any safer. Even with a full-time IT manager, which, let’s face it, most accounting firms don’t have or look to afford, if you want to continue to work on the tools you need to have, keeping it all in a secure space, monitored 24/7 is a bit of a no-brainer.  This goes for all cloud and desktop applications, as well, having one secure environment for your team and clients to work on is your why, but there are more reasons to choose a managed service provider. 

Consider the following:

  • You eliminate the considerable expense and effort of refreshing your IT infrastructure. At the same time, software performance is no longer degraded by aging hardware.
  • There are no surprises – outgoings become predictable, making it easier to set a budget.
  • There’s no need to allocate resources to managing and maintaining your software. Installations, quarterly updates, patches and bug fixes are all done for you, at an agreed time, ensuring your teams have uninterrupted use of the latest versions.
  • Using a hosted server protects your software and the invaluable client and business data stored on it, safeguarding your practice from devastating threats such as flood, fire, theft, and cyber attacks. Your data is constantly and automatically backed up to offsite servers, ready to be restored in the event of a data disaster.

And these are just really, “top of mind” considerations based on my years of speaking to firms who have moved to or currently utilize a managed service provider for all or most of what they work on. Outside of the aforementioned, there are some additional factors to consider as well, and these should be on your short checklist if you are in the market for a managed service provider. 

Customer Service

We’re going to go into some detail about this in another article, but the level of customer service you receive from your managed service provider is likely the defining factor of you staying with them and even paying more. When you are running critical applications on their platform, particularly at the most busy times of the year for you (tax season being one of them), the last things you want is to:

  • Not get a hold of someone to address your questions or concerns
  • Have to wait to have a problem solved or…
  • Have an issue remain unresolved for Any period of time
  • Not get the attention of a representative no matter the time of day the matter arises

These are just top of mind issues, but the fact is customer service can be a subjective thing and at the end of the day you just want to have access, attention, and availability of a representative. As such, knowing there is 24/7/365 care in some form has become table stakes for anyone paying for a managed service. As I mentioned, some will even be willing to pay more than a competitor if the service is noticeably better. Ace Cloud comes to mind, anecdotally speaking as I’ve heard them called out specifically for this high level of customer service.

But how do you really know? Start with reviews. Ask to see customer service policies and service level agreements and of course check with your colleagues/crowdsource about a particular company and the experience they offer. Do all of the above before signing anything or paying a dime.

Access to Data and All Apps

Much like the service you receive from a provider, being able to get at your applications and data whenever and how often you need to is paramount for any such relationship to work. At the most basic level, you’re already paying for the applications you use and now need to factor in the cost of having them secured with a managed service provider.  As such, the last thing you want is to have any issues accessing what you need.

As with customer service, data access (and often ‘uptime’) are, or should be, covered in the Service Level Agreement. What’s also important to remember is that you likely have cloud and desktop applications that you are working on. Having access to all of them in one place conveniently and securely is a strong consideration for any managed service provider to be able to deliver.

Ransomware attacks

While data security is a large reason why you employ a managed service, not all of them necessarily can say what they do in case of some of the more serious cybersecurity attacks. Ransomware is by far one of the more challenging events for any business to deal with, let alone your accounting firm. It can be financial crippling in a number of ways, all stemming from the ability to access data.

In most ransomware attacks, the hacker locks access to your data and won’t release it until there is some price paid to unlock it. With these kinds of attacks, it plays on the emotional aspects of such an event. Time is also a factor as well and, in the end, victims of a ransomware attack often find the means and pay up, which again can be damaging to any business.

With the right managed service provider, even in a ransomware attack, your files are backed up and accessible to you if your machines are compromised.

Conclusion

There is clearly a lot to consider when entering into a managed service relationship with a trusted provider. Make no mistake, when you are entrusting data, essential applications and ultimately your firm’s livelihood to a third party, that is exactly what it is…a trusted relationship that you do not enter lightly. 

Do your research, consider all of the above even though it is not a definitive list, but also know the clear advantages of having a managed service provider in your corner.

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