Key elements in MSP Service Delivery
When I work with retained IT organisations, particularly if they are looking for ideas about how to get more focussed and in control of their service delivery, I always suggest that they look at MSPs and their approach. There’s always something you can glean from other organisations and also those with a different focus…

The reason for this is not that I think that MSPs are necessarily always better than their in-house service delivery counterparts. However, generally the MSP companies have a number of operational processes and controls in place that can be copied or adapted and used – often these don’t exist or are not used to the same extent in the internal IT organisations. Many (not all) of these are completely transferrable from external to internal operations and make good business sense.

Many internal Service Desks in IT departments struggle to get good support from their IT colleagues, whereas in a commercial environment, often the visible service sold is the Service Desk, so the organisational focus is naturally on supporting that.

Often there is a dearth of good reporting and useful metrics produced in internal IT, again in comparison to the array of data and Management Information that is produced on an industrial scale in MSP organisations.

In simple summary terms, much of this can be focussed around the ‘shift- left’ approach, which basically involves mandating the need to push incident resolution to the front line. The business reasons for doing this are clear – it is hugely cheaper to resolve an incident with minimum user downtime and supplier touch-points and delay.

It makes good commercial sense to fix as much as possible at the front desk. Shift- left really is a ‘treble whammy win-win’ for most service operations – cheaper, faster, less complex and , less disruptive – so it really should be a ‘no-brainer’.

So whilst a Service-Desk resolved incident might cost £10, to fix this at 2nd level will cost £100 and 3rd level £300.

This in turn of course then drives different behaviours for other support teams, who are then required to provide knowledge and resolution data to the frontline. To me it’s a critical difference between internal and external IT support organisations. This is often crystallised by a complete contrast in focus, where one (internal) organisation will require their frontline teams to justify why knowledge and resolution should be given to them, when the MSP organisation will require technical teams to justify why they shouldn’t do this..!

The battles you might have with internal 3rd line teams about how much technical capability they are willing to give to the Service Desk, are seen from a completely different perspective. In the ‘shift- left’ environment, it’s a much more productive and positive approach.

Of course shift left is also (and should be primarily) about customer experience – ie doing everything to ensure that the customer issue gets resolved as quickly as possible. For me there should be the same approach in internal organisations to drive and push the onus on technical people to ensure that as much as possible can be resolved at the Service Desk.

We also have the ongoing debate around whether or to what extent we actually need to have ‘Incident Management’ – i.e. we should focus on quality and getting it right first time. This is contentious for the MSP world, where contracts are often based on this very process.

Safe to say for many large MSP organisations the process of Incident Management is a major revenue earner, where they may need to process tens of thousands of incidents on their clients’ behalf every day, so being efficient and proficient at Incident Management has got to be one of their strengths. The key question is: how do they move out of this cycle and work together more with their customers on CSI and Problem Management to reduce and remove issues. (see previous blog).

So what’s the real difference? – and the value-add that can be gleaned from a good MSP?

For me this is simple – MSPs are organised for governance.

In other words they start from a service model perspective and then build roles, processes, metrics, then hire people and use tools to meet this model.

In particular they set up the operation in such a way that it is taken for granted that services and components of the services (Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)s, processes, performance etc.) will be measured and subject to ongoing governance – that just happens. The machinery of any decent MSP will include resources dedicated to service governance – staff working on call quality, process governance, procedures and tools. The sService function will also have clear models for hiring, developing and managing staff, as well as ongoing review and performance monitoring.

None of these areas are of course exclusive to MSPs, however I consistently find that the level of governance and assurance that is provided (and expected) from outsourced IT is consistently high.

By comparison most internal IT service functions have evolved organically and often simply won’t have the levels of measurement, reporting and ongoing quality management that are in place in MSP companies. Often they can have more issues with a lack of clarity around their service model, the expectations of what they need from staff and how these expectations are measured and controlled.

Whilst many internal IT teams struggle to come to terms with delivering strong and consistent management, performance management and reporting, good metrics, consistent SLA performance etc. – MSPs are built to do this. Management and governance – which in turn provide consistency and reduced risk – are MSPs business.

None of which of course means that an external managed service is the right choice in every situation. Not every IT service needs to be managed and delivered with the same levels of stricture and assurance and of course many IT services require specialist and in-house knowledge and resources to deliver niche and bespoke services and expertise.

The elements of a good MSP should be universal in all Service Management operations – good metrics and reporting, clear goals, ongoing monitoring, strong management and governance around service delivery. We should all be able to learn from that and use the MSP model as a template.

What will vary are the additional requirements for technical and specialist IT capability, customer relationship management and interaction, specialist business knowledge etc. – i.e. the key business and technical needs.

The fundamentals of Service Management require consistent delivery and the MSP model should deliver this like a machine – and a very well-oiled one at that.

About the Author

Barclay Rae has extensive experience in ITSM, Service Desks, Service Catalogues, and CRM. He is a high profile industry consultant and business manager, with significant business, sales, project and operational delivery experience including:

  • Consulting and project management on over 500+ Service Management
  • Creation of ITSMGoodness – a practical approach for ITSM
  • Media input via ITSM TV and podcasts – also white papers and blogs
  • Commitment to service excellence and business success.
  • BRC clients include; Aggregate Industries, Lloyds Pharmacy, Nationwide, Thomson Reuters, Thomsons Solicitors, BP, RBS, Sony, Oxford University, United Nations.

For more information, please visit: