As a Toronto-based business owner, you need to remain focused on your core value proposition. For many entrepreneurs and managers, the effort of choosing, implementing, and maintaining technology can become a distraction from their mission. One of the best ways to overcome this is to let a managed IT services provider (MSP) plan, develop and maintain your technology infrastructure and information systems. But how do you choose an MSP? For many firms, the go-to method is to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP).
Of course, if you’ve never solicited MSP services before, it’s hard to know exactly what to include in your RFP (In part I of this blog, we detailed ways for you to determine the purpose and the desired outcomes of your request). If you simply download a cookie-cutter RFP template, for example, you risk getting wildly different responses in both substance and pricing - and that doesn’t really help your decision-making process. Your objective for the RFP should be to get a detailed cost breakdown for services and solutions that meet your needs, to get answers to the questions you have about the provider, and to establish a mechanism by which you can conduct a fair “apples-to-apples” comparison between the bidders.
Back to Basics: What is a Request for Proposal?
An RFP is a document for soliciting business proposals from service vendors. Below is a common outline for an RFP:
- Introduction – give a brief background about your company; this would be an excellent place to insert your problem statement from Part 1 of our blog
- Objective – relay your purpose for requesting proposals;
- Project abstract and scope of work – state why you’re seeking services or undertaking a project and provide an initial list of deliverables;
- Submission guidelines – specify rules and timelines for proposal submission; and
- Requirements – list necessary qualifications such as licenses, certifications, security clearances, experience, and relevant regulatory compliance records;
Related article: Part I: Before the RFP, ask yourself, “What do we want?”
Beyond the basics: Assessing the Bidders
Assessment criteria are by far the most important part of your RFP. They provide you with the opportunity to outline your priorities, and they provide the bidder with the opportunity to highlight their competitive differences. The assessment criteria should detail the methodology that will be used to evaluate or score the bidder on each item.
Ask the bidders to respond to these types of criteria:
|Criteria||What to look for|
|What type of support and services will you render, and for how long? Detail your experience in IT operations, cloud, automation, mobility, IoT, cybersecurity, and disaster recovery.||Gaps in services that could result in additional fees; is the support live, local, and does it cover the hours you are in business?|
|What will the impact be on our staff regarding any new processes or systems?||Ways the bidder will reduce or eliminate staff impact; documentation on procedures that can be shared with staff|
|Who are the personnel who will work on our account, and what are their duties?||Years of experience; alignment of roles to your needs|
|What are their specializations, experience, and certifications?||Certifications from tech vendors or regulatory bodies; experience in your industry or with specific compliance issues (e.g. PIPEDA, GDPR)|
|Are we able to tour your facilities during the RFP evaluation process?||Facility security; people security; live, visible system monitoring; backup & disaster recovery capabilities; space for customer operations in case of a disaster; staff wellness programs|
Digging Deeper: Differentiating the Bidders
Relationships with multiple vendors
Because each business has a unique set of needs, you’ll want an MSP that has relationships with many vendors and has the experience of sewing disparate systems into relatively seamless solutions. Therefore, you must ask proposers which vendors they plan to use to provide the service deliverable. You may also ask them to provide detailed process workflows that show how well the proposed solution will work under normal and extraordinary scenarios.
Also, if you’re in need of cloud services, you must avoid MSPs that provide only one cloud platform. If that platform suffers prolonged downtime or goes out of business, you’ll lose a lot of time before you get your systems back up and running again. You want an MSP that knows how to identify single points of failure and mitigate such risks.
Reporting, monitoring, and documentation tools
The most reputable MSPs are capable of providing reporting and analytics that detail how they are performing against your agreed-upon metrics. Therefore, ask proposers to provide information about the following:
- Monitoring tools – MSPs must describe the tools they’ll use in order to measure key performance indicators (KPIs). A great MSP is able to clearly show how their services are improving productivity, reducing costs, and increasing security.
- Reporting tools - You’ll want a single dashboard with customizable views so that you can quickly get the big picture or zoom in to specific areas of your business with ease. Ask them to provide sample reports and if the reports are available for online viewing.
- Documentation tools – You’ll want an MSP that can provide a system for documenting and keeping records of service, product installations, and systems maintenance and updates.
- Trouble Ticketing - If an MSP is offering tech support, they must describe their trouble ticket system, state staff availability (the industry “gold” standard is 24x7x365), specify KPIs such as wait time and first contact resolution rate (i.e., the percentage of tickets that are resolved without requiring any escalation)
Proactive approach and foresight
You want a provider that’s on top of the latest relevant tech developments, one that always thinks about how tech can give your business a sharper competitive edge, help you expand into new territories, diversify with different verticals, or even create new categories. Ask your potential provider how much money and/or time a customer saved or how their businesses were protected because of the provider’s services. However, be on guard if an MSP pitches services, solutions, or equipment purchases that are far in excess of your requirements. They might just be looking to needlessly bloat their billables.
One of the clear signs of business success is growth. A small MSP will only be able to support limited growth, which is all well and good if that’s what you want. For more ambitious outlooks, you’ll want to partner with an MSP that can support deployment in multiple locations, be it in the same province, region, or all over the globe. Things to ask for in your RFP can include familiarity with legal and regulatory requirements, local partners, and infrastructure capacity in your targeted locations.
More often than not, SMBs have limited budgets, so investing in a relationship with an MSP requires extra due diligence. Look for MSPs who have multiple online testimonials from active customers who are willing to go ‘on the record’ with their name and position identified. In your RFP, ask providers for references from organizations that are similar in size and industry to yours and who can validate claims of service excellence. You’ll want to think twice about bidders who can’t offer any.
Taking the time to ask the right questions in your RFP will instrumental in helping you fairly evaluate and choose the MSP that’s the best fit for your business. Be it through an RFP or via our free consultation, we at XBASE are committed to working with you to address all of your pressing IT concerns.
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