What's a Managed Service Anyway?

In the IT service world over the past 10 years, a buzzword has emerged:  “Managed Services”.  It really is the best way to do outsourced IT in my opinion.  Unfortunately, this term has been bastardized, overused, and no longer carries the weight it should.

So, what does it really mean and why should I care?

Managed services, by my definition, is really about responsibility, ownership, and alignment of interests.  At it’s core is intrinsic motivation, a magical force that happens when you give someone a purpose that is not primarily based on external rewards.  There’s a facsinating TED talk on this by Daniel Pink, I highly recommend spending the 20 minutes.  To understand the value in the IT world, let’s have a look a the big three challenges facing IT service providers and their clients:


When I first worked as a tech, I billed my time hourly, I would deal daily with the conundrum of putting a band-aid on something vs really digging into a lasting solution.  On one side I had my own interest, billable hours = $$$, and honestly I wanted to do a good job, the best job I could.  On the other side I had the client, who wanted something fixed, for as little $$$ as possible.  This was a frustrating place to be in, and it didn’t foster the greatest relationships.  Not to mention, they were in a frustrating spot when I was called to help, so I’m seen as an opportunist, profiting from their misfortunes.  Which leads to my next point…

Conflict of Interest

When my client is down, I make money.  When my client is up, I don’t make money.  This is just so obviously a negative relationship, not much more to say that isn’t already self evident here.


Client:“Hey IT I lost a file, can you restore it from backup”  

IT: "Sure I’ll get right on that”(checks backup, finds it hasn’t been running correctly)

IT: "Backup hasn’t run in two weeks, I can’t restore your file”

Client: "How did this happen, why didn’t you fix it when it stopped working?

IT: "I’m sorry, I didn’t know. You never asked me to check on it, you only call me when you need something fixed.”

A security service such as antivirus or backup is only as effective as it is maintained.  If nobody is responsible for watching it (“monitoring”), and then responding to any problems that arise, then you might as well not even run the software.  

True Managed Services

The answers to these three challenges are plain, but they require commitment and professionalism from both sides, and some risk.  In the right relationship, the IT provider is taking risk away from the client.  In the old model with the challenges listed above, the client is retaining all of that risk.

The Ownership challenge is solved bya flat rate for unlimited support.  This can be scary to commit to if you’re an IT provider, but it can be done with the right agreement and definition of scope and requirements.  Techs are now driven by a motivation to do their best work (intrinsic), to make their job easier and the client’s life better.  Though there will always be things to fix, techs can focus more than before on that second point (Responsibility) …

The Responsibility challenge is solved by a collection of IT Management/security services (like backups) that are licensed, implemented, managed, monitored, maintained and supported by IT.   This is proactive preventitive work and a better use of everyone’s time/money and attention.

And finally, the Conflict of Interest challenge is solved by the flat rate approach as well.  The interests of both IT and the client are aligned.  The common goal is uptime, and life is better for everyone involved when working towards a common goal.

And last but certainly not least, this True Managed Services approach to IT operations allows IT to mature from a break-fix mentatility and expense line item to a resource being leveraged for a competitive advantage.  The Managed model is a foundation of a sound IT strategy.  A Strategic approach to IT is key to who we are at Proactis, and always the best place to start the IT conversation (you can read about that here).