A growing trend for small and midsized businesses looking to bolster their IT processes is to contract a managed services provider (MSP). Hiring an MSP can cost one-third to one-half less than a full-time, salaried IT person, and third-party experts bring specialized skills to the table that not every techie possesses.

For SMBs without any IT staff, tabbing an MSP to handle their technology is a no-brainer. However, if your business already employs an IT person or two, the decision may not be as clear. Your IT staffers may welcome the extra help, but you need to determine a clear scope of service from the provider and a plan for who is responsible for what.

When trying to integrate a managed services provider into your existing IT staff, it certainly offers plenty of benefits that usually outweigh any perceived negatives (which, often, are unfounded worries rather than true negatives). Even so, due diligence is necessary to find the best MSP for your needs and to make the transition as smooth as possible. Here are three critical steps to take to better integrate a managed service provider into your current IT strategy:

Identify IT Challenges

Before determining if integrating a managed service provider into your current IT staff can help you, take a deep look at the IT challenges your organization is facing. No two SMBs are the same, and neither are the technology requirements and struggles they deal with on a daily basis. Assemble a list of the current IT issues that are overwhelming your limited staff and affecting efficiency of those staffers—and the entire business as a whole. Also, assess where you would like your company’s IT to be not just immediately, but also in six months, in a year, and beyond. Your existing IT staffers are likely so busy with day-to-day requirements that mapping out a long-term strategy is not even close to being on their radar. An MSP can work on those goals and stabilize your IT challenges.

Check Ratings, Reviews, and Networks

In the digital age, businesses are anything but anonymous. Customers and clients leave online reviews for the businesses they patronize. Many businesses—perhaps even your own—encourage these reviews to promote themselves and the outstanding work they do and the products they deliver. Do your homework when researching MSPs by seeking reviews on Google, Facebook, Clutch, and other channels. Pay particular attention to reviews detailing how the provider worked with the customer’s IT staff—especially if a staffer wrote the review and is giving an honest assessment of the relationship.That said, word-of-mouth remains a powerful means of determining if an MSP is worth your time. Contact your networks to ask about trustworthy providers. Your IT staffers likely have contacts who can offer opinions on the subject as well. Recommendations are a good launching point for deeper vetting of an MSP—but only if you ask for and receive a recommendation in the first place.

Ace the Interview

Interviewing an MSP is essential to determining if the consultant will meet your needs and successfully integrate with your existing IT staff. Asking the right questions is crucial. Some tips for acing the interview include:

  • During initial sales calls, clearly explain the IT challenges your organization is looking to overcome.
  • Ask questions to determine if the MSP would be a good fit with your team. Will its staffers’ personalities mesh with your IT staffers and your overall company culture?
  • Determine if the MSP is more of a consultant or a strategic partner. Consultants can be valuable but might be just looking to take orders; you may be simply a client in their eyes. Partners are fully invested in your success because that translates into their success as well.
  • Ask what areas of expertise the provider specializes in. The best MSPs offer specialists in multiple IT disciplines, including cybersecurity, cloud computing, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategies, email, VoIP, data backup, disaster recovery, and more. Your IT staffers likely spend time putting out fires and dealing with routine tasks (onboarding, basic server upkeep, and so on); an MSP not only fills in the knowledge gaps, but also makes life easier for your employees by streamlining the busywork they face.
  • Have your internal IT or management team conduct a technical interview to make sure the MSP is competent and prepared for the challenges ahead.

Finally, integrating a managed service provider requires a level of trust, particularly from your own employees. Include your IT staffers in the interview process and listen to their opinions. They can offer valuable insight into an MSP’s strengths and weaknesses and whether the vendor is worth hiring.

What do you think is most valuable when integrating a managed services provider into your IT processes?