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Co-managed IT support sees demand in the remote work era

As businesses weather the pandemic, many organizations' IT departments find themselves pushed to the limits and in need of outside help. Enter co-managed IT support services.

Co-managed IT support offerings have gained traction during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing a remedy to organizations faced with overtaxed IT departments and budgetary constraints.

MSPs have offered co-managed IT services long before the pandemic began. The approach lets MSPs target customers that have in-house IT staff, with which the MSP will form a collaborative relationship. In co-managed IT arrangements, the customer's IT department generally offloads pieces of the IT infrastructure to the MSP while maintaining full control of other elements. For example, the IT department might have their hands full with high-level projects and so assign the MSP to oversee day-to-day IT support.

As the pandemic sent workforces home in droves, the resulting IT complexities cast the benefits of co-managed services into high relief, according to Tom Watson, channel chief advisor at NinjaRMM, a vendor of remote monitoring and management (RMM) software for MSPs.

"Many IT departments at businesses that have sent employees home don't have the right tool sets or staffing to provide high-quality remote support," Watson said. "An MSP is often better equipped for this than in-house IT, as they already support business remotely and specialize in this model. MSPs bring knowledge of diverse, distributed networks and can often save companies money through co-managed services."

How co-managed IT support services usually work

In co-managed IT support relationships, an MSP typically uses an agreement that stipulates which elements of the customer's IT infrastructure the MSP will be responsible for. Additionally, the agreement will include information about afterhours support, documentation and tools to be used, and project work, Watson said. The MSP often reports to the customer's IT director/manager and CTO.

MSPs bring knowledge of diverse, distributed networks and can often save companies money through co-managed services.
Tom WatsonChannel chief advisor, NinjaRMM

"From my experience, most co-managed IT arrangements are with businesses that are large enough to have a full-time IT staff but may lack a depth of support," Watson noted.

Prime candidates for co-managed IT support services would include a company with 150 end users, an IT director or manager, and a small IT staff that covers help desk, desktop and server support. "Businesses at this size can run into problems with having enough staff for new software rollouts, hardware refreshes, and implementing and managing robust IT security needs," he said.

Customers might use an MSP to provide some or all of its IT support, while the company retains the top-level management of the IT via the IT director, manager and/or CTO. "In most cases, the MSP will have direct contact with the IT director or manager on a daily basis regarding staffing and ticket priorities," Watson said. "Monthly scheduled in-person or remote meetings that serve as business reviews are also common, as it provides an opportunity to ensure the client is satisfied with the service, discuss projects and any challenges, and provide documented service results for a time period."

In addition to support staff, the MSP may provide customers with access to tools for ticketing, project management, RMM, antivirus and backup, Watson noted.

IT departments 'need a relief valve'

Coretelligent, an MSP based in Westwood, Mass., has co-managed IT support relationships with small and midsize customers in financial services, life sciences, and industrial and manufacturing verticals.

"As these firms continue to grow or work to manage internal projects and initiatives, they have decision points to make around internal hiring and growth," said Coretelligent CTO Christopher Messer. "Rather than continuing to add to the internal headcount, a co-managed service arrangement may provide them with additional flexibility and scale to push out these additional hiring requirements."

Coretelligent has seen increased interest in co-managed IT services amid the coronavirus pandemic, and Messer said he expects the services' appeal to grow as the pandemic continues.

"In my opinion, as firms are bouncing back from 2020 and COVID operations, more is being asked of internal IT teams and those teams need a relief valve, which co-managed solutions can frequently solve quite well for them," he said.

Coretelligent's customers generally have an IT leader and a small team of support and admin staff, usually between two to 10 people. Customers tend to offload tier 1 and afterhours support to the MSP. This frees up internal IT teams so they can focus on strategic projects and initiatives rather than day-to-day support items, Messer noted.

Customers frequently ask Coretelligent to also collaborate on IT roadmap and strategy initiatives. In these cases, Coretelligent will tap its professional services team to work with the customer, Messer said.

Filling customers' skills gaps

MXOTech, an MSP and web application firm based in Chicago, has also seen an uptick in demand for co-managed IT support since the pandemic started. According to MXOTech CEO Joanna Sobran, customers need help with cybersecurity, workflow management, systems integration, and application and mobile development.

"Our clients come to us because we offer skills their IT departments do not possess," Sobran said.

MXOTech typically works with midsize organizations in the professional services, nonprofit, manufacturing and construction industries. Customers have between one to five IT staff members who support 100 to 300 end users. Customers usually also have an in-house help desk engineer, who may lack security, strategy and infrastructure management expertise.

"MXOTech provides strategy, consulting services, tools and various skill sets that a customer needs," Sobran said. "We help them align technology with their business vision. Our team compliments their internal resources."

Finding the right balance in the co-managed IT relationship is key. When MXOTech began to offer co-managed services, the company "wanted to save the customer money and replace their IT person," Sobran said. "That only caused problems and put us in a difficult situation. We, now, come into the relationship making sure the client and their IT person feel that we are there to support them. We empower them to be successful, provide growth opportunities and collaborate to build a solid team that complements one another."

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