What is a managed service provider?
Starting with the basics – a Managed Service Provider (MSP) is an external company that provides services against a Service Level Agreement (SLA). In the field of education IT, this typically consists of routine visits, often all day every day but bespoke to the school’s requirements, and access to an IT support helpdesk to provide support whenever necessary.
What are the benefits of using an external supplier?
Outsourcing a managed service to an external company comes with many benefits. The two main benefits are that of the high levels of experience and the price of the service received.
Having a skilled and dedicated team of IT technicians focused on providing the best service is by far, the best option for schools.
An external supplier of a managed service removes the concern that a school might one day lose the one person who holds all the knowledge of how their IT system works. In addition to this, an external managed service can offer decades of experience, knowledge, and more specialised understanding of key areas so they are more prepared to respond to failures or crises.
Experience gained from other education institutions will also supplement the levels of knowledge that they will receive. Using an external company also removes the need to hire more employees and management staff, the need to train the staff (CPD), and having to worry about covering absentee employees in case of emergency.
The use of an SLA with an external provider also promises a level of security and protection for the schools as these agreements make it easier to hold an MSP accountable. This, from the feedback we have received, is a much easier process than holding one of their own staff accountable as the SLA rigidly defines what an MSP must adhere to.
Why you might NOT want to use an external MSP?
Relationships that can be built between a school and an inhouse IT support team is something that often happens. If schools have a well experienced IT team in their school, their internal guidance and understanding will be the best. The IT team invested time and effort into their school’s system and will want it to succeed. Trust between a school and their IT team will undoubtedly make the cohesion between what is asked and what is delivered that of near perfection.
There exist some very experienced and talented individuals that work for schools in IT. However, high turnover and the lack of investment into IT staff has created a crisis for schools who have in-house IT support teams.
The private sector can offer much more than schools can afford and it is this problem that has seen the mass exodus of IT support from the public to the private sector. Large multi-school trusts and the scale of the networks to run them make Education IT staff a valuable and sought-after commodity.
Is there a future for MSPs?
Of course. There is no question that the growing importance of IT software in schools will create an exponentially growing need for MSPs. The only challenge to this would be, as mentioned before, the massive trust conglomerates that can also offer the same benefits if applied correctly.
Intimacy between a school and it’s employees is something unique and wonderful. The bond that forms is something that takes the levels of trust to levels many will never experience. With the use of MSPs, this is unfortunately something that will not be as apparent or visible. Don’t get me wrong, MSPs will provide every school with a dedicated team which will help create a trusting bond between one another but we also acknowledge the limitations of what could come of such a bond. This trade is not a total loss, however, as the expertise that can be provided over a myriad of establishments pairs well with the fresh perspective that also comes with it.
It is becoming clearer that schools appreciate and value the advice and expertise given to them by both internal and external IT teams. It allows the schools to have input into what they desire and how they want it set up as an IT team should never be given the reins without criticism or scrutiny from others.
It also means schools can choose what they wish to adopt and do not feel like they are being coerced into making decisions they may not understand or agree with. The experience that these teams would have had with other schools now comes into play as we can offer feedback about how other schools dealt or addressed similar situations.
Through this trial and error, we grow in understanding and experience of what works and what doesn’t. This comes at no extra cost in time or money for schools looking to adopt an MSP as the continuing growth and development allows us to apply the lessons we have learned to make the experience and expertise they receive up-to-date in one of the fastest evolving fields in the world. Everything we do has been tried and tested. We test ourselves so that no hurdle or obstacle can stop us from supplying the best services on the market.
If managed services though – what happens to school IT staff?
I understand how IT Managers may feel while reading this. Concern and fear for the future is something we all struggle with but trust me when I tell you that there is nothing to worry about. MSPs can offer staff the chance to join a team of like-minded individuals while at the same time having the ability to specialise and progress their career. There will be doors opened that you never knew existed as the options do not stop at the school network manager.
To conclude a long story
In the experience we have here at CSE, it is my firm belief that the future for Education IT will be that of a team of specialists and not sole individuals. Small teams or lone individuals do not receive the resources or support they need to perform as well as they could compared to what MSPs can provide.
With this in mind, school IT staff can always be incorporated into a larger operation that will expand their knowledge and the efficiency in the services they can provide. Cultivating a team of IT specialists will allow easier growth and specialisation in the services available to schools.