Grounded Solutions Network’s Journey to Selecting a New Managed Service Provider
Over the past few blog posts, we’ve provided guidance on Building Tech Skills to Use HomeKeeper, Accidental Admin resources, and User Adoption Tips. We thought this series would be helpful as there is a familiar story among non-profits, especially during times of transition, in which technology-related operations are assigned to the most technologically adept person on staff, regardless of their job description.
If you find your organization in this position, not only is it critical to shore up operations during the transition, but also to put a long-term roadmap in place, ensuring clear continuity and assignment of roles to oversee key technology areas – not just administering Salesforce. This roadmap should include hardware provision and maintenance, software and tools evaluation, cyber security, data management, analysis, storytelling, and Artificial Intelligence Tools.
Sam Dorman at The Build Tank summarizes it well in the article, Two Great Reasons Not to Combine Digital Products and IT Operations. It offers a good perspective on the whole scope of technology needs for an organization and the skillsets required to oversee them, while also drawing a clear and distinct line between Digital Products and IT Operations to inform a staffing and capacity plan. This article is one in a Technology Roadmap Series that can be really helpful for organizations that are contemplating how to build their technology teams.
- IT people make things work as they are supposed to work.
- Product people are always thinking of new ways to make things better.
- Different mindsets and skills require different people.
- When it comes to IT operations, some organizations decide they need internal staff support, but others find success with an -external IT provider, a choice that is increasing in frequency.
Grounded Solutions Network recently embarked on a journey to find an external IT provider, known as Managed Services Providers. This would ideally allow us to focus more of our internal technology capacity on our Digital Products. This was our approach.
Assessing Our Needs
Being a remote organization, we knew our needs differed from those that are not remote. While considering whether our current staffing structure and Managed IT Services Provider fit our requirements, we started compiling a list of our general organizational needs.
- We first assessed our physical hardware needs – being a remote organization with distributed teams and one central office, we needed an experienced partner to support us in various environments nationwide.
- We then assessed what skillsets we had in-house (Salesforce and Data Management), and what we needed trusted experts to assist with (Microsoft Office 365 and Cyber Security) as a partner in strategically and tactically delivering and supporting technology.
Throughout this process, we were able to apply several of Salesforce’s 5 Elements of Successful Digital Transformation – building Trusted Relationships with staff by interviewing them to uncover these needs, documenting these as organizational needs and getting strategic buy-in. This helps establish Alignment, and ensure Human Centricity by incorporating the diversity of our staff into our organizational needs assessment. Finally committing to a Platform Mindset with Microsoft Office 365 as our foundation for productivity.
While we didn’t use this specific tool, TechSoup provides an online questionnaire that can help your organization think through these questions.
Request for Qualifications
Once our needs analysis was complete, we sought an external partner to assist us with IT management. As a non-profit organization with limited resources, a Managed Services Provider would give us access to certified experts on highly technical disciplines, especially cyber security, where conditions can change rapidly.
Even with a first line of defense in-house, it is crucial to have a partner who can explore any aspect of technology when we need it, particularly in times of potential crisis. Whether your organization has physical offices, a remote distributed workforce, or both, these principles remain valid.
We developed and released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to seek a Managed Services Provider. We intentionally went with an RFQ, as opposed to a Request for Proposals, because we wanted companies to bring their best work and support/partnership packages to us so we could see what was available in the market.
Within the RFQ, we included:
- Background information about our organization (size, distribution of employees, internal technology staff, risk level of data with government contracts, etc.)
- Questions for the respondents:
Experience/Resources-Do they work with companies like ours (non-profits, remote)? Who would work with us, and what are their credentials? Do they have references?
Services– Do they do network assessments? How do they approach onboarding new staff remotely? How do they provide support generally, and do they have a system? Do they have remote machine monitoring? How do they keep our machines updated? Can they buy machines on our behalf?
Fee Structure– Do we pay per staff? Per machine? Monthly or annual billing? Hourly rates for special projects?
Additional Considerations– What have we not considered that you offer, based on our needs?
We also included some essential evaluation criteria such as:
- Do they have the expertise, licenses, and resources to provide managed IT services to Grounded Solutions current and future operations as a partner?
- Can they consistently maintain and allocate sufficient staff resources to provide timely service?
- Do they have experience supporting remote organizations?
Now that the RFQ was on the website, how would we get the right Managed Services Providers to respond? We might need to do some recruitment, but where should we start?
One important criterion was related to our Racial Equity goals. We knew we wanted to begin investing with POC-owned or led vendors, especially those underrepresented in technology. We found the Black Channel Partner Alliance within Microsoft and started our search there. Their work led to the enhancement of the Microsoft “Find a Partner” page, which allowed us to locate “Diverse Businesses” – noting if they were owned or led by Black, Hispanic, Women, LGBTQ, Veteran, or Disability individuals – which was very helpful in targeting these businesses specifically.
Overall, we found over 100 Managed Services Providers that fit our criteria and created an email template to send out to each of these groups. We left the RFQ open for 30 days and ultimately received 13 responses.
Interviewing and Selection
To begin the evaluation, we built an “MSP Selection Rubric” that determined how we could compare Providers based on their qualifications. In addition to cost, this was instrumental in helping us select the right partners to interview. Criteria included Partnership, Cyber Security/Networking, Microsoft Expertise, Project Management, Help Desk, Training & Engagement, Procurement & Hardware Maintenance, Backup Management & Recovery, REI Score, and Budget. As internal perceptions and expertise will vary, it was helpful to have a small committee review and score each proposal.
We established a set of interview questions and selected 5 of the 13 Providers for interviews. After each interview, we updated the rubric scores based on how they answered questions and follow-up. Finally, we selected 2 Providers for reference calls. Ultimately, the final choice (the highest rubric score) fit our budget and had enthusiastic responses from references.
Where We Are Now
In the first 90 days, we transitioned management to our new Managed Services Provider, secured new devices for three staff, replaced two outdated machines, updated an Amazon server, and procured a Learning Management System. We’ve engaged them in more extensive data projects to connect to ArcGIS, as well as internal policy building and training around cybersecurity.
It’s been transformational for us to have a partner with Microsoft expertise willing to learn our operations, processes and find technology that suites our specific organizational needs. We hope you all can do the same!
By Pahniti (Tom) Tosuksri, Director of Product Management – HomeKeeper