With technology now essential for business operations, most organizations rely on expert IT service providers for some portion of their infrastructure, systems, and support needs. Two common approaches are IT managed services and IT consulting services. While there is some overlap, these two models provide different core functions and benefits.
Overview of Managed Services and Consulting
IT managed service providers deliver continuous management, maintenance and support of clients’ IT infrastructure and systems. This includes proactive monitoring, administration and enhancement of networks, hardware, data management, security, cloud solutions, and other operational technologies.
Establishing a partnership with a qualified MSP enables their clients to offload common technology burdens so they can direct internal resources toward core business initiatives rather than day-to-day IT duties.
In contrast, IT consulting consists of specialized engagements focused on assessing an organization’s technology strategy and providing advice to improve it. Consultants act as objective, external experts who make recommendations but typically do not take over ongoing management of systems. Consulting projects are tailored to provide strategic guidance and support on specific priorities and initiatives defined by the client.
Typical Services and Focus
Managed IT services tend to focus on maintaining and supporting technology environments by leveraging economies of scale across clients.
Specific examples include:
- Help desk support – Providing technical support and troubleshooting for end users
- Infrastructure monitoring – Managing servers, networks, data centers
- Backup and disaster recovery – Ensuring systems and data are protected and restorable
- Cloud solutions – Hosting, management and support of cloud environments
- Security services – Firewall admin, threat monitoring, vulnerability management
Meanwhile, common IT consulting services zero in on strategic enhancements and specialized projects such as:
- Technology roadmap planning – Defining technology strategy and recommendations
- Business process optimization – Improving operations through technology
- Return-on-investment analysis – Quantifying value of tech investments
- Custom application development – Building custom software solutions
- Technical implementation – Expert support rolling out major technology initiatives
So managed service providers focus on maintenance and support to optimize operations, while consultants provide targeted strategic expertise.
Benefits of Managed Services
Engaging a trusted managed service provider offers many advantages, including:
- Cost savings – Sharing resources, tools, and infrastructure across clients allows MSPs to achieve economies of scale and lower costs compared to hiring in-house staff. IT budgets also become more predictable with fixed monthly fees.
- Improved uptime – Proactive monitoring, patches, upgrades and support results in less unplanned outages and enhanced reliability.
- Enhanced security – Partnering with an MSP provides access to advanced threat protection services not affordable for individual organizations.
- Better resource focus – Offloading technology tasks to the MSP allows internal client teams to devote their energy to core business goals rather than daily IT upkeep.
- Access to enterprise-level capabilities – Clients benefit from the aggregated resources and tools of the MSP.
- Proactive maintenance – Experts handle day-to-day optimization and risk reduction tasks allowing clients to focus on strategic initiatives.
Benefits of Consulting Services
Consulting services provide targeted strategic value in various ways:
- Objective perspective – Consultants provide an outside, unbiased point of view.
- Strategic guidance tied to business goals – Consultants evaluate technology through the lens of larger organizational objectives and priorities.
- Custom solution design – Consultants can engineer solutions tailored specifically to the client’s environment and needs.
- Deep or specialized expertise – Consultancies possess extensive experience with emerging and highly complex technologies.
- Flexible support – Consulting engagements can scale up or down as needed.
When Are Each Approach Most Appropriate?
Managed services make the most sense for stable IT environments where uptime, reliability, security and optimized operations are top priorities. With experts handling day-to-day infrastructure, systems and support tasks, managed services provide efficient, reliable technology operations to support business-critical functions.
Consulting is best suited for specialized, strategic projects like migrations, vendor selection, application development, or transformations such as adopting new technologies, enhancing analytics capabilities, or developing digital products and channels. Consultants provide focused expertise and an outside perspective to guide major initiatives.
Most organizations use a combination of both models – relying on MSPs for core infrastructure as a service while bringing in consultants for targeted initiatives requiring niche skills or an independent viewpoint. This balanced approach allows companies to sustain IT excellence while also driving progress on key transformations.
Weighing MSPs vs. Consultants for Specific Needs
When considering managed services versus consulting, it helps to think through some common scenarios:
- For routine help desk tasks, an MSP provides efficiencies of scale and specialized support skills difficult to achieve in-house.
- For cloud migrations, consultants offer an independent assessment of providers, transition plans tailored to the organization, and technical expertise to enable successful implementation.
- For network infrastructure, MSPs deliver continuous administration, monitoring and support beyond the capabilities of internal teams.
- For custom application development, consultants provide technical development resources along with project management and quality assurance.
- For cybersecurity, partnering long-term with an MSP provides robust threat protection services. Consultants fill gaps by evaluating risks and specifying security roadmaps.
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Key Takeaways and Conclusions
While managed services and IT consulting share common capabilities in improving IT outcomes, their core roles differ significantly:
Managed IT services allow organizations to efficiently and securely operate and support business-critical IT infrastructure and systems. IT consultants provide strategic guidance and support to transform those systems and advance key initiatives.
Determining the right balance of internal, managed and consulting tech resources allows organizations to sustain reliable IT operations while also progressing toward strategic goals – enabling technology to drive business success.