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How Managed Service Provider Accreditation Helps Buyers

In today's changing volatile economy, companies find the predictable monthly service charges of a managed service provider (MSP) highly attractive. They can deploy technology, confident that they're not pouring money down a black hole. The problem is, scads of technology providers are now trying to recast themselves as MSPs.

How can you tell which ones are qualified?

That's Charles Weaver’s job. He's CEO of the 8,000-member International Association of Managed Service Providers. His nine-year-old group offers an accreditation program for managed service providers, and it's closer to a bar exam than a pro forma blessing. No MSP has ever received a perfect score, and it can take as many as three tries before a company passes. (For more on MSP accreditation, see When Selecting Qualified MSPs, Assume Nothing.)

Part Technology, All Business
The Managed Services Accreditation Program (MSAP) has two parts: a written exam and a physical inspection. The written exam is only about one-fourth weighted toward technology, says Weaver. The other 75 percent relates to the business. "It's not a technology certification. We look at everything from their financials to their facilities. We make sure they're a healthy stable company. We ask questions about disaster recovery and security, but a lot of the exam is designed to determine their financial stability."

The physical inspection follows, during which Weaver or one of the 15 IAMSP board members visits the facility. They check for physical security and process documentation, among other issues. "Documentation is a big problem at the small and midsize service providers," says Weaver. "They fail to write things down, and that puts their business at risk." If they fail the test, the IAMSP shows them how to improve, and they can take the test again (at a cost of $1500).

Dealing with Growth
The accreditation program has been so successful that Weaver is hoping to set up partnerships with consulting firms to help MSPs prepare. The IAMSP has already added sub-categories relating to accreditation for green IT facilities and master MSPs (those who lease services to smaller MSPs).

But keeping up with the growth in the industry is keeping Weaver busy. "Companies are demanding managed services because they're trying to cut costs. But they're finding very green, very immature vendors who say they're an MSP because they went to a seminar," he says.

If you're entrusting your company's technology to an MSP, then invest the time to determine whether your MSP is accredited, and what that accreditation process involved.