What are Managed Services?

The answer to the above question might seem obvious, but deserves some consideration as it is important to a number of areas of Business IT.

In many areas IT systems, software and services need to be managed for best utility. There is also a choice available not to manage a system which may in some circumstances be an appropriate choice. In the majority of cases though active management is the preferred route.  Where management is chosen, there is a choice of who manages a system and to what level.

Let's look at the options here in more detail.

Unmanaged Systems: Some systems don't need managing as they have no moving parts or are designed as sealed for life units that work until they stop - hopefully a long time in the future. These tend to be simple systems. For an example a solar powered calculator you'd not take a maintenance contract on or organise a service schedule on. If it breaks you'd replace it, if it is dirty you'd give it a wipe.

Managed Systems: These are systems that are more complex and thus need managing. The next question is who will manage them and how they will be managed. Management can often be summed up as 'care and feeding' or curating in that it is an active process of presiding over a system.

   - Who will be managing a system? Will you be managing X yourself or would you like this managed for you externally, and to what extent are internal and external staff responsible for management and operations of a system.  The choice comes down to a number of factors:

  • Expertise - ie a qualified specialist is likely to manage a system better than someone without training (where a technical product)
  • Relative cost of time - If your time has a higher cost than the time of external resources then it is better to get something externally managed. Note also that regarding the above point on expertise - someone who regularly manages a system will likely be able to do the same management in less time.
  • Automation - making use of software tools can reduce the time that it takes to manage a system (and therefore the cost). MSPs often subscribe to systems designed for this purpose.
  • Service Level Goals - if you need consistent management of a service then having a team available to cover this helps increase reliability of delivery.

    .. all of the above will typically come down to a common sense decision. In a case were a service is externally managed (also sometimes known as cloud managed) then there will often be a reporting schedule to demonstrate compliance and that activities are being carried out. A blend of internal to external management of services is also often a good option where something is done regularly then internal staff might be best enabled to conduct directly with external backup.

An Example - Managing your virus scanning solution.

A virus scanner is a good example of a system that needs to be managed. You could choose not to manage it, but then you don't know 1) is it working (right now) on all your computers? 2) is it up to date? 3) is it catching any threats on your computers that you should know about? 4) is the software at latest release? 5) are any security patches applied? (ie Windows Update can break some software so you need to keep track and update software in lockstep). 6) is it installed on all your computers?

If you choose to install and not manage an anti virus system then you'll likely suffer problems down the line when unprotected computers get infected by malware, or Windows updates break the scanner etc. Your overall level of protection will be great when first installed, but will tail off over time so that risks increase. Computers get rebuilt and software may or may not be re-installed etc.


Choosing managed systems is to choose Order over Chaos and maintains your systems in good order to provide best organisational value. Is the short term choosing not to manage a system is an option, but this is often a false economy. If you don't get your car serviced and change the oil & filters etc. then your engine will not last as long. Equally true of computer systems. Maintained well they will give good service. There is always a chance of failure, but well maintained this will be less than if not. If you value your time, and that of your staff, then active management of systems makes sure that best value is maintained.

Managed Services will have a cost. If you buy a virus scanner licence then this is one cost. If you buy a virus scanner as a managed service then it will cost more, but also deliver more value.

Related: Understanding the Four Kinds of Work IT Does.

The question is of responsibilities, actions and procedures.