Co-Management: The Key to an Effective Client-MSP Partnership

Sumeet Sabharwal, Chief Executive OfficerClient Experience

Rowers rowing together

In my discussions with our clients, I often hear that we are a “seamless extension of their IT”, not a replacement. This is especially gratifying given the increasingly complex and dynamic nature of the IT function. As more and more firms embrace a cloud-enabled model to fuel their business, the nature of their internal IT function is changing. The internal IT stakeholders and leaders are now charged with repositioning IT as a business enabler, rather than a cost center. This implies repositioning their value and skills to play the broader role of guiding technology adoption, unlocking the value of technology innovation, and providing stronger governance and outcomes from the underlying providers – be it the MSPs, the various application vendors, or the cloud platforms.

No Two IT Functions Are Alike

The IT function with each firm we work with has taken a different evolutionary route, developing expertise in specific areas (Help Desk, Application Specialists, etc.). In our upfront engagement, our focus is to listen intently, understand the firm’s strengths, and provide a solution that complements current capabilities. This implies a degree of personalization, both of the services we provide and the engagement model. While this requires some solutioning in our pre-sales process and gets us away from the more efficient prefab cookie-cutter ‘one size fits all’ model, we see rich dividends downstream. Instead of putting us at odds with the firm’s internal IT, it positions us as a partner in the journey to unlock the full value and potential of technology. 

Effective Partnership Requires Sweating the Small Details Upfront

For any partnership to be successful, the roles and boundaries must be defined unambiguously, with clarity in expectations, engagement model, and associated outcomes. We engage in this exercise even before our clients become clients – during the sales process itself. This hyperfocus on better understanding the competencies, strengths, and expectations from our internal IT partners enables us to build on their strengths, ensuring our clients have adequate visibility.

In many cases, that visibility turns into something more – shared administration of the underlying IT fabric. For many of our most sophisticated clients, IT’s move toward innovation, technology adoption, and stronger governance necessitates a level of access and indeed control not typically found in an MSP relationship.

The reasoning for that is not hard to fathom. If not done carefully, that shared administration can very easily lead to finger pointing when things go wrong. In order to prevent these types of execution gaps, over the past ten years we have developed and successfully implemented effective controls, supplemented with transparency, visibility, and enhanced communication to address that very concern. The result has proven itself well worth the trouble as such technically savvy clients view us as true partners to their success. 

Alignment Accelerates Transformation

When our client IT teams are equally empowered with visibility and control over the underlying IT fabric, we are often able to accelerate progress in key aspects of the client’s IT transformation including migration to the cloud, efficient delivery of IT services, hygiene of vulnerability management, and functional updates to key business applications. The last is especially key for CPA firms in the tax season as they are racing to stay ahead of the barrage of updates to key tax and accounting applications.

Not all our clients require this level of customization and engagement. However, for those that have well-established, strategic IT organizations, our ability to offer a clean, collaborative, and client-centric approach to IT has enabled us to become an extension of their internal team, while enabling them to accelerate IT’s strategic value to the firm without restriction.

Sumeet Sabharwal is the CEO of Netgain. He has spent the past 25 years working intimately with clients to transform the use of technology to drive growth.