American Technology Services in Fairfax, VA, has been performing network assessments throughout the company’s entire history—more than 25 years.
Kristine Barton, ATS Director, Consulting Services, says, “Assessments, in general, are a good way to introduce our capabilities to a new client and demonstrate our breadth of knowledge and build trust. They provide us, and the client, with a list of projects that are prioritized over time, based on criticality and budget.” She adds that they also provide important documentation of the client’s IT environment before changes or upgrades.
Barton explains that, depending on the situation, ATS performs different types of assessments, generally one of three variations:
- Holistic IT assessment: Barton says clients request to have someone review the whole IT department or IT function. This is more than a typical network assessment.
- Broad technical assessment: This type of assessment is much more common and covers pretty much all technologies including physical plant, security, components, licenses, patch levels, etc.
- Specific area assessment: Occasionally, ATS looks at a specific area, such as Active Directory assessment, routing and switching assessment, or security issues, so the scope of the assessment is more limited, but the depth of detail can be much greater.
The Right Skills for the Job
Barton points out that when ATS began performing network assessments they faced the challenge of assembling the right skills sets to do a proper job. “We are aware that some of our competitors do a pretty skimpy scan with a standard tool that generates a rather generic report,” says Barton. “We avoid that approach because we do not think it gives the client much value, and frankly, they could do the same thing themselves and save money.”
ATS doesn’t rely on a single scanning tool; they cover a wide range of areas and often use multiple tools. “The assessment is factual on findings, but the solutions are based on the skill level of the team that does them,” Barton points out. “We do our best to make sure that the technology that is identified in the recommendations is the right fit for that particular client.”
Benefits to the Client
Barton says clients always want to know what they’ll get from an investment in a network assessment. She says, “Our answer is a roadmap that can be followed and enhanced as new products and software are identified. It is your playbook, a plan that can be presented to staff, executives, the board as well as members/customers if you so desire.”
“I personally find that the value is in the insights taken from what is discovered. Helping a client understand what they have brings much more value to the client than just providing a canned report. That critical consulting expertise and insight are where an MSP can gain or lose credibility,” says Barton. She comments that you shouldn’t view those conversations as opportunities to sell, rather as opportunities to provide a starting point and a well-thought-out roadmap that can evolve with time and future technology.
In terms of business development, she says network assessments can be door openers, but not always. “Sometimes we see competitors offer an assessment for free, but we all know that the result is going to be worth what they got paid—not much if anything. We dedicate senior and seasoned consultants to these projects. Hopefully, the client sees that and can’t wait to work with us. It’s our people that differentiate us from the competition, and this is an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do and how,” she explains.
A Final Word of Advice
Barton’s advice to new managed services providers or MSPs beginning to provide network assessments is to “build your credentials, take the time to develop the skills, and don’t let the generic scanning tools be a crutch.”