The popularity of cloud computing has made outsourcing infrastructure requirements to a managed service provider a logical choice for companies of all sizes, and from all industries. Let’s take this a step further and look at managed solutions providers (MSPs) for eCommerce. That’s not a typo, we’re going to discuss managed “solutions” not “service” providers.
MSPs take responsibility for a deeper level of the overall solution, beyond the infrastructure. This can include the platform application layer, integrations, software patches and updates, security and more. This level of service can combine platform-as-a-service (PaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and sometimes even software-as-a-service (SaaS), and is beginning to be referred to as business-process-as-a-service (BPaaS). Increasingly, eCommerce solutions are being offered as BPaaS.
When an online retailer turns to a managed solution provider, the goals are typically to reduce capital expenditures and operating expenses, improve operational efficiency and time to market with new technology, and supplement internal resources in order to enable their staff to focus more strategically.
Choosing a managed solution provider goes beyond the considerations used to choose a pure infrastructure provider (hosting company). In evaluating a managed solutions provider for eCommerce, a retailer must not only evaluate the infrastructure elements, but the provider’s ability to manage the eCommerce platform and application layer with skill and confidence. While there are a number of factors to consider in choosing a BPaaS provider, these seven primary categories stand out as the most critical:
eCommerce Expertise with a Solutions-First Approach: Certified technical resources and subject matter business expertise must be prevalent, with evidence of significant spending on training and tools for eCommerce solutions personnel. The ideal company has experience working in complex, multi-vendor eCommerce environments, with knowledge of, and experience with, popular third-party applications. Also look for firms with the ability to optimize an environment for the specific requirements of eCommerce.
Proactive Issue Resolution and Prevention: The best providers are equipped to monitor every client environment to uncover potential issues and recommend improvements. They should employ advanced tools to monitor things like store performance and the effect on the end user. Optimally, if a problem is identified the vendor will contact the retailer to discuss reconciliation options.
Advanced Infrastructure Specifically for eCommerce: Online shopping is a 24/7/365 operation, so high availability is a must. The ability to scale on the fly is important for a company dealing with spikes in traffic related to promotions, holidays or seasonal shopping. Seek out a partner who actively adopts next-generation technologies, and can support private or hybrid cloud deployments.
Demonstrated Accountability for the eCommerce Environment: Your problems are also your MSP’s problems, and you’ll need a partner that responds with that in mind. Any contract should include SLAs that include financial remuneration for non-compliance. The best service providers commit to providing expert technical support 24/7.
Operational Excellence: Your MSP should provide operational efficiencies like a faster time to market for new projects and technology updates. The MSP should provide the ability to test updates, integrations and new technology for the store before taking these things live. The MSP should also be able to support customizing the solution and/or infrastructure to specific eCommerce requirements for the client.
History of Success and Stability: The best partners will have demonstrated success with eCommerce clients, and should have client and partner referrals. Verify the financial stability of the company along with a history of investing in best-in-class hardware, technology and technical expertise.
Client Management: You know how you want to be treated – the ideal partner does as well. They should allow you to remain as involved in the eCommerce operation as you want to be, provide a user-friendly dashboard with access level privileges, and produce reporting and analytics about the infrastructure and fundamental performance metrics about your store. You should know what’s going on at all times.
Many companies offer comprehensive infrastructure that’s entirely suitable for eCommerce. For many, however, that’s no longer enough. If you’re seeking a third party to help build, launch and manage your eCommerce environment, that company must exhibit more. Investment in eCommerce specific hardware, software and professional expertise – with a policy of accountability for this environment – is critically important for success. Talk with providers and make sure that you are able to establish a collaborative relationship that is focused on your eCommerce business and technology goals.