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Managed Services vs. Professional Services: What are the Key Differences?

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Are you weighing your options when it comes to managed services vs professional services? Although they are closely related, these two service options also have vital differences.

For many organizations, one or both services can provide a multitude of benefits – and understanding the core purpose of each can help your organization make an informed decision. In this guide, you’ll be armed with the essential information you need to select the right fit for your organization, as we address key topics such as:

  • The basic characteristics of each service type
  • The similarities and differences between managed and professional services
  • How to find the solution that is well-suited to your organization’s needs and goals

What are Managed Services?

Managed services are what most people think of when they picture IT support, the day-to-day technological solutions that make it possible to effectively run a business.

Often simply referred to as “IT services,” managed services are provided by a third party and can include features such as:

  • 24/7 security monitoring and alerting
  • Data backup and recovery
  • Managed cloud infrastructure
  • Technical on-call support/help desk support, whether in-person or remote
  • Network administration
  • Communications services, including streamlined solutions for voice, video, and data
  • Routine maintenance such as software updates and disk management

Managed services can take many different forms, largely focused on taking a proactive approach that may include preventative, prescription, and/or predictive solutions.

For most organizations, their managed services provider facilitates both ongoing maintenance tasks and troubleshooting support. Rather than dealing with multiple vendors, an organization can instead opt for a more convenient (and often more cost-effective) combination of services from a managed services provider.

Ultimately, a managed services provider ensures that an organization has a clear path towards achieving their business outcomes, and that they can earn an optimal return on their technology investments.

What are Professional Services?

When an organization enlists IT professional services,  support is provided as an on-demand solution. Professional services are generally ideal for one-off projects or situations in which an organization is undergoing short-term changes.

For example, an organization that is moving to a private cloud solution might utilize professional services to support a seamless and secure transition. The projects and/or needs addressed by professional services can be incredibly complex and varied, but they are all similar in that they require a solution that fulfills a highly specific need. Because many organizations have certain limitations in the time, expertise, and/or skill available in-house, professional services providers can come in to bridge the gap.

Some core IT professional services include:

  • Application development
  • Consulting
  • Staff augmentation (either temporary, contract-to-hire, or permanent)
  • Project management
  • Email migration/support
  • Systems integration
  • Optimizing and performance improvements
  • Resource management
  • Cloud migration
  • New software or hardware deployment
  • Technical on-call support for advanced troubleshooting

Think of a professional services provider as a resource to be tapped when the time is right, a team of highly specialized experts that can share their knowledge and skill with your organization when needed. In general, the goal of professional services is to support an organization in achieving a specific outcome, whether that is completing a project, designing and implementing a solution, or succeeding with a new technology investment.

Managed Services vs. Professional Services: Key Differences

Now, in order to help you determine which is suitable for your needs, let’s take a closer look at the differences between professional and managed services.

Timeframe and scope of services: Ongoing vs. project-based

Managed services can serve as a solid foundation for an organization’s IT infrastructure, providing 24/7 support, management, and maintenance for a recurring (usually monthly) fee. Your managed services provider will take on the burden of  the day-to-day responsibilities necessary for your business operations, ensuring that everything is working optimally to allow for peak productivity.

The scope of work of managed services extends to all aspects necessary to fulfilling an organization’s everyday needs, as well as potentially unforeseen issues that can arise along the way. Finally, managed services exist within an extended timeframe that is outlined by the specific contract and are provided continuously for multiple months or years.

In contrast, professional services typically have a narrower, more defined scope of work and timeline. As a specifically project-based solution, professional services are designed on a case-by-case basis according to the needs of the given scenario. While it is true that some projects can span a considerable amount of time, professional services are still unique in that they conclude when a project reaches completion.

Roles: “Inside” vs. “Outside”

Another helpful contrast between managed and professional services is the position the provider takes in fulfilling a need. With managed services, the provider is basically taking over the “inside” responsibilities that would otherwise be performed by an organization’s on-site team. In other words, instead of hiring and funding a full-time, in-house IT department, an organization might instead choose to partner with a managed services provider. Thus, the managed services provider becomes embedded in the company’s interior workflow and structure, freeing up the team to focus on other aspects of running the business.

But with professional services, the provider’s role can be viewed more as that of an “outside” consultant. So, they are coming in from the “outside” to address a specific need, one that is beyond the scope of an organization’s usual “inside” responsibilities. When the job is complete, the need has been addressed, and the provider’s responsibilities are complete.

Similarities Between Managed and Professional Services

We’ve explored the ways in which managed and professional services are different, but what about areas of overlap? Despite being two very distinct solutions, managed and professional services do have a certain amount of crossover:

With the right provider, both can offer versatility.

It is not uncommon to see discussions on this topic that assert the rigidity of one or both of these options; however, restrictions associated with managed or professional services are often linked to the quality and flexibility of a given provider – not the nature of the services themselves.

For example, some providers solely offer a limited set of pre-built plans or packages for their prospective clients to consider. This can result in an organization either paying for services they don’t  need or being left with “missing pieces” in their final solution. In addition, an organization that undergoes frequent changes or only occasionally requires support might find it challenging to locate a suitable provider.

However, both managed and professional services can be exceptionally versatile and flexible. A provider that has the expertise and resources to create tailored services, based on the needs of your organization and/or a specific situation, can take a far more resourceful approach to supporting your goals.

Both support improved outcomes.

There’s no question that technological advancements have made it possible for companies to be more productive, efficient, and innovative than ever before; however, modern technology can also present its fair share of challenges. Operating within a tech-driven world gives your organization increased opportunities as well as demands. Thankfully, there are highly capable service providers that are happy to help you make the best possible use of technology.

Both managed and professional services expand your organizational capabilities, albeit in different ways. Managed services assist your organization in keeping everything up and running, while giving you the ability to focus your energy and resources on larger goals (rather than IT troubleshooting and maintenance). Professional services similarly strengthen your organization by elevating efficacy, as well as augmenting the approach to a given project or goal.

Implementing the Solution That’s Right for You

By identifying the differences between managed services and professional services, you can get a clearer idea of which one is right for your organization. Or, in many cases, you may find both options can fulfill important objectives.

Above all, having the freedom to customize your IT solutions is essential. There is simply no such thing as a truly effective “one-size-fits-all” package, because every organization’s needs are unique. Regardless of your goals, when you are searching for an IT services provider, be sure to prioritize flexibility. Most organizations will need managed and professional services in the long run, an ideal provider will be able to offer both.

I hope you found this information helpful. As always, contact us anytime about your technology needs.

Until next time,


Meet the Author
Tim Burke is the President and CEO of Quest. He has been at the helm for over 30 years.
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