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Understanding Breadth vs. Depth When Comparing MSPs and How to Decide Which to Prioritize

Breadth Vs Depth

When selecting a Managed Services Provider (MSP) for your business, you want to make sure they can work with a variety of technologies. If the MSP’s knowledge has a short breadth, you will be limited to the technologies they know. So, you want a provider who can service a range of technologies.  

Just as—if not more—important is the depth of the MSP’s knowledge. Your provider should not only be well-versed in a variety of technologies but also know them inside and out. 

Balancing depth and breadth in a potential Managed Services Provider might be harder than you think. Before we jump into weighing the importance of breadth vs. depth, let’s break down each one.


What Is Breadth? 

Breadth refers to the range of technologies a provider can work with and service. An MSP with a large breadth of knowledge will provide flexibility within your business environment. 

For example, any provider you’re evaluating should be able to work with both on-premises infrastructure as well as public, private, and hybrid cloud environments. Even if your business operates completely on-premises due to regulatory requirements in your industry or the preferences of your IT manager, using an MSP with cloud capabilities gives your business flexibility in the event that the cloud becomes a feasible option for your business—and vice versa if you’re operating solely in the cloud and suddenly need on-premises infrastructure.  

Choosing an MSP with a wide breadth of experience means you won’t need to find a new provider each time your business grows and adds a new element to your environment. The same principle applies to technologies and vendors. As technology continues to advance, you don’t want the capabilities of your MSP to limit you.


What Is Depth?

Depth refers to how well the engineers at an MSP know each of the technologies they work with.  

You want to make sure your MSP does not just have a surface-level understanding of technology but rather a well-rounded knowledge. If there is a large breadth but little depth, you will find yourself running into problems with your IT environment and facing longer response times because your provider will have to escalate the problem to a third-party vendor or outsource their engineering talent. You don’t want this. 

Instead, you want your provider to be able to address your IT problems as they arise and work to drive your company forward. A provider can only do this if their engineers have a solid understanding of the technologies they work with and how these technologies support your business. 

If you’re unsure whether an MSP is the right fit for you, read more about how to evaluate your MSP before and after signing the contract.


Breadth Vs. Depth: Finding a Balance

There are many types of Managed Services Providers. Some emphasize breadth and offer to help maintain your entire technology landscape. Others focus on the delivery of highly advanced expertise for just one specific aspect of your business—depth. A Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP) is one example of the latter. We know it can be tempting to look for distinct, more advanced MSPs to handle tiny pieces of your IT environment, but this can be harmful. A good rule is to work with as few MSPs as possible to cover your business thoroughly. Too many MSPs cause gaps in your coverage, especially if the multiple providers do not communicate well or overlap enough.  

However, this methodology is not the perfect fit for every organization. While we just advised you to work with as few MSPs as possible to get the coverage you need, there are exceptions where your company could consider more than one provider. If your business is especially reliant on one piece of your environment, it may make more sense for you to find a dedicated MSP for that specific piece of technology—even if they can’t help you with other elements—and use a more general MSP for the rest of your business.  

An example of this might be a customer service organization that relies entirely on their phone system being operational for their business to operate. Such a high level of reliance on the availability of their phone system—like Microsoft Teams—might warrant a search for an MSP that can manage this application more in-depth than a less-skilled MSP who only has general experience with phone systems—even if this provider is a good fit for the rest of your environment. In this case, it may be worth considering working with both providers. But remember: This is the exception, not the rule.  

You want a provider that does not fall too far toward either end of the spectrum when it comes to breadth vs. depth. Look for an MSP that can maintain and optimize your entire technology landscape, and make sure they can do it well.

MSPs familiar with many different systems but only offer basic operating system maintenance and availability management will not be able to provide the more advanced skills that bridge the gap between keeping systems online and providing extra value to your business. One thing to look at is engineering talent. Do they have senior-level engineers to escalate problems to rather than escalating problems to vendors or outsourced talent? If the company does outsource their engineering, do their practices align with your needs? You will want to find a balance between breadth and depth so your MSP can provide complete coverage for your business and you can feel secure in your environment. 


When to Prioritize Breadth in an MSP

  • Diverse Technology Ecosystems: If your business operates with a wide variety of technologies and platforms, prioritizing breadth ensures your MSP can effectively manage and support the diverse range of IT infrastructure.
  • Scalability and Flexibility: When your business is rapidly growing or has fluctuating IT needs, prioritizing breadth allows your MSP to offer scalable solutions and adapt to changing requirements without the need for frequent provider changes.
  • Integrated Solutions: Prioritize breadth when seeking seamless integration between different IT systems and applications within your organization, ensuring smooth communication and interoperability across the entire technology stack.
  • One-Stop Solution: If simplicity and convenience are important, prioritize breadth to consolidate your IT management under one MSP, simplifying vendor management and streamlining support processes.
  • Emerging Technologies: In industries where staying ahead of emerging technologies is essential for competitiveness, prioritize breadth to ensure your MSP has the capability to explore and integrate innovative solutions into your IT environment effectively.


When to Prioritize Depth in an MSP

  • Complex IT Environments: If your business operates in a highly specialized or complex IT environment with intricate systems and processes, prioritize depth to ensure your MSP can navigate and optimize these complexities effectively.
  • Mission-Critical Systems: When your business heavily relies on specific mission-critical systems or applications, it’s essential to prioritize depth to guarantee maximum uptime, performance, and security for these critical assets.
  • Specialized Industries: Industries with unique regulatory requirements or niche technologies demand MSPs with deep expertise in those specific areas to ensure compliance, security, and efficient operation tailored to industry standards.
  • Advanced Troubleshooting: In scenarios where advanced troubleshooting skills are crucial, prioritize depth to ensure your MSP has the expertise to diagnose and resolve complex issues promptly, minimizing downtime and disruption to your business operations.
  • Customization and Optimization: If your business requires extensive customization or optimization of IT solutions to align with your unique requirements, prioritizing depth ensures your MSP can tailor solutions effectively to maximize efficiency and productivity.


Balance. Balance. Balance.


Breadth: The range of technologies a provider can manage and service. 

Depth: How well engineers know each of the technologies they work with. 

When it comes to breadth vs. depth, you want to find an MSP that balances both to ensure complete coverage for your IT environment unless an exception applies to your operation, like one of those mentioned above. Put another way, make sure your MSP can work with a variety of technologies and has a deep understanding of each one. Balancing depth and breadth will be the key to your business’s flexibility. 

Are you ready to work with a Managed Services Provider, but need a first step? Contact PEI today.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between breadth and depth when it comes to selecting an MSP
Breadth refers to the range of technologies a Managed Services Provider (MSP) can manage and service, while depth signifies the level of expertise and understanding the MSP possesses in each of those technologies.

When should I prioritize depth in an MSP?
Depth should be prioritized when dealing with complex IT environments, mission-critical systems, specialized industries with unique requirements, scenarios requiring advanced troubleshooting skills, and the need for extensive customization or optimization of IT solutions.

When is it beneficial to prioritize breadth in an MSP?
Prioritize breadth when managing diverse technology ecosystems, requiring scalability and flexibility in IT solutions, seeking integrated solutions across various platforms, opting for a one-stop solution for IT management, and staying ahead of emerging technologies.

How can I ensure complete coverage for my IT environment when selecting an MSP?
Look for an MSP that strikes a balance between breadth and depth, ensuring they can effectively manage a wide range of technologies while possessing deep expertise in each area to provide comprehensive coverage tailored to your business needs.

Why is it important for an MSP to have a deep understanding of the technologies they work with?
An MSP with a deep understanding of technologies can offer more efficient troubleshooting, optimization, and customization, resulting in better performance, security, and alignment with your business goals.

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