Managed Services Pioneer Poised for GrowthBy Pedro Pereira | Print
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Invision's management has big plans for the company to seize on the managed services opportunity, including a VAR partner program and acquisitions.The folks who run Invision Inc. have known for years what traditional IT VARs and integrators came to realize over the 12 months or so: For many in the IT channel, the future is in managed services.
Invision, of Commack, N.Y., is one of the pioneers of managed services. Having adopted the model early, the company is now in expansion mode.
It plans to roll out a partner program for VARs and integrators, make some acquisitions, open a satellite operations center in Arizona to augment Invision's main facility on Long Island, and grow organically by building business from such technology areas as managed security and voice over IP, said CEO Tyler Roye.
Invision's first acquisition, he said, may take place before the end of the year. The company has been researching some "creative acquisition" possibilities, he added.
Invision was founded 10 years ago as a Web-hosting company just as e-commerce was beginning to take off. Soon venture capitalists were giddily throwing money at dot-coms, and the Web-hosting companies that kept the e-commerce companies in business also benefited.
"We were growing at dot-com speed in '98 [and] '99," Roye said in a recent interview.
But that three-digit growth was impossible to sustain. Recognizing this, Roye started exploring "click-and-brick" opportunities to make his company less dependent on Web-based clients.
Soon came the idea of providing technology as a utility. Services that were in demand, such as hosted portals, security and e-mail, emerged as obvious choices.
"We've been a 24-by-7 operation for eight years," Roye said. "Someone's been here every minute of every day since then." Even the blackout that affected much of the Northeast two years ago didn't stop Invision from running because of the redundancy built into the company's infrastructure.
The company has grown into a full-service MSP (management service provider) with 100 employees, 60 of which hold Cisco Systems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. certifications. It is one of about 50 pure-play MSPs and, as such, the company is equipped to handle a wide range of client IT needs.
"We wind up hosting everything now," Roye said. "We host the enterprise, not just the periphery."
Through managed services, IT service providers can take over part or all of a customer's IT department. For customers, the model makes the cost of IT services predictable and shifts the responsibility for monitoring maintenance, and ultimately keeping systems running, to the provider.
Software vendors see opportunity in managed services.
Software companies, including security vendors, also see a big opportunity in managed services, designing programs around delivering applications as a hosted service. Such companies include messaging security vendor Proofpoint Inc., an Invision partner, and Citrix Online, which delivers Web-conferencing and workstation-sharing software through a utility model.
Thousands of VARs and integrators have started shifting at least part of their business to the managed services model. Roye said companies such as Invision have the upper hand because of the infrastructure they have built over the years to handle the remote monitoring and delivery of services.
But he doesn't view the transition by channel companies to managed services strictly as competitive encroachment. He sees an opportunity.
Invision runs a NOC (network operations center) and data center at its 16,000-square--foot Long Island headquarters that keep the systems of its 1,000 or so clients up and running. But there is room to share some of that infrastructure with VARs and integrators looking to provide managed services to their own customers.
"Not everyone can or should make the substantial investment in the facilities and infrastructure to do this," Roye said.
This is a common conclusion reached by VARs and integrators as they delve into managed services. To get started, they partner with an MSP or another reseller that has already invested in a NOC.
Such was the case when Boston networking VAR NetTeks Technology got requests from customers to provide managed security services. NetTeks partnered with MSP Netivity, of Waltham, Mass., and their partnership has evolved to sharing a number of customers.
Invision partner United Computer Solutions, an IT consulting and services company in New York, has been doing business with the MSP for about four years.
"It started with one account, and then it kept building," said Chuck Oucher, director of sales and marketing at UCS.
UCS leverages Invision's infrastructure to deliver such services as e-mail and security to its clients. "Some companies don't have any IT; we are the IT company for them," he said. "We try to keep everything under one umbrella. If anything goes wrong, it's only one phone number, one e-mail, one phone call."
As the relationship with Invision has evolved, UCS also has provided networking and other services to Invision clients when necessary, Oucher said.
John DeMartino, Invision's vice president of marketing and business development, said the company plans to launch a formal partner program in the fall. The company is still working out the details, but partners will have options on whether to co-brand Invision services or simply resell them.