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This time you can’t afford to hesitate. When managed services were taking off six years ago, a great many solution providers sat on the sidelines trying to get a sense of where the trend would lead.

But with cloud-based services, sitting around may well put the future of your business in jeopardy. You see, while end clients in the mid 2000s were as ignorant of the managed services model as you were, they are a lot more attuned to the cloud today. That’s because everywhere you turn, someone is talking about the cloud, and some of it is bound to sink in with clients.

Sure, their understanding of “cloud” is fuzzy, but that will not stop clients from signing up for services from Google, Amazon or even Microsoft. If they hear enough times the success of their businesses hinges on cloud computing, sooner or later they will believe it. You repeat something enough, and it becomes an accepted fact.

So, then, what this all means is that solution providers have to get their act together in terms of building a menu of cloud services for their clients. If you already offer managed services, the cloud is merely an extension of what you have been doing. Of course there are differences and you shouldn’t jump in without educating yourself, but the operational and financial structure you have put in place for managed services should have prepared you for taking that next step.

In a survey published last fall, the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) found that nearly half of end users had some involvement in the cloud. Among these end users:

  • 64 percent were planning to increase their cloud computing investments in the ensuing 12 months by more than 5 percent, while
  • 72 percent were planning to expand the type and number of cloud services they were consuming.

The business is there for the taking; 54 percent of end users said they planned to source cloud services from a solution provider. But the CompTIA survey found that 40 percent of channel companies had no involvement in cloud computing, be it for customer sales or internal use.

If solution providers get more aggressive with marketing their cloud offerings, rather than letting the big brands drive the message, the number of end clients planning to source cloud services from the channel will surely increase.

For that to happen, solution providers will have to learn how to position themselves in the cloud services ecosystem. That means providers have to become adept at selling themselves as consultants and aggregators of the myriad offerings now available. They must push their integration experience and make a value-based case in persuading end users to do business with them as opposed to sourcing the services themselves.

And, of course, providers must make a strong case around the benefits of cloud computing, including the all-important transfer of costs from the capital to the operating expenses column. Solution providers need to emphasize the flexibility, scalability and overall cost effectiveness of cloud computing, in addition to pointing out to clients the cloud actually brings within their reach technology they couldn’t otherwise afford.

The cloud is an unstoppable force that is changing how IT is consumed, from the smallest of companies to the largest. Solution providers with any hope of staying relevant and growing their businesses in coming years have to take cloud computing seriously. Sitting out this trend is simply not an option.

Pedro Pereira is a columnist for Channel Insider and a freelance writer. He can be reached at