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Customers care a lot less about the managed services model and voice over IP technology than solution providers do.

At least that is what a comprehensive study published this week by IT trade association CompTIA suggests. The study, conducted for CompTIA by research firm TNS Prognostics, found that while VARs see opportunity in VOIP and managed services, customers do not view them as spending priorities.

On the surface, the results indicate a disconnect between how solution providers and customers view the market. I should point out, however, that both agree on network security, though that should come as no surprise.

What may seem surprising is the discrepancy in perspective as it relates to VOIP and managed services.

The VOIP disconnect probably still comes down to uneasiness on the part of the customer over switching from typically reliable analog service to voice technology that uses the same pipes as IT networks.

Customers have pointed to security concerns in the past, even though last spring a pair of studies appeared to indicate that acceptance of VOIP as a viable option was growing.

But it stands to reason that if customers have concerns over security, they would want to protect their networks before adopting VOIP.

This might help explain why customers in the CompTIA/TNS Prognostics survey put network security on top of their spending priorities list and VOIP farther down on the list, at number nine.

As for managed services, I suspect we are dealing with an issue of perspective most likely as a result of poor marketing.

To begin with, lumping managed services with technologies such as network security, VOIP, wireless networks or storage amounts to a poor fit. Managed services, at its core, is not a “technology,” though it requires technology tools for implementation.

Rather, managed services is a model, a delivery mechanism. Investing in managed services should not come down to a choice between buying new technology and allocating money to adopt the model.

When buying a car, depending on the model, you will face the choice of a V6 or four-cylinder engine, power or manual seats, stick shift or automatic transmission, leather or cloth. But no matter what you ultimately drive out of the lot, it’s still going to require fuel.

Solution providers should be pitching managed services as an essential, something the customers need regardless of the components that make up their IT environments.

Think of it as fuel. Security, storage, wireless routers, servers, you name it—they all stand to perform better under a well-planned managed services arrangement calling for constant monitoring and preventive management of IT assets.

Managed services is not a technology sale. It’s a service contract that requires the provider to adopt a new business model.

That a business model gets lumped in with “technologies” points to the difficulty of making the transition from a product-centric perspective to that of an ongoing relationship with the customer, a relationship in which attending to the customers’ needs takes precedence over pushing the latest and greatest technology.

In addition to the inherent difficulties of adopting the managed services model, VARs also have to contend with misguided marketing by some vendors that are trying to pawn off service offerings as managed services when they don’t quite fit the definition.

Managed services has the potential to affect a deep transformation in IT. But if the industry can’t even manage to get customers to understand what it is, that transformation could be a long time coming.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner, contributing editor to The Channel Insider and a veteran channel reporter. He can be reached at