Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

As tempting as it may be, it’s a bad idea to just slap the “managed services” label on a set of services that don’t quite fit the definition and market them as the real thing.

We live in an era of overkill, and I accept that. “American Idol” becomes a big hit show? Replicate it to death. Another celebrity gets herself in trouble? Plaster her face on every magazine cover and dedicate a good chunk of that 24-hour network news coverage to her.

It’s the Age of Scant Imagination. Rare flashes of creativity, if recognized, are swallowed whole, digested, regurgitated and recycled ad nauseam until the bright spark of inspiration inevitably fades into a tatty shade of beige.

The IT industry is anything but immune to this, and in some fundamental ways, it is the culprit. If one vendor discovers the never-really-hidden SMB (small and midsize business) market, all the other vendors rush to target products and services to SMB customers. Never mind that a good percentage of the products or services don’t quite fit the market despite the claims of some half-baked, unimaginative marketing plan.

Now we see this happening with managed services. Watching the managed services phenomenon take hold, some vendors are performing mental pirouettes trying to figure out how to cash in.

As well they should be. But here’s the thing: Don’t recycle whatever services you already offer, comprehensive as they may be, package them up in pretty wrapping and call them “managed services.” Giving partners access to a help desk that can respond to end-user customer issues is not some revolutionary component of a managed services program. It’s a given. In 2006 I expect my car to have power windows, so don’t try to tell me it’s an option. You want to impress me, throw in an engine that produces 250 horsepower on 50 miles per gallon.

At some level, I suppose you can affix the managed services label to just about anything. But if you want to be taken seriously, you have to meet certain criteria.

Fundamentally, managed services is about prevention. The primary goal is to catch technical problems before they hinder performance or, even worse, lead to network downtime.

At the very least you need constant monitoring to achieve this, and that is where technology becomes useful in one of the most meaningful ways imaginable. Remote monitoring and network management tools ensure constant vigilance and empower solution providers to make themselves positively indispensable to their customers. And by doing so, they also assure themselves of a recurring revenue stream.

Many managed services providers make it a point to schedule periodic visits by technical staff to customer sites, a good practice that reinforces the preventive approach. But on-site visits alone fall short of a comprehensive managed services program.

It’s the remote component that makes an offering worthy of the “managed services” moniker.

So any vendor considering the launch of a managed services program must keep this in mind. For some vendors, it may make more sense to partner with one or more of the managed services platform providers than to launch an initiative on their own.

As the model evolves, plenty of opportunities for interesting partnerships will present themselves. And while some vendors may choose to go it alone, whatever you do, just don’t fall into the trap of labeling a program something that it isn’t. Doing so dilutes the model overall and creates distrust on the part of customers and partners.

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