What users once expected of MSPs was relatively simple. Offerings were typically managed backup or desktop management. On the backup side, the MSP would provide software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings to their clientele. The MSP would ensure backups were successfully completed; recovery could take place efficiently; and deal with all of the underlying plumbing, software updates, and management.
For managed desktops, providers used to physically go to offices to manage the desktops of their clients. This entailed removing viruses and malware, installing software updates and patches, completing regular hardware refreshes, and more. The advent of various virtual desktop and remote management solutions made it much easier to take care of client desktop management remotely.
But expectations have changed markedly, especially over the last couple of years.
“Given current macroeconomic uncertainties, MSP clients are looking for more flexibility, greater efficiency in their operations, and business-level advice on the automation of workflows, processes, and business logic,” says Jay McBain, chief analyst for channels, partnerships and ecosystems at Canalys.
This places a greater burden on MSPs. No longer can they stay comfortable with a technology solution, such as backup, that changes little over the years and can be managed without highly skilled talent. Nowadays, MSPs need to have their ears to the ground, understand how technology infrastructure is evolving, and be ready to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding customer base.
Michael Day, VP of global partner sales at GoTo, says that, as businesses invest more heavily in IT services, MSPs are facing pressure to expand the portfolio of IT solutions they offer.
“Many customers want a one-stop-shop for their IT needs, which means MSPs need to be able to provide full, unified service rather than specializing in one or two product types as they have in the past,” he says. “At the same time, vendors are also experiencing more pressure to innovate their solutions to meet these changing needs from MSPs.”
Security Demands Multiply on MSPs
McBain points to security as one of the areas in which clients are asking far more of their managed service providers. Even when the MSP is not directly offering security services and has no plans to become an MSSP, customer expectations for security have surged. They expect their databases, customer information, and systems to be properly safeguarded.
Customers, after all, are under attack due to emerging threat vectors and face an ever-expanding attack surface. MSPs must be willing to provide some level of security services or they will face difficulties in continuing to deliver their non-security offerings.
Day agrees that security has become far more important due to the fact that bad actors are finding more ways than ever to get into company networks. Thus, MSPs must balance security concerns with the other services they provide.
Brian Hill, chief revenue officer and co-founder of Imperium Data, makes it clear that it is difficult for any modern MSP to avoid security. They all need to offer adequate security even if they are not delivering actual security services.
“A security practice has become imperative for growth and success because it’s no longer a ‘nice to have’ part of the IT solutions discussion,” says Hill. “It’s mission critical to modern day business and if you’re going to go to market as a services-based business in this industry, you must have security at the forefront of your offerings.”
Attack surfaces, after all, have expanded, as an increasing number of connected devices are being added to networks. More and more cloud services and applications are now operating. Remote work isn’t going away. Further, the rise in zero-day vulnerabilities found in third-party software and applications is leading to more supply chain attacks. These and other factors are driving organizations of all sizes and across all vertical markets to rethink security.
“An increasing number of businesses are turning to MSPs to help fill the gaps in terms of talent and resources needed to address the evolving security landscape,” says Neal Bradbury, SVP of MSP for Barracuda. “This is making it more critical than ever that MSPs remain vigilant in addressing vulnerabilities in a timely manner to mitigate threats and prevent exploitation by bad actors.”
The growing frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks, especially ransomware, has many businesses looking at cyberinsurance. However, cyberinsurance has grown costlier and become more difficult to acquire. In the second quarter of 2022, for example, the global insurance market index found that U.S. cyberinsurance prices skyrocketed up 79% from a year ago after more than doubling in the two prior quarters.
“Organizations are requesting more support for cyberinsurance and compliance, which is an area that MSPs can assist with by ensuring that they meet the requirements for cyberinsurance eligibility; that they can address and respond to the insurer’s eligibility questionnaire appropriately; and are purchasing and adding solutions to their security stack that will help to mitigate threats and close any gaps that exist in protecting their infrastructure from cyberattacks,” explains Bradbury.
Expectations Beyond Security
Security is certainly a big area of raised customer expectations, but MSPs are facing demands in many other areas, too. Clients, Day adds, are also looking for new integrations that lead to better business outcomes and integrations that make it easier for them to submit a service ticket, request changes on their platform, or make requests for remote IT support.
“With the shifting hybrid work landscapes, MSPs now need to deliver in both remote and in-office environments,” says Day. “Cloud-based services are critical for providing support to employees and customers spread around the world. Companies failing to transition from on-premises only equipment will face significant hurdles.”
That includes being able to cater well to hybrid employees when they do come into the office. They need everything to work — the Wi-Fi, connections to printers, and the equipment on their desk, for example.
“Delivering the right tools for both of these setups is a new challenge for the MSP but an essential one for them to succeed,” adds Day.
Jim Ortbals, VP for global service provider, MSSP and distribution at Zscaler, pointed to digitalization as yet another area where more and more customers are seeking guidance and advice as well as services from MSPs to propel them on their digital transformation journey.
“They are looking to their trusted technology partners for guidance and support not just on implementing and deploying new solutions but helping them operate it in an ongoing manner,” says Ortbals. “While this is certainly applicable for the SMB and mid-market, we’re seeing many large enterprises also exploring or leveraging more full-scale managed services partners.”
Doing More with Less
Hill believes that the rise in customer expectations is due to a pressing need to innovate and remain competitive while gaining the ability to do more with less. COVID-19 and difficult global supply chain issues over the last few years have highlighted the value partners can bring in areas such as warehousing, financing, and global distribution. This is in addition to traditional value-added services like solutions architecture, managed services, and project management that partners are expected to excel at for both OEMs and customers.
“The ability to warehouse, configure, distribute, and manage is something we are seeing great demand for in the market,” says Hill. “To do this, we have had to implement cost structures and financing solutions that allow us to remain profitable but also allow our customers to fully leverage their buying power and cut down on lead times with ‘just in time’ shipping.” As customers now expect far more, MSPs need to evaluate their offerings and determine what additional services they should offer to remain competitive.