The Cloud MSP: Building on Traditional Roles
Many channel partners who used to sell on-premise infrastructure solutions have been gradually acknowledging the customer value proposition from cloud computing and have transitioned to it. A new breed of cloud solution providers has emerged as a result.
Many managed service providers (MSPs), on the other hand, seem to want to perpetuate the myth that they only provide services in an on-premise setting. Yet the role of the managed cloud service provider, or cloud MSP, is not new. More progressive MSPs have long been helping their customers move to the cloud, and have taken up monitoring and managing the cloud as well as on-premise services.
These insightful experts realize that every cloud service carries a quality of service that is committed to in the provider's service-level agreement. They provide a valuable objective service that keeps the providers honest about their performance.
Cloud MSP Role: Selling New Services to Existing Customers
Selling more services to an existing customer is said to be "five times easier" than creating a whole new customer, so MSPs welcome any opportunity to expand their business by adding new services to their portfolio. This has given rise to a category of cloud managed service provider offering customers a broad choice between large provider clouds or their own private version, public cloud services and/or hybrid environments—all completely managed.
As the channel progresses, cloud MSPs who have been successful in becoming part of their customers' operations will seek to do so at deeper and deeper levels. Here are some examples of MSPs who are already managing services that are not focused on infrastructure.
Focus on Platform Apps, Such as ERP or CRM
Many channel partners implement platform applications such as ERP or CRM. Just as the installation of platform software such as Microsoft SharePoint has become a commodity, these partners see that as being inevitable in their field. Some have shifted their focus away from simple installation and onto the skills required by users to extract as much business value from the platform as possible.
With proper interpersonal communications training and advanced techniques in using the platform, companies such as Customer Dynamics of Salt Lake City are building a new practice around using CRM as a highly effective strategic weapon. They then manage the use of CRM for their customer, constantly adding new functionality and supporting users.
Systems integrators like Intelledox of Brisbane, Australia, have developed platforms to automate the development of applications using simple graphical interfaces to allow even the least technical user to build software without coding. According to Intelledox, all the users really need to know is their own workflow, their own processes. Many partners are seizing upon this to expand their practice by helping customers build, manage and extend the capabilities of these applications over time.
As our ability to collect more data points expands, we see the sheer volume and the diversity of the data we've collected ballooning. We no longer talk gigabytes or terabytes; we're talking petabytes, and it won't be long before we move further.
Beyond everything else that will be derived from all of this data is the need to develop actionable information that supports superior decision-making.
Soon we'll see MSPs hiring data scientists—those rare multi-disciplinary experts who bring together IT skills with mathematical, synthetic and analytical capabilities to see deeper into the data and extract more useful interpretations.
Just as customers trusted infrastructure to MSPs because it made more fiscal sense, they will turn to them for help analyzing and interpreting data.
Cloud MSP Opportunity: Managing Everything From the IoT
The cloud turned many things into services. Infrastructure became a service. Software became a service.
The Internet of things (IoT) promises to turn everything else into services. Even now, IoT has turned "turn the lights on/off" and "raised the thermostat" into services. Your car can call in for service all by itself. With more development, manufacturing will become a service. Distribution as a service.
Channel partners will find themselves in the business of managing heat, light and power for entire buildings by deploying sensors and automation to control HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) equipment and much more.
MSPs, Other Cloud Solution Providers Need to Be Innovative
Although cloud MSPs have made clear strides, a key issue for companies in the channel is finding the best spots to add value. (To learn more about the opportunities and challenges cloud solution providers face, read the next installment in Channel Insider's ongoing analysis of the cloud.)
Channel partners have always been challenged to innovate by their customers, by various industries, by the incredible speed of change and by the vendors who are creating that change. "Always innovate" have been channel watchwords since the Imsai and other early microcomputers.
Today requires more. We must get outside the box in our thinking and find new ways to deliver business value to our customers. If we are MSPs, we need to find new services to manage. That requires imagination added to intellect in our innovative efforts.
Up for the challenge? Tell us about your latest imaginative innovations.
Howard M. Cohen is a 30-plus-year IT industry veteran who continues his commitment to the channel as a columnist and consultant.