By now, you’ve all probably heard the term “cloud computing”, (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS etc). Depending on who you ask, cloud computing can mean many different things. It can mean “moving your server infrastructure from your on-premise server closet (or the corner of your office ) to a highly secure, geo-redundant datacenter where you pay someone to host the underlying hardware for you”, or it can also mean a “pay as you go service where you only pay for what computing resources you consume, giving you the ability to scale up or scale down as needed minimizing your capital expense.” Whatever your definition of cloud is, it is here to stay and is changing the way we think about IT. So what does this mean for today’s managed IT service provider?
Traditional managed IT service providers built their business model around supporting clients on a per workstation, per server pricing model. This worked great for years (and still does in some cases) however with a lot of clients moving applications and servers to the cloud, as well as more and more MSP’s being formed each and every day, our way of thinking needs to change a bit. What happens when you go into a client that has 0 servers on-premise , and the employees all use personal devices connecting to multiple SaaS based applications? Or the client that gives each employee a tablet, smart phone, laptop and virtual desktop? Whatever the case may be, the point is traditional per server , per workstation pricing models may need to change. Granted all these devices and services still need to be managed in one way or another, the managed IT provider needs to find a way differentiate themselves from every other help desk out there offering monitoring services with Kaseya or N-able as a backend. So how do you do that?
1.) Embrace the cloud: All too often, MSP’s that are threatened by the cloud tell their customers to avoid moving services to the cloud in order for them to keep that “per server revenue” still coming in. This is unfortunate because they are shielding some of the most innovative technologies available to them at a fraction of the cost of maintaining it on-premise. At my firm, we encourage our clients to move as many services as they can to the cloud that make the most sense for their business. This includes but not limited to hosted Exchange, Microsoft Lync, Sharepoint, CRM, disaster recovery and more.
2.) Customer Service: Part of the fear of moving to any cloud provider is the lack of service one may receive. Instead of calling the IT department for an issue with E-Mail, now the employee has to call into a giant helpdesk to report the issue, and maybe they will get a call back within 48hrs. We truly focus on being a customer service organization first and foremost and an IT provider second. With the variety of cloud services a single company might use, IT now has to become a central resource that employees can contact when they are having issues, and know how to support each application used in the environment.
3.) Cloud Integration: Integration of cloud applications is extremely important. Our roll as an IT Help Desk has changed into a cloud integrator. We need to be able to take a clients on-premise Active Directory and federate with a service like Office 365 to offer seamless authentication, as well as extend the clients private cloud infrastructure to the public cloud for elasticity or even disaster recovery. At Project Leadership Associates, we specialize in such cloud integrations connecting many of the cloud offerings clients use today to work seamlessly together. Our clients enjoy the benefits of using Office 365 subscription based licensing model, with the flexibility of integrating a hybrid Lync based PBX system both on premise and in the cloud.
4.) Become a Strategic Partner: We want our clients to look at us as a strategic partner instead of just as a vendor. Anyone can provide basic helpdesk support, however not every company can provide true CIO , strategic advice on how how to best use technology for the business needs. For all our managed services clients, we host quarterly business reviews where together we establish a 3 year technology plan, and prioritize items according to the clients growth plans and business requirements. In addition, we assist with IT budgeting, and make recommendations on ways to leverage technology to make employees more efficient.
Bottom line, even though IT is shifting to the cloud, I believe there will always be a need for managed IT service providers to help connect these providers together. The need for supporting servers and workstations will be there, however the true focus should be on customer service, building long-term partnerships and integrating with the cloud services.