The IT landscape for MSPs has been in a period of transition for some time now, but it’s clear that things are now entering a new phase.
To illustrate this, let’s think about a couple of the major players in the world of IT, and what they’re doing right now:
At the time of writing, IBM are heavily advertising a their MSP portal called IBM PartnerWorld where they focus on “next generation” systems. The solutions that will be discussed are all predominantly based around the cloud and the focus is on scalability, “big data,” and “competitive advantage.”
It’s fair to say that there’s something distinctly “enterprise level” about these buzzwords. MSPs still stubbornly clinging onto a traditional (on premise) way of doing things will (quite rightly) feel that they’re being left behind by all this new terminology.
While Windows 8 is still far from being considered an unqualified success, Microsoft has made its medium-term strategy quite clear. Microsoft Office has now headed to the cloud in a big way with Office 2013 / Office 365 – even for the consumer market.
Meanwhile, the discontinuation of Small Business Server and the SME push towards Office 365 has rocked the foundations of MSPs who’ve become complacent regarding the ways that their SME clients should do things. In addition, Microsoft’s certification tracks have recently been revamped with plenty of emphasis placed on private clouds and “as a service” architectures.
The outcome of all of this for MSPs is either worrying or exciting depending on each individual firm’s ethos and their level of resistance to change. The simple fact is that it’s becoming less practical and desirable for IT services to be bought and sold in the old way – i.e. one user meaning one laptop, one BlackBerry, one set of software licences, and one fairly predictable set of support requirements.
Consumerization, another of the current IT world’s unavoidable buzzwords, plays heavily into this too. At home, many individuals aren’t replacing desktop PCs when they go out of date or stop working – they’re instead using tablets and Smart-TVs. Perhaps they’re buying new laptops - but needing no configuration help as they’ve already moved all the data they need into the cloud by themselves.
None of this means that the need for managed service providers is going to disappear. Users are not going to suddenly become so technically proficient that the need for IT professionals disappears, but MSPs are reaching an “evolve or die” kind of crossroads; users not only require less traditional support, they also have stronger opinions on how they want to work with technology. So now is the time for MSPs to start planning for the future and thinking about how their clients will be working in a couple of years time - in the process designing business models and services that are scalable and will continue to generate revenue.
SMEs already find themselves able to cherry-pick their IT provision from vendors who have thought ahead: a cloud CRM system from here, and a Business Continuity solution from there. MSPs who’ve lagged behind in providing these services will probably have already witnessed these vendors chiseling away at their potential revenue. This should be as good a warning as any: the future’s here now – and it’s never been so important to get up to speed.