Per user or per device: The eternal pricing question for MSPs

Ben Taylor

Deciding between a “per user” or “per device” pricing model has been a dilemma for IT service providers for many years. This article sets out to consider the debate against the backdrop of the current IT world, which, it’s fair to say, is rather different to the one that MSPs operated in a decade ago. Furthermore, this situation continues to evolve as we speak.

Per user or per device today

BYODAs an example, let’s consider a typical SME network back in 2005. Most companies operated traditional client/server environments and the workforce was far less mobile than it is now.

Most staff would work from desktop PCs and the average SME business would only own a handful of laptops, used by senior staff and travelling workers.

In 2005, BlackBerry devices had monochrome screens, and, in many firms, were only just beginning to be adopted by the CEOs and Managing Directors. The very first iPhone was still two years away.

Zooming back to the present day, the IT world looks very different. Now, almost everyone has a fully featured smartphone and often an iPad or alternative tablet device as well. Most SMEs now have some or all of their infrastructures hosted in the cloud. Home and mobile working is far more common – encouraged by the fact that cloud services now make working from anywhere far more straightforward.

In addition, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) culture is more prevalent now than it was even just a couple of years ago. Modern start-ups sometimes run entirely according to this model.

The per user or per device dilemma

So where does this leave the MSP, trying to decide between charging on a “per user” or “per device” basis? Consider the following points:

It’s fair to say that the typical user probably has more devices at their disposal now than they had in the past. In addition, some of these devices may be personally owned and used in line with a BYOD policy.

At the same time, however, a typical client is likely to have far fewer on-premise servers and PCs than in the past.

While the number of mobile devices has undoubtedly exploded in recent years, they are arguably far easier to support. Cloud services have made issues like effective email synchronization routine tasks rather than the challenges they once were.

That said, people are also far more reliant on these devices than they were to start off with – another factor that’s evolved significantly in the past couple of years. Migrating a user to a new smartphone can sometimes seem as involved as migrating them to a new PC.

On a simplistic level, it’s easy for an MSP to take the attitude that it’s only fair to charge per device when there are now far more devices to support. However, clients may object to this. Devices such as iPhones and iPads are inherently easy to use, and in many cases users will be capable of synchronizing their data without help. In these cases, MSPs may find it hard to justify a monthly charge for supporting each mobile device.

However, in these cases it is worth pointing out just how many functions staff typically perform using their tablets and smartphones. If individuals are truly dependent on their devices, it’s reasonable for them to expect someone to pay for them to be adequately supported.

Mobile Device Management (MDM)
BYODThe evolution of the IT world should mean that the MSP needs to do more work for less reward. As stated above, some aspects of the job have, in many cases, been eroded by the reduction in on-premise servers. This can balance out the “per user” model in terms of effort vs. return.

Ultimately, the MSP needs to continue to justify its existence (and fees). So, if a firm has, for example, moved to Office 365, the client needs to understand that the time that was previously spent on server troubleshooting is now spent on different tasks, such as mobile device management and system monitoring.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is that every client is different. MSPs must be flexible in their service offerings so that they can fit around customer requirements. While each may decide on a “per device” or “per user” model as a preference, perhaps the wisest strategy of all is a willingness to offer both.