Tuesday, October 23, 2012
One of the first sessions at today’s CompTIA EMEA member conference focused on the need for channel organizations to move from the traditional “box shifter” business model to becoming managed services providers (MSPs). Nancy Hammervik, SVP of industry relations at CompTIA, led the session. She pointed out that the U.K. is considerably behind the U.S. when it comes to transformation from one channel to the other. In the U.S., she said, more than 75 percent of IT companies now refer to themselves as MSPs, while only 30 percent have made the switch in the U.K. The session’s panel – comprised of Vital Technology Group, Sytec, Jenaly Technology Group, Erb’s Technology Solutions and Preferred IT – discussed MSPs at length with some surprising outcomes.
The assertion that if you are not adopting the MSP model your business will die was challenged more than anticipated – only half the panel agreed. Gareth Brown from Sytec smartly highlighted the principle of TLC – not tender loving care but rather “think like your customer.” Brown said that instead of IT firms deciding to become MSPs, they should look to their customers to demonstrate they need one. This was supported by Vital’s Lee Evans, who agreed that companies shouldn’t go MSP just for the sake of transforming themselves but rather be adaptable in both directions – leading with an MSP approach, but retaining the ability to run a traditional business channel function for those customers that actually want a break-fix approach.
It was also agreed that business transformation in the channel is not at all straightforward. The channel is beset with challenges in this difficult economy; including decline in customer demand, high risk associated with change and the prohibitive nature of the costs associated with business transformation. What the panel did agree on was the importance of staff buy-in if a company decides to transform to MSP. Without it, the move will be hard, slow and IT firms may lose quality staff along the way.
The afternoon panel session on channel and vendor trends picked up where the morning’s session left off. It took a slightly different angle though, looking at the issue of how the customer is driving the channel, with particular attention paid to the cloud. The panel – comprised of Microsoft, Ingram Micro, Level Platforms, Symantec and C2000 – agreed that the future of the channel is not simply MSP. Rather, it’s likely to be an intelligent combination of onsite products, cloud services and remote management from end to end. The panel also agreed that the critical factor for a successful transition to this combination is not to offer a single solution that encompasses all three aspects, but to tailor the levels of that combination according to each customer’s demands. Some will need product alone. Some will need a solution. Interestingly, it was proposed that few will need cloud alone and that cloud-only organizations were considered by the panel to be opportunistic and, perhaps, a little short-sighted. The panel agreed that best-in-class vendors and channel organizations will bundle all three elements with a layer of skills designed to maximize their impact.
It was universally agreed that managed and cloud services need to be communicated with more appreciation of end-user understanding. The panel agreed that internal industry conversations mean little to customers, who see everything in terms of their own personal benefit. For example, C2000’s Andy Dow relayed a conversation with his neighbour, who is responsible for the design of a local airport. He explained that the cloud represents value for him because it keeps IT contractors offsite, reducing the strain on airport security. Who knew cloud’s appeal could be that simple to explain?
The session was well summarised by Ingram Micro’s Jason Beal, who said that a reseller or vendor must be agile enough to sell products that fulfil the needs of each individual customer. Blending products, managed services and the cloud are the future here. The long-term play is the converged approach.