With innovation cycles increasing at blinding speed, most businesses are struggling to sort through all the potential options. Will they really benefit from adopting IoT, Big Data, VR or any of the latest technologies? If so, what path should they pursue, and how much time will it take to properly implement the particular solution they need and train their people to use it?
These are complex questions. Many large companies have CIOs or other technological visionaries in place, with time to sort through all the opportunities and how each particular advance might help move their organization forward. And when those professionals do decide to move forward with a project, they typically have the budgets and the people to properly plan, implement and support it.
Most small businesses lack the knowledge and resources to take full advantage of the latest innovations. Few would consider themselves early adopters, often waiting on the sidelines to see which new technologies and methodologies will offer them a real advantage and solid ROI before making any moves. That’s the way SMB organizations have operated for decades.
But that was the past. Due to competitive and technological shifts, many small companies can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines while other firms get “leaner and meaner.” Innovation is becoming a core business requirement, no matter the size of the organization or the markets it targets. We have entered the age of digital transformation. Like it or not, every IT services company is going to have to adapt to remain competitive and highly relevant to its business clients.
It’s time for channel companies to ramp up their customer conversations concerning innovation and transformation. Chances are they will find a business need and at least some level of interest, giving IT services firms an opportunity to explore strategies, budgets, and potential obstacles. That’s how innovation as a service begins.
What types of technological benefits are SMB organizations looking for today? They typically fit into these three buckets:
- Process improvement Manufacturing, food service and retail are perfect examples. Automation and IoT technologies hold a lot of promise here, allowing them to speed and streamline processes and better control material and labor expenses. In times of growth, these innovations help companies redeploy resources to maximize productivity and profitability. Inversely, they allow businesses to make smarter decisions in declining markets or when economic conditions sour.
- Data mining/business intelligence Insurance companies, banks and other service-oriented organizations are looking for ways to leverage all the information the collect. The trick for channel firms is prioritizing their clients’ data. Much like identifying which files are most important for backup and retrieval, one of the most crucial steps is determining the value of the information they collect and store, and any gaps that currently exist. That’s not to suggest that finding solutions that leverage all that data is easy, but with the right vendor/distribution partners and training, business intelligence/big data is something any highly-focused MSP could master over time.
- Both It really should be no surprise. Virtually every organization needs to continually improve its processes, and in our ever-more-connected society, most have a lot of valuable data at their disposal that is being underutilized — if leveraged at all.
A Continually Expanding Focus
Constant improvement in an IT services business is still essential to long-term success. Networking, monitoring and security skills are the foundation for what comes next, necessary requirements that can open the door to innovative new technologies. But now is the time for channel firms to explore new opportunities and develop closer relationships with their clients. To get a better understanding of those customers’ needs and aspirations, and gain more of their “wallet share” to build viable new practices.
Innovative technologies can transform everyone’s business. They can provide a competitive edge, improving operational efficiencies and, in some cases, boosting the organization’s reputation as an innovator. For clients as well as the IT services provider.
IoT is the perfect example. As noted in the 2017 CompTIA IT Industry Outlook report, this technological advance is primed to be a massive disruptor and few small businesses are prepared to take advantage of all it has to offer. They’ll need a hand validating business applications and need for IoT. Those who can conceptualize and plan implementations, and offer their clients comprehensive support will be in high demand. Businesses are also looking hard at IT firms that can redeploy and upgrade their legacy systems whenever possible. Cost-effective is still a priority, regardless of the innovation.
Many organizations already have the need — they just don’t know where to start and who can lead the way. That’s a major opportunity for innovative providers. As noted in a recent CRN article, Microsoft executives are emphasizing the need for a stronger channel to support IoT and other new technologies, especially in the SMB segment. Few vendors have a strong knowledge of this community or can provide the type of comprehensive engineering, implementation, security and ongoing services required to keep it all working on a 24/7 basis.
The channel is filled with innovators who can lend that type of support. The question is, are they ready to invest in “future as a service” opportunities? If so, it’s time to get started.
Brian Sherman is president of Tech Success Communications, a channel-related content and social media development firm. He served previously as chief editor at Business Solutions magazine and senior director of industry alliances with Autotask. Contact Brian at Bsherman@techsuccesscommunications.com.