MSP, IT, Telecom, Channel: Convergence and the Cloud

Small and growing businesses have always relied upon various service providers and vendors to deliver the solutions required which support the business operation. Often viewed as the critical infrastructure of the business, phone and computer systems are among the first acquisitions a new business makes.  Phones and voice service, wired and wireless networks and all forms of communications infrastructure are part of IT and represent a large portion of the business information systems.

Small businesses used to have a phone guy they could call for phone stuff. The phone guy was a person or company who got phone lines installed, ran cabling for phones, installed phone systems and set up voicemail. The phone guy could help get cheaper long distance calling rates and train users on how to use the paging system and transfer calls.  The phone guy interacted mostly with the office manager or receptionist – the person in the office most likely to be “in charge” of the phone system, influencing these purchasing decisions greatly.

The computer guy, on the other hand, made sure the workstations and server were working, defragged hard drives, installed software and set up printers. The computer guy was the person or company that sold and supported the IT in the business, and often consulted with the business owner or line manager when it came to addressing information system requirements.

Telephony and networking is now clearly in the realm of IT, which changes how services are selected and purchasing is influenced. Computing and communications infrastructure, networking and mobile is all part of business IT. The separation of services – voice versus data – is gone.  The phone vendors and the IT suppliers are now the same company, providing the critical infrastructure, the platforms and the application services that businesses are buying. These service providers understand that the foundations for delivering voice and data services are the same; the skills of their techs and the tools they use have converged to the point where there is little separation of duties.

Cloud services and outsourced solution providers offering hosted PBX and virtual applications infrastructure have revealed to business owners that there is often little difference in what the phone guy and the computer guy can provide. Business owners want converged solutions: voice and data when and where they need it to support business operations. Just a little research reveals that these anytime/anywhere models are widely available and that the cloud is the key.

IT services are critical to the business, but the server doesn’t have to be under the front desk or in a back closet in order to function.  There is simply too much evidence in the market for these business owners to ignore;  shooting the server is now a viable option.

Every day more business owners are being inspired to [shoot their servers] seek out the services that will allow them to continue to benefit from innovations in technology while relieving them of the direct responsibilities of equipment purchasing, implementation, administration and lifecycle management.

Cloud services deliver this capability, and channel partners and Value Added Resellers should recognize their opportunity to get inspired as well, and to start offering cloud-based and hosted services to their customers and capture the “buying decision” opportunity that has [been] created.

Ready. Aim. Fire.

Source: Go Ahead and Shoot the Server: End of Microsoft Small Business Server Inspires Cloud Adoption with Small Businesses « Cooper Mann Consulting

Recognition of the convergence of voice and data services and channels hasn’t really hit home for a lot of resellers and channel partners, and this has rightfully positioned providers on both sides of the equation as viewing the others as direct competitors.  The phone guy thinks he is his customer’s “trusted advisor”, and that the loyal customer will certainly come to him if there is ever a need.  As well does the computer guy believe that he is the trusted advisor, having the ear of the business owner and wielding enough influence to ensure a continued revenue-earning relationship.

In truth, both the phone guy and the computer guy probably have earned their business customer’s trust and were the go-to people when there was a new business need. The problem is that the customer may no longer call one or the other of their “go-to” guys because the forward-thinking guys are offering one-stop service that delivers everything the business needs.  The lines between phone and computer stuff are not so clearly drawn any longer; it is all cloud IT and full service providers are winning the customer business.

Channel resellers, agents and MSPs are all telling their SMB/SME customers the same things, and at a base level they’re selling the same things, too.  Everyone is talking about lower up front investments and improved business productivity… and what they’re all selling is cloud and virtual. “Businesses need cloud in order to compete; move CapX to OpX; mobile is the new office” and “remote workers and devices need a secure quality network”.

Whether it relates to telephone systems with voicemail, automated attendants and a little intelligent voice response thrown in, or if the deal is for servers and workstations, software and network cabling, it is all business information technology and the trusted advisor is the guy who can provide it all. Convergence has clearly arrived.

Make Sense?

J

Focusing on Transformation

Focusing on Transformation

In January of 2007, Network World published an article stating that “user satisfaction with software as a service (SaaS) is starting to slip, but customer interest in this method of outsourcing IT functions is continuing to grow“, and says that recent survey results clearly demonstrate SaaS being “a dominant force going forward”.  That was 10 years ago, yet the same message is being played out today as managed services and hosting continues to grow in popularity. IT outsourcing makes sense for thousands of businesses, whether the software is part of the package or not. Today, outsourcing IT is almost an imperative if the business is to keep up a competitive pace.

Users need and demand mobility and will get their anytime/anywhere access to applications and data however they can get it. Businesses require agility in their technology, which is difficult when significant investments in hardware and infrastructure must be earned out prior to any new investment. Making systems accessible from outside the firewall, securing them in a reasonable manner and keeping them up and running all the time so users can access at any time is not a job for part-time IT.  Keeping the systems on and available at all hours requires full-time IT management, and this is in part what fuels the popularity of outsourcing it all.

SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) goes a long way toward helping businesses manage their IT costs in that the systems are part of the service.  The hardware running the application, the storage of the data and the support accompanying the solution are all part of the package.  Unfortunately, the SaaS solutions is not generally the only thing in use by the business, so continued reliance upon PCs, desktop software and locally stored data causes IT management costs to persist.  One size does not fit all, even with online application services.  Although customizations and add-ons can help a single app become a broader solution framework, there is usually something left behind that ends up anchoring a process or function to the desktop, device or local network, and requiring IT management and administration to go along with.

Application hosting services compete somewhat with SaaS in that the systems and management of them is included in the hosting service subscription fee.  While the business user retains licensing of applications and the flexibility of using the software already embedded in the operation, the organization is enabled to focus on operational improvements and not on the underlying systems supporting them.  By reducing or eliminating the requirement to directly manage and maintain servers, complex networks and user working environments, businesses are able to focus their in-house technical energies towards innovation and improvement. The centralized nature of the system facilitates new collaborative capabilities while allowing the business to build on the knowledge and base of information already invested software and processes.

Outsourcing IT service provisioning and management is just a baby step towards improving the business agility and positioning the organization for growth. Real digital business transformation begins with a change in the business mindset: not simply a focus on operational processes and improvements, a new strategy should evolve where the enterprise is situated to interact with its market seamlessly, at any time and all the time.  Businesses that wish to compete at this level must consider whether or not purchasing and maintaining their IT infrastructure is where they wish to focus their energies or if they’d rather invest their technical talent towards market building and transformational objectives.

Make Sense?

J