Confusing Value Propositions: Cloud Platforms and Hosted Applications

it-balancing-actConfusing Value Propositions: Cloud Platforms and  Hosted Applications

When a service provider is in the business of selling computing resources – like bandwidth, processors and memory, and disk storage – it makes a lot of sense to also leverage the value of software products and systems which drive consumption of computing resources.  In short, they market and sell software that runs on the platform in order to get folks to buy the platform, no different from selling desktop and server software in order to sell the hardware to run it.  It’s just that these days the hardware and networking components are often referred to as the “platform” or maybe “the cloud”.

Let’s face it… cloud computing platforms are just no fun if there’s nothing to run on them, and a hard drive has little value when there isn’t anything stored on it.  Once there is something there – an application, data… something – then the part has actual value in terms of driving revenue.  This is the difficulty and the basis for confusing value propositions when it comes to offering and delivering services in the form of a hosting platform.  Once again: platforms are just no fun if there’s nothing to run on them.  Is the value is really about the applications, not the platform? Or is the value in the platform, because it’s necessary for running the applications?

The truth is that both are essential parts of the entire “solution”, and the value of how the solution is packaged and offered is purely up to the purchaser to determine in terms of applicability to the business.  When it comes to hosted application offerings for businesses, there isn’t a single one-size-fits-all approach that will work.  Sometimes people want to purchase from different vendors and put their own solutions together, and sometimes folks want turnkey delivery of whatever they need.  Even channel partners and value-added resellers are finding that, with diminishing margins and aggressive competition prevalent in the market, removing the time-consuming aspects of solution delivery becomes paramount to achieving some level of profitability on the work.

What this means is that providers are looking for ways to increase the overall value and usability of their solutions, and when it comes to platform services there are only two directions to look: automation to support self-service, and application software delivery to drive consumption and usage on the hosting platform.

So now we’re back to the applications again.  There’s no way to avoid them, but there’s no great way for platform companies to engage with them, either.  Working with business application software is sometimes complicated, often annoying, and can be exceptionally time-consuming and resource intensive. And there are few licensing models which make it really easy for hosts and ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) to work together.  Then, of course, there is the desire for exclusivity on one side or the other.

Software companies don’t generally want to select a single platform provider for their software for a very simple reason: they don’t want to limit their potential user base.  Now that Windows platform is available just about anywhere – on local computers, on mobile devices, from platform and infrastructure hosting providers – how does the ISV make a decision on a single delivery channel or model or provider?

Some lean towards working with hosting providers to create branded, point-deliveries of the application.  Too often, however, this approach removes the ability for customers to benefit from other applications or integrations, eliminating some of the value of the solution and certainly curtailing benefits for integrating partners of the ISV.

Host it themselves?  The last thing most software developers want is to be responsible for hosting and maintaining some other guys’ software products; they have enough to worry about with their own offerings.  If the solution is standalone, maybe this approach works.  But there are few solutions made for the desktop which don’t have some strange integration point with MS Office apps, Adobe reader, Internet browsers or other things prevalent on the user desktop.

There isn’t any proven or easy path for software developers, IT suppliers or small business customers looking to create mobility and managed subscription service around desktop and server applications, and there is likely never going to be a single story line that all will follow.  This is among the reasons for the popularity of the “hybrid” cloud approach and growing importance of managed application hosting and ISV-authorized delivery models.  Yet even key providers in those areas have a tough time really communicating what they do in a way that is meaningful to the buyer.  Are they selling a platform, applications, or both? Folks in the industry know the jargon and how to use it, and are often skilled at adjusting their language in order to obfuscate or confuse certain sticky issues regarding software licensing in the cloud and other similar aspects of hosting.  It’s no wonder that many customers remain confused as to what, exactly, they’re being asked to buy, and where the lines of flexibility and responsibility are drawn.

The applications justify the platform, and there are possibly multiple platform approaches to delivering the app. It is a confusing situation for business buyers of IT as well as for their resellers and suppliers, and the increasing number of options for how businesses approach purchasing and using information technology makes it unlikely that the process will become as simple as some suggest.

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Turning a Product or Service into a Solution: the Value Add of a Reseller

Turning a Product or Service into a Solution: the Value Add of a Reseller

There is quite a bit of chatter on the web and among IT resellers about how opportunities to serve business customers are diminishing, yet business adoption of cloud computing, managed services, and mobile technologies is growing tremendously.  It seems that use of technology is increasing, but the opportunity for “traditional” IT resellers and channel partners to make money by selling IT-related products and services is diminishing.  This is not new, and is simply a finer form of the problem that has been revealing itself for years.  In order to provide value, suppliers must provide businesses with solutions to business problems rather than just trying to sell them products and services with a hefty profit margin.

Whether it is a physical item like a computer or an intangible item like consulting services, businesses will buy if they see value in it.  In the eyes of the consumer, the value is likely tied to far more than the item at hand; the value tracks to some expectation of business benefit to be achieved now and in the future.  Businesses will pay for solutions to problems they experience more readily than they will pay for shiny things or big ideas, and it is this truth that many “value added” resellers tend to forget even though it is part of their business description.

For many years channel resellers have struggled with competitive elements that reduce revenue and profit potential on core products and services.  When computer hardware prices dropped years ago and businesses found that going through distribution or direct to the manufacturer was often a more affordable path than buying through a reseller, the resellers re-trenched and began providing more value in terms of solution architecture, training and implementation support, and system management services.  As the delivery chain for information technology continues to compress and more products and services are delivered direct-to-consumer, the pressure for resellers to discover their “value add” grows even more severe.

The days of simply reselling technology products to make a living are quickly coming to an end. There isn’t enough profit margin available to eek out a living just selling hardware and software, and it takes a large volume of subscribing customers to reach any significant revenue level by reselling commoditized cloud services. Yet the customers are there to be won if the offerings represent solutions to defined and recognized business problems – solutions that introduce quantifiable business benefit rather than creating more business problems – and where the reseller plays an integral part in making the selection a successful one for the customer.

While it may seem that business cloud computing, hosting services and SaaS solutions all come with easy-to-read instructions, do-it-yourself installation and painless upkeep, the truth is often very different. Some consumers realize this when they go shopping for solutions and come up with more questions than answers; some only figure it out after they have made the wrong decision. Either way, these businesses could use the help of a professional who will provide the added value of taking time to understand the problem to be solved, consider the variables which exist in the client organization, and clear a path which takes the customer business to a better place.

Cloud computing and SaaS may be changing HOW businesses purchase and use technology, but it is not changing WHY they do it.  Businesses buy IT because they think it will solve a problem – they have expectations. The reseller can find and provide the added value: the reasoning (meeting expectation) for selecting the solution, why it is the right choice for the customer organization, and how they will ensure that the solution delivers the benefits described and expected.

Joanie Mann Bunny FeetMake Sense?


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