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

Cloud and Digital are Driving Change in Professional Practice

Accounting and Finance Professionals: Cloud and Digital are Driving Change in Professional Practice

Accountants and financial consultants working in public practice are experiencing a revolutionary change, evolving from documents and paper-based processes with after-the-fact reporting to real-time business management and providing services which support daily decision-making.  The underlying cause for this evolution in business accounting is the technology: cloud and collaborative computing models are enabling much closer and regular interaction between accounting professionals and the businesses they serve. Even more, technology is taking its proper place in automating once tedious activities, allowing professionals to focus on causes and results rather than on transactions.

What is the real impact this is having on the accounting profession?  It’s forcing a new focus and attention on change management within the practice, and is causing professionals to recognize the requirement for standardization of processes and development of controls which are the foundations for creating sustainability in a business.  The goal now is placing reliance on process rather than people, which establishes the basis for intelligent automation.  Standardization of processes does not require that the firm lose its personality.  Rather, the mission at hand is to imbue the organization with its unique flavor and approach and to use process automation to develop and support consistency in the functions performed.

While cloud computing models allow accounting and finance professionals to work closer with their business clients, it is important that the practice look at those client interactions and develop standards for processes supporting frequently performed functions.  These operations generally represent the activities within the firm which generate the highest levels of profitability due to the consistency in approach and repetition of tasks, and are the activities to apply intelligent automation to first.  Those activities or engagements which represent the “one-offs” are often the most costly for the firm to perform, and therefore may not be the most profitable of activities and are certainly the most challenging to support with any significant level of automation.  It is in this area where AI will find useful value in the practice, where a more informed answer than simple process automation is required.

The surprising finding when looking at many professional practices with more than one partner/professional involved is that these firms often fail to develop even the most basic of standard processes which apply throughout the firm.  Rather, each partner or professional has “their way” of handling things, which challenges the supporting personnel as they try to deal with multiple working methods. The result is a lack of consistency in the service delivery to the clientele and reduced productivity and profitability for the firm.

The thing that these firms are failing to recognize – the light bulb over their heads that just isn’t lighting up – is that cloud computing and collaborative working models aren’t designed just to enable and facilitate a closer working relationship with clients.  They’re also able to be applied inside the professional practice, enabling a more productive and efficient workflow which addresses the strengths and capabilities of the entire organization. And it doesn’t stop there.  Businesses are relying upon their accounting professionals to provide guidance and develop controls and standards to support the client transformation from paper-based to digital operations, and embracing the entire realm of data and interactions associating with the business. Digital transformation in a client business demands transformation in those firms who serve it.

As professionals learn to go deeper in client operations they would do well to look internally, too, exploring how increased attention to process automation and consideration for the firm’s own “digital transformation” might lead to great profitability through market differentiation and improved performance.

Make Sense?

J