The times, they are a changin’. When I look at my roles as an MSP and integrator at the turn of the century the equation for success started with selling solutions. In the SMB space, this consisted of file servers, email systems, and application and database servers for application software like Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Accounting, and other Line of Business (LOB) software. The old model value chain was driven by products and implementation. For me, as it was for most integrators, selling the hardware and software was a big ticket deal in itself. Even for small deployments, this could run into six figure invoices with nice margins. And, of course, you get to replace it all in 3-4 years when it’s slow, failing and outdated. Then there was the implementation and ongoing maintenance. Not a bad equation. Software-as-as-Service (SaaS) providers, by leveraging the economies of scale inherent in cloud infrastructure, have taken some wind out of the sails of the integration game. The game may have changed, but the fundamental success principles stay the same.

Shadow IT, the Consumerization of IT — call it what you will — has changed the relationship many integrators and MSPs have with their customers. When your customers can requisition and deploy (virtual) hardware and software with a credit card and a browser, it becomes clear their needs have evolved. But the fundamental needs — where integrators have always added the most value – remains unchanged. It’s about relationships. It’s always been about relationships. The difference is now you are no longer order takers. You are partners, guides, educators and custodians. 

1. Partners

The MSP relationship is still predicated on a partnership, where you provide a service as part of the strategic initiatives of your customers. This is the most basic and traditional role, the outsourcer. Support the technology that supports the business needs of your customers. Simple.

2. Guides

The role of guide may be the most important and emerging role in the MSP space. A key trend in IT service management (ITSM) is alignment with business outcomes — making sure IT investments (which include SaaS) can correlate to business outcomes. It’s your role to know how to find the right SaaS puzzle pieces to build the software environment that will best serve the needs of your customers. The challenge for old school integrators is that this is something we often gave away for free while we were putting together that large hardware and software proposal. Expertise has value — get paid what you’re worth!

3. Educators

While it may be easy to requisition and deploy SaaS products (and even configure them), the role of customization, identifying and implementing processes, and training the user community to work them remains a critical success factor. More important even because the barrier for entry to acquire SaaS is so low that it may come at the expense of more valuable, deeper integrations and strategic planning.

4. Custodians

The MSP model already accounts for custodianship of your customers physical IT assets. Your goal here is to extend your value proposition to include custodianship of their cloud/SaaS assets as well. They may not require patching, upgrades and replacement, but there is plenty of maintenance to keep all the pieces working smoothly.

For integrators and MSPs, the fundamental long-term success principles were never about the best prices or exclusive products. There will always be someone who will sell it cheaper or introduce a competitive product. The real success for MSPs and integrators has been and will continue to be built on the quality of the relationships you develop and maintain with your customers.

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