Managed service providers (MSPs) get excited about the holidays as much as anyone else. The only difference is that many MSPs will be keeping at least one eye on various consoles to make sure any potential disruption that might occur over the next couple of weeks is kept to an absolute minimum. Much like everyone else, MSPs are also hoping Santa leaves them something really special this year under the tree. So in the spirit of the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” here are a dozen gifts most MSPs would really appreciate.

The MSP wish list

Clarity: Almost every major IT vendor has launched what amounts to a managed service they deliver, especially cloud service providers (CSPs). MSPs need a lot more clarity when it comes to determining where the managed services a vendor will end and the services they provide can begin. IT vendors are essentially asking MSPs to add value by moving upstream, while simultaneously begging MSPs to incorporate the vendor’s services into their offerings. MSPs need IT vendors to define where their managed services ambitions lie. Without that clarity, it makes it exceedingly difficult for MSPs to figure out where they should strategically invest.

Training: The pace of innovation has accelerated across the IT sector, which is generally a good thing. However, IT vendors don’t always make training as accessible as they should. Some even try to charge MSPs for the privilege of being trained to use a specific technology. Savvy MSPs make sure training gets bundled into whatever the ultimate negotiated price is. IT vendors should realize by now that if training is expensive, hard to find, or time consuming, then the chances that an MSP is going to add the vendor’s product to their service portfolio diminish greatly.

Vendor Pricing: IT vendors that don’t allow MSPs to pay for a product using the same pricing model that the MSP employs to sell a service simply don’t get what being an MSP is all about. If the MSP needs to put the capital upfront to acquire a product that it will then sell as a service, months may go by before the MSP begins to see a return on that investment. MSPs are going to think long and hard before making that level of financial commitment.

Automation: Most MSPs have already embraced automation to one degree or another. The challenge they now face is dealing with all the islands of automation that exist within their IT environments. While much progress has been made in terms of making application programming interfaces (APIs) available, the IT vendor community needs to come together in a way that fosters true closed loop automation on an end-to-end basis. By doing so, MSPs will be enabled to drive real cost out of their IT operations.

Best DevOps Practices: Frameworks such as ITIL have played a major role in enabling MSPs to deliver IT services consistently. However, many customers are now looking for a more agile IT experience. They have come to realize just how dependent their business is on IT. Despite that, they can’t wait months for new applications and associated updates to be rolled out. MSPs are being required to embrace best DevOps practices to deliver new functionality faster and more consistently. IT vendors that invest the time and effort to help MSPs make that transition are no longer IT vendors, but rather strategic partners.

Marketing Tools: Most vendors do a great job of providing marketing collateral about their product. The trouble is most of that collateral is useless to MSPs trying to sell a service. Most MSPs are challenged when it comes to marketing because most of their limited resources are poured into engineering and sales. What they really need are IT vendor partners that understand how to create marketing campaigns around selling a service that an end user will want, versus a product they are hoping someone with buy.

More Mature Products: In their rush to gain market share, an increasing amount of IT vendors are pushing products out the door that are not quite ready to be employed within a service that gets delivered at scale. Too many IT vendors are delivering 1.0 and 2.0 releases of products that recently would have been considered alpha or beta releases. Most MSPs are not especially interested in allowing IT vendors to experiment on their customers. IT vendors need to be more forthcoming about the level of relative maturity of the technologies they are developing.

Early Cybersecurity Warnings: Clearly, everyone involved needs to take more responsibility for cybersecurity. In their zeal to disclose vulnerabilities, many vendors forget what goes into remediating those vulnerabilities. MSPs need a better early warning system because cybercriminals are becoming much more adept at exploiting vulnerabilities as soon as they are disclosed. IT vendors that suddenly disclose a vulnerability wreak havoc with the processes of MSPs. The only thing worse is a zero-day attack that exploits an unknown vulnerability. Sometimes the supposed cybersecurity cure being offered by the IT vendor to fix a newly discovered vulnerability is worse than the actual disease.

Eliminate the Internal IT Fear Factor: Too many internal IT departments still view MSPs as competitors. Instead of positioning their products as being ready to run, the IT vendor community would be doing a service to all involved if vendors started touting the critical role MSPs play in ensuring the best customer experience possible. After all, happy customers tend to buy more products. The more an internal IT organization struggles with a product, the less likely it becomes that customers will want to buy additional units. MSPs assume the burden of mastering any given product on behalf of an IT organization. IT vendors should stress that point to end customers a lot more than they currently do.

Reasonable Competition: There are a lot of “accidental entrepreneurs” in the MSP community. Many of them are former IT people starting up their own business. Many of those newly-minted MSPs don’t always realize what’s required to deliver managed service profitably. The problem is that many of those MSPs tend to drop their pricing at the first sign of pressure from an end customer. That not only drives profitability out the MSP business model, it becomes only a matter of time before the MSP cuts corners to deliver a service at a lower price. Eventually, the customer gets aggravated by an inevitable drop in the quality of service and before long, every MSP is being tarnished by the same complaints about quality of service. IT vendors that help fund business training for emerging MSPs wind up doing the entire IT industry a major service by explaining to new MSP entrants why cutting prices is the first step on the road to ruin.

Higher Valuations: Most IT vendors are now shifting towards recurring revenue models. This is largely because Wall Street now recognizes that companies that can count on revenue streams months ahead of time should have higher valuations. Of course, MSPs have always based their business on recurring revenues. The hope is now that the rest of the IT industry appreciates business models based on recurring revenues, valuations of MSPs will rise accordingly.

More Endpoints: The simple equation for most MSPs is this: the more endpoints there are to manage, the more revenue they can generate. Whether it’s because more devices are being sold in a rising economy or the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), the more endpoints there are the faster MSPs grows. If MSPs could give away endpoints they would.

Not even Santa could address all these issues in a single holiday season. If MSPs make sure they stay off the naughty list, hope springs eternal that there may come a day when all of their wishes really do come true.

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Photo: George Dolgikh / Shutterstock

Mike Vizard

Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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