As an MSP, you probably have your deep area or areas of expertise that you are rightly proud of. If you provide managed security services, then you understand security. If you provide ERP, then you will be proud of your in-depth knowledge of resource planning software. With CRM, customer relationship management software and so on. 

The problem is that your customers don’t depend on security, ERP, CRM or whatever you provide. They have fluid processes that will interact or depend on your services, but the organisation will not be 100 percent dependent on what you provide. Sure, if your hosted CRM system goes down, the customer may go bust as they cannot take or fulfill orders, but that CRM system has to interact with the ERP and supply chain management (SCM) systems for the end-to-end process to be fulfilled.

This has a major impact on what you need to do

First, you cannot regard yourself as an island of functionality. Your customer needs to be able to tap into what you are providing, not only as a single process service, but as a series of tasks that they can call and utilise when their own overall process needs it. As an example, let’s take a process that connects them with a supplier to order items. You might say it is an ERP and SCM issue.

Not necessarily. The big data analysis system may need to access the CRM system to find out what customers have been ordering over the past quarter and decide how many of the items should be in the order. It’s not a standard CRM process – but it is data that the CRM system holds and should be able to offer up for any system that requests it.

As long as the system requests the data in a provable and secure manner, that is. You don’t want anyone to access that data. It must come from a provably trustworthy environment – and that may be where managed security and identity services come in.

How these systems can create a more customer-friendly process

How about a customer looking at a retailer’s web site and seeing an item in large and blue, but really wanting it green and medium? The CRM system may have its own inventory system that shows that there is no green/medium in stock. It could go back to the ERP system, which may have some alternative stock that it can identify. If not, it may need to go into the SCM system and request, via the manufacturer, if a green/medium item can be delivered within a specified timescale. As such, what could have a been a “sorry, we don’t have it” sales opportunity loss becomes a far more nuanced and customer friendly “we could do it green/medium in 7 days, or we can deliver navy/medium tomorrow – which would you prefer?” deal. Which could end up with the sale of two items.

Likewise, virtual desktops must be able to break out of their environment and provide documents or text elements into processes, enable spreadsheets to partake in data movements, and enable collaborative services to be a basic platform for all other services to use. Yet, the systems must also provide audit systems so that everything can be seen as a set of logs as it happened – either for forensic work, should anything go wrong, or for areas such as the requirement for a legal disclosure of information.

Therefore, as an MSP, you need to make sure that your systems are built using open standards with open, yet secure APIs and data access methods. These APIs must also be easily discoverable using standard integration and orchestration tools. They must accept the main security access mechanisms, whether this be via token, VPN, or other identifiable means. If the security is managed by a third party, then your system must be able to accept this and not throw exceptions because an external IP address suddenly appeared in the mix.

By doing so, not only do you make it easier for customers to do what they need to with your business, but you also open up opportunities to work with other MSPs, all of which will have their own areas of expertise, to create a far more rounded and useful set of services.

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Clive Longbottom

Posted by Clive Longbottom

Clive Longbottom is a UK-based independent commentator on the impact of technology on organizations and was a co-founder and service director at Quocirca. He has also been an ITC industry analyst for more than 20 years.

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