Most Innovative MSPs12:22 PM EST Fri. Aug. 20, 2010
Innovation, as defined by Merriam-Webster, means the introduction of something new, a new idea, method or device. And while it doesn’t say it in the dictionary, it feels as if you could almost add, “See: managed service providers,” who develop new and unique ways to utilize technology to help customers solve business problems.
While all MSPs look to offer their customers the latest and greatest technologies, a smaller portion of that whole is truly changing the game, leading the way with new models and new technologies to separate themselves from the pack.
CRN recently asked some of the leading managed service platform vendors and MSP organizations, including Kaseya, N-able, LPI Level Platforms, Zenith Infotech, GFI (CA Technologies) and MSP Alliance, to select who they thought were their most innovative partners. The accompanying list highlights those companies that stand out from the crowd.
Innovative MSPs are key to helping businesses align IT with their business requirements and aspirations, said Gavin Garbutt, president and CEO of N-able Technologies. “They embrace change and new technologies and are eager to find better, more efficient ways to service their customers both on-site and remotely,” Garbutt said. “Innovative MSPs aren’t satisfied with business as usual and are constantly adding more value to the mix, building their brand and enhancing their IT services.”
Certainly, an innovative MSP has moved beyond offering just remote monitoring and management. Perhaps they’ve become specialists in a vertical market, or maybe they’ve expanded their model to include a whole suite of services, including business planning and marketing, that can be integrated into an end user’s environment.
“Innovation has always been a key driver behind managed services growth and maturity. Not only innovation in adopting and using new technologies, but also the willingness to employ new business techniques that can yield dramatic changes for both MSP and end user alike,” said Charles Weaver, CEO of MSP Alliance. “By definition, good MSPs have to be innovative on a constant basis.”
NEXT: Innovation Is Key
To stand out, MSPs must find innovative means to ensure their future success. Take Everon IT, a Boston-based MSP that first offered flat-fee pricing on its Web site eight years ago, according to Mike Cooch, president, founder and CEO. “We were called crazy for it. Now a ton of people have taken that idea and run with it,” he said.
Today, Everon IT offers a 100 percent remote model and a full-services model. In addition to general IT managed services such as help desk, server management, security management and network management, Everon IT offers strategic business guidance and planning, and more. “An area we’re on the front end on is pushing to offer Web services for clients. We do Web design, marketing campaigns and development, and search engine optimization,” Cooch said.
In other words, Everon IT has moved beyond managing a typical IT environment to capture the core of a customer’s business. “Right now our industry is focused on IT, how to keep servers up and running and how to keep firewalls running correctly,” Cooch said. “But SMBs would like to work with one vendor to do multiple things. Our service technology background allows us to broaden the scope of offerings to clients. I think you’ll see [more] solution providers with less IT focus and becoming more small-business experts. That will be a big thing.”
Everon IT also differentiates itself through a completely remote model, which allows it to serve clients across the country. “If we need any on-site work done, we outsource to partners on a local basis. That’s worked really well,” Cooch said.
NEXT: Partner Up
Daniel Holt, CEO and co-founder of Heit Consulting, a Fort Collins, Colo.-based MSP, agreed that the days of doing just one thing for an end user are over. “Customers don’t want 10 vendors. You have to partner up or beef up,” said Holt. “You can’t be a specific MSP to a specific technology anymore.”
Innovative MSPs talk to customers about “the whole soup to nuts,” including hosted Exchange, SharePoint, compliance and infrastructure management, Holt said. And if you can’t build the business to do that, you need to look for help, he said. “The reason to do that is, looking forward, the whole cloud market. I see in the next three to five years a big push there [toward cloud services],” Holt said.
For example, a customer today that might need 10 servers monitored and managed might have zero or one server of their own in just a few years. “The managed services of buying Kaseya or N-able where you charge per device, that model will go away. It will be per employee, perservice, not per device,” he said. “The other thing you’ve got to be is vertically focused. If you’re not, then you don’t understand their business. You can’t say you understand retail, health care, financial and government. The reason is you need to understand their applications; you need to understand their business. You can’t understand the applications of everything unless you’re IBM Global Services.”
Truly innovative MSPs also are having conversations now with vertical-specific ISVs to ensure that their services can accommodate anything an end user needs, Holt said. “We go outside of managing IT-type services. We provide a managed compliance solution. We manage business continuity planning, policy procedures. We have truly integrated all our systems into one platform,” Holt said.
To Karl Palachuk, founder and CEO of KPEnterprises, a Sacramento, Calif.-based MSP, being innovative is sometimes as simple as keeping up with the latest technology. “As strange as it sounds, the easiest way is to pay attention and integrate new technologies as they emerge. I’m frustrated with people in our industry that don’t [do that],” Palachuk said. “I find people that say, ‘I’m not selling the latest version of this server because clients are not asking for it.’ Of course they’re not asking for it because they don’t know about it. Clients didn’t ask me for the Internet, but I went ahead and installed it for them.”
It’s also important to keep up with technology in-house, Palachuk said. In the managed services market, he said he’s known MSPs who waited four years to select a remote management and monitoring tool.“By the time they made the decision, everybody had already gone to managed services. It’ll be the same now with cloud. Three years from now, people will be asking which cloud solution should they sell.”
Innovative MSPs are not waiting to introduce cloud services to clients, Palachuk said. He recognizes that many small businesses will eventually move to cloudbased solutions and it’s important to be
in front of that trend. “We have our company run in the cloud, and we offer cloud services. We want to be the first person [customers] hear about cloud from, not from some stranger,” Palachuk said.