New Signature Co-Founder Tells NexGen Cloud Peers: Don't Manage Devices, Manage the Business

By taking advantage of a vast portfolio of cloud products, Microsoft partners can simplify their operations and ramp up profitability while ignoring third-party vendors and customers not interested in moving beyond legacy solutions.

That was the message David Geevaratne, chief sales officer at New Signature, shared with his peers Thursday at the NexGen Cloud conference, offering the company he co-founded as an example of how to leverage the Microsoft cloud platform to move beyond managing devices to managing entire businesses.

"Start thinking about how your customers can maximize their cloud investment, and minimize their on-premises footprint," he urged NexGen attendees at a breakout session during the conference, sponsored by CRN parent The Channel Company.

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Geevaratne, a self-proclaimed Microsoft evangelist, asked his peers to think beyond the stifling business of supporting hardware.

A show of hands revealed that most of the solution providers attending the session weren't there yet -- most said they were still selling managed services on hardware, and still pricing by the number of devices.

New Signature, based in Washington, D.C., and Toronto, had been around for more than decade, but started enjoying tremendous growth after devoting itself entirely to its Microsoft practice, Geevaratne told the audience.

Geevaratne described for his audience a path toward customer engagement for cloud services.

To drive business, the first order of business for a cloud partner should be to assess the customer's needs, he said.

As part of that process, it's fine to weed out customers not looking to adapt to the modern marketplace. If they're comfortable with Windows 7 or Office 2010, he wouldn't waste energy on them, Geevaratne said.

But for those customers smart enough to realize "they don't know what they don't know," partners should present the opportunities created by modern business solutions, Geevaratne said. As part of that pitch, they should talk about business transformations and market trends.

"What we need to do as a community is try to find the customer targets that are looking to adapt and react in the right way to the market trends," Geevaratne said.

That introductory conversation with customers can happen without mentioning a single product name, he told his peers. They should keep the focus squarely on the end result.

"Imagine the end result being a stable environment where we have wrapped managed services around their ecosystem," he said. "We want to help our customers eliminate points of failure."

And on-premises servers are significant points of failure, he said. A move to Azure, Microsoft's Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud, presents almost identical functionality, with no hardware to deal with and minimal networking challenges.

Microsoft Intune adds to the mix Windows management functionality. With Azure Active Directory, the channel can fulfill 70 percent to 80 percent of small business needs without an on-premises domain controller, he said. "Couple that with Intune, I'd say 90 percent of their needs" can be met, Geevaratne said.

And channel partners are being remiss if they're not trying to explain to customers how their security is compromised without two-factor authentication, he said. It's much easier to set up for customers than most solution providers think, according to Geevaratne.

"It's like five clicks to set up two-factor identification. Another five to set up self-service password reset," Geevaratne told his peers. "With Microsoft, security is easy."

Follow up the security conversation with one about data loss prevention, he advised.

And after migrating customers to Office 365, he instructed, partners should talk to them about archiving, tightening security around email, concurrently upgrading to Office 2016, Skype for Business for collaboration, the benefits of Yammer to implement social capabilities for the enterprise, and even VoIP with Office 365 E5 to remove on-premises phone systems.

"It's absurd not to have those conversations," Geevaratne said. "Customers don't know what's possible with these solutions, so we have to show them."