What Can MSPs Learn From Zombie Parasites?

IT Weapons director of marketing says all many MSPs need to successfully transform their practices for the cloud era is a change in mindset--they can take inspiration from brain-controlling organisms.

Discussions of zombie parasites rarely lead to advice on transforming MSP practices for the cloud era, but Jeremy MacBean of IT Weapons drew that unintuitive connection Thursday at the NexGen Cloud conference in Anaheim, Calif.

Solution providers can take a lesson from the liver fluke—an organism that travels from the digestive tracts of cows to snails to ants and back to cows to end its lifecycle where it began, MacBean, director of marketing and communications at the Brampton, Ontario-based division of Konica Minolta, told NexGen attendees.

Like the liver fluke that infects the brains of its hosts, ideas "can change your behavior, the way you operate, the way you see yourself," he told MSPs.

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As legacy infrastructure increasingly transitions to cloud services, MSPs are challenged to deliver value. They need new ideas to alter how they approach customers—not necessarily new tools, employees or practice groups.

"As an MSP, a solution provider, think about how you see yourselves, and how your customers and clients see you," MacBean said. "Insofar as you see yourself as a service provider, the language you use is going to dictate your value."

There are plenty of tools, resources, and business models openly available for MSPs to steal as they transform their practices. All the large cloud providers and distributors "are publishing tons of tools to help services providers like us," MacBean said.

It's more about "just connecting capabilities you have and small incremental changes about your go-to- market strategy," MacBean told attendees.

Take as an example small insurance brokers—often acknowledged as the "most boring industry in the world," MacBean said.

And yet even those modest companies are looking to digitally transform by automating their operations, adding portals that provide quotes, and engaging customers online.

"Insurance is boring, but there's so many ways an MSP can help a small insurance brokerage digitally transform. It's about connecting the things we're already good at in new and interesting ways," MacBean said.

Seizing that opportunity can require little more than a fresh mindset and presentation—one that replaces slinging hardware for enabling applications and harnessing data.

"Sometimes delivering the right kind of value means you just have to change the way you're talking about what you're already good at," he said.

It's not as hard as it might sound.

IT Weapons built its own client portal with a dashboard that gives clients real-time access to the infrastructure they manage, some self-service provisioning, and tools to gauge customer satisfaction.

The Canada-based provider didn't need much in the way of unique IP or know-how, and just hired one person with the right development experience.

"We're not the first to do this, but there's value, and some of our clients see value in this," MacBean said.

John Hill, CEO of Tech Sage Solutions, a San Antonio-based MSP, has navigated a similar journey in recent years, looking to leverage his company's existing talent and expertise, and even the same tools, to offer modern cloud services.

"We've been thinking about how we take the same talent pool, basically the same providers, and think about it differently enough to create additional value and services," Hill told CRN after attending MacBean's session at NexGen. "That's what it's all about now."

Managed services have become largely commoditized, Hill said, and partners have to keep reinventing themselves, as MacBean discussed, to come up with extra value they can bring to clients.

"That’s what a lot of this conference has been about," Hill said. "Rethinking what we are doing to make it more relevant."

In the end, however, those MSPs still have to manage customer environments, still implement RMM tools, still help control onboarding and access.

The move to cloud might at first look like it shaves off margins when delivering those capabilities, Hill said, "but if you wrap the right things around it, cloud proves to be as profitable, if not more profitable."

"It's about redirecting your mindset, just like that zombie parasite redirects the mindset of the ant," he said, referencing the initial conceit of MacBean's presentation.