As a solutions provider in 2019, there is much to manage. As you continue to hone your offering and expand your skill set, while witnessing an ever-increasing number of competitors, the need to innovate has never been greater.
We talk constantly about the need to stand out from the crowd and offer something different that will make you unique. This requires time and dedication and a strategic approach that will inevitably eat into your time and initially, potentially also your resource. However, innovation never did come for free, and the good news is that if you get it right, there is no reason why you won't see results in both the short and long term.
Many service providers are already well on the path of innovation, with new and exciting ways of both delivering their services, as well as operating their businesses. So what are some of the key areas for innovation that MSPs have been focusing on for the last 12 months? We talked to the channel to find out.
When we think of innovating, we tend to think about an exciting new service or offering, but this isn't the only part of an MSP's business that can benefit from innovation. For Eric Schlissel, CEO at MSP GeekTek IT Services, the last 12 months have seen a focus on team development, which Schlissel told CPI has led to "a tremendous amount of innovation" for the firm and how it relates to and manages its clients.
An example of what the Los Angeles, CA-based MSP cites as this innovation is an IT department at a local university fully staffed by GeekTek. The staff consists of both industry veterans and "inexperienced but highly skilled" team members, all of whom are given the scope to run the department and pitch ideas - both obvious ideas and sometimes those that are slightly less obvious.
"The creativity that has come out of that is truly remarkable," Schlissel said. "And it shows us as managers how much ingenuity there is just below the surface if the doors are opened up to the right people at the right time. So we've taken the approach of opening the doors to everybody at the company, and we're actively exploring a lot of the ideas people have brought to the table. Everybody says that there's no such thing as a bad idea, but there are ideas that make you scratch your head and look at things from a different perspective… [This] has given us a lot of opportunity to look at things with fresh eyes."
This has enabled the firm to go to clients with unique approaches or solutions, often before the customer has even asked the question.
MSPs have also spent the last 12 months innovating around their offering. In the ever-changing world of cyber security, mobility, networking and life as an MSP in general, keeping up means keeping current; and that requires innovation.
Lansing, MI-based channel partner ASK told CPI that its innovations this year have focused heavily on its go-to-market (as well as existing customer-retention) strategy. Specifically, president and CEO Mike Maddox said that the MSP has "become convinced, without any doubt" over the last 12 months that all organizations need what the firm refers to as "the three pillars of good IT management": managed IT, backup and recovery, and cyber security protection. As such, rather than asking clients when they are being onboarded where they want to start with their managed services, ASK now offers "the ASK way" of onboarding, which encompasses the three pillars.
"If you go back a couple years, when we onboarded clients, we would recommend all three but we'd onboard them with what they wanted to start with, which might be just managed IT. And then they'd say ‘we'll talk about cyber security in the future' or ‘we'll talk about upgrading our infrastructure in the future'. And what time has taught us is that that's not in the best interest of the customer and it's not in our best interest either, because we're setting up a client to have a partial set of solutions that protects them, and not the full protection they need."
What this can often lead to is a high-demand help desk and an unhappy customer still facing many of the issues they had before they signed on with the MSP, according to Maddox.
"So our approach to the market now is we have a way of doing things, ‘The ASK way' we call it… and that's just how we do it. And if a prospective client doesn't want to do it that way, that's okay, but they're not a prospective client for us."
Maddox notes that the benefits of this innovation are not necessarily "profit maximization", as in many cases there is no difference in the profit made, but operational benefits. "It's about doing what's best for the customer and for the MSP owner. It's in your benefit because if you can get cyber security protection, for example, infused into your MSP program for your client, you're going to greatly reduce the demand on your help desk team and the liability and the risk to your company."
Service providers have also spent the last year innovating around the automation of their offering. CSP AllCloud told CPI that further automation of services has been at the top of its innovation list for 2019. Eran Gil, CEO at AllCloud, said that the cloud player had implemented automation within its systems to monitor the customer environment and respond to incidents via automation, rather than having to wait for human intervention.
"It alerts us to potentially resolve the problem with a specific scripting around a potential resolution. Sometimes it does require a human interaction, but we're limiting the human interaction and management of the environment, which means serving our clients faster."
Innovation should not, of course, be carried out just for innovation's sake. It's important to understand the tangible impacts on your practice. If you get it right, that impact will be significant and highly profitable. Gil notes that AllCloud has been able to "serve more clients, help them scale faster on managed services, and also for us as a business improve our profitability", which is, of course, ultimately what we're all working towards.
GeekTek, meanwhile, has seen its team become far more engaged as a result of the changes implemented this year, Schlissel said, which has led to a more engaged client base and the MSP being brought into client conversations earlier.
"Because we're in close communication with our clients, when their business has changed, we need to be aware of it. And often, the IT services firm is the last company to know, but now we have this open channel with our client base and we're gathering better information more often, we're able to anticipate need and demand and sometimes even restructure our arrangements for the clients in advance of structural changes to the business. Nobody likes surprises. And one of the one of the top benefits for us is not being surprised."
He adds that revenue has also gone up at the MSP since implementing these changes. "It's a direct correlation between being in touch with our clients and making good recommendations as a value-add. That benefits everybody and it has reflected itself in our bottom and top line."
Have an innovation story to share? Be sure to submit your entry for the CPI Channel Innovation Awards! Submissions deadline is 5pm ET this Friday, 27th September.
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