All Things Managed: The IT Services Story Part 3
On the Importance of Security and the Cloud…
Finding new revenue streams is among the most important initiatives for traditional office equipment dealers that are serious about driving growth. In the document imaging industry managed IT has been a thing for a while now, and although countless dealers have been successful with it, IT is still a pain point for many others. With a big assist from Brian Suerth and Dale Stein, our friends at the Technology Assurance Group, we offer up another entry in our series on the numerous aspects, facets, and properties of managed IT.
Security and the cloud. The cloud and security. Regardless of the order, they’re two of the hot topics du jour in the technology space. With managed IT, the argument could be made that they are the two hottest topics—here we go…
“Though security is no laughing matter, the confusion caused by security solutions just a few years ago was sort of laughable,” said Dale Stein, Co-Founder of TAG. “Products were coming and going faster than turnover in retail. Of course, consolidation played a huge part in that. Now, however, the landscape has stabilized and the education around security is easier to understand.”
TAG itself didn’t take an earnest look at cyber security until 2015–2016. But today, as Stein explained, cyber security is becoming a viable product—dealers can make meaningful money on it. In fact, 40 percent of the company’s members are turning a profit, though the challenge dealers face at first lies in bundling the right technology.
Take the “less is more” approach. If a dealer’s portfolio includes five antivirus solutions, it’s a solid bet that the dealer is overthinking things. Rather, as the managed IT provider defines and refines its offerings, it’s best practice to standardize products. When it comes to cyber security, along with the aforementioned antivirus software (and a host of other tools), dark web monitoring is an area where activity has more than doubled over the past couple of years. ID Agent, a development firm specializing in software to combat the dark web as well as identity theft, has seen tremendous growth of late, according to Stein.
The security operation center is another vital part of the equation: A security hub that handles issues on both the organizational and technical levels using data processing technology to monitor, assess, and defend. “Most companies have a human resource challenge, which is why outsourcing your SOC is so important,” said Brian Suerth, President of TAG. “Doing so allows for more scalability, as it frees a company from hiring, firing, and retaining employees and it prevents against underutilization, too.”
Lastly, to help a dealer sell managed IT services, it never hurts to have IT talent certified in parts or all of the ecosystem in which it resides. For instance, going through the certification process in something like firewalls—Cisco, SonicWall, and WatchGuard all offer training programs—will prove expertise: “We know what we have to know to stop intruders at the perimeter and to get the job done right, the first time.”
Sounds like a great closing line when trying to land IT business with a new customer.
Is it a cirrus, a cumulus, a stratus? No, it’s just the cloud. And for managed IT providers, they can’t do their job 100 percent awesome unless they’re selling cloud services. It’s a big shift in the industry, as anybody could surmise, and there’s an economic push to remove servers and invest in, and move everybody into, the space.
Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are duking it out for market share in the cloud services arena. Currently Amazon is the leader, but in a world of change—from app development to licensing agreements to protection plans and everything in between—it wouldn’t be a surprise if either of the other two ascend to the top of the mountain. In particular, Microsoft should gain ground quickly thanks to its relatively new recurring revenue model.
(Check out our podcast with TAG’s Lane Smith, who details the Microsoft Azure platform!)
“The expansion of our business will explode in the next couple of years as more organizations accept the cloud,” Stein said. “Roughly 60 percent of TAG IT firms are selling cloud solutions. People will still go outside the cloud/firewall and that must be guarded against, but there’s a higher degree of security concerns in the cloud and I’m not sure most people know that yet.”
TAG has a simple checklist to gauge interest in the cloud…
1) Old servers need to be replaced (antiquated gear)
2) Growing number of remote offices (economic impact)
3) Growing number of remote workers (cut VPNs)
4) High propensity for deploying security (“safer” networks)
If three of those conditions are met, a managed IT provider should start talking to the client about taking its business to the cloud. Dealers can take their own business into the cloud to help drive the point home when engaging with clients. Practice what thy preaches.
“The window for MSPs is closing, but the window for the cloud is evolving and growing,” Suerth said. “The advent of Azure will accelerate the transition to the cloud as Microsoft continues to develop the platform and create economic advantages to it. There will always be hurtles such as bandwidth, dual circuits, reliability, and SD WAN, but with the right technical expertise, managing all the different parts of IT can be seamless.”
Key Point(s) Summary
For independent office equipment dealers, diversification into other technology areas like managed IT can reap monetary rewards, yes, but also a positive shift in how they do business. And when a dealer is providing IT services, if it’s not upfront with its capabilities around security and the cloud, the picture just isn’t complete—a disservice to both the dealer itself and its customers. Understanding the marketplace for security and the cloud is necessary, but through Internet research, speaking with peers to gain insight into what they offer and how they conduct business in these areas, and finding a person internally to champion the causes, significant progress can be made: Clients will have a protected IT ecosystem, better business continuity, increased collaboration efficiency, and more scalability. Reduced costs, too.
Because of you and your dedication to security and the cloud.
Stay tuned for the next installment in the series!
All statistics courtesy of TAG, a managed IT “brain bank” that’s been around for over 20 years. The company has its own IT services business and runs the Association of Managed Technology Services Providers, while also offering education on topics such as sales training & management and financial analysis & industry benchmarking, as well as assisting in mergers & acquisitions and employee hiring & retention. With over 400,000 customers in approximately 140 markets across the United States and Canada, the Technology Assurance Group is a powerful resource for all things managed IT.