By Raymond Vrabel
In my April blog post, I discussed several ways to optimize your MSP practice, such as adjusting your pricing model, managing automation and maximizing the best use of your employees. With this month’s installment, I provide guidance on specific revenue streams to focus on once you have optimized your MSP practice. When it comes to most of the offerings on this list, if you aren’t offering at least one of these, then one of your competitors will. Any one of these offerings (even if it’s just security or BDR) is a foot in the door to talk about their IT strategy.
1. 24x7 Proactive Monitoring and Maintenance of Desktops and Servers: This is really a no-brainer and something every MSP should be offering because break/fix isn’t as stable, predictable or profitable. If your clients are running 24x7 shops, you need to have a system in place that is reliable and consistent, as standardization and optimization are key. I have spoken with MSPs who previously didn’t have 24x7 monitoring because they “didn’t think their clients needed it." However, with more business being done remotely and after hours, there is really no such thing anymore as a traditional “9-5" operation. If you can only afford to add one of these revenue streams to your value stack, this should be the one. I don’t think there is an SMB who has experienced an IT emergency in the middle of the night who wants to wait for the IT guy to show up to the office at 9 a.m. while the dental office tries to figure out what appointments they have coming in and how they’ll send patient information to the insurance agency.
2. Mobile Device Management: As BYOD becomes more prevalent within SMBs, MSPs need to manage these devices more so than ever, especially as people become more connected, and everyone is bringing their own PCs, smartphones and tablets into the workplace. For instance, do you have a plan in place to locate lost/stolen devices and to wipe their data once they are reported by the employee? Also, what about control policies and malicious programs entering your network? Do you have a protocol to deal with these types of attacks? This is happening more and more, particularly as malicious viruses and threats are on the rise. Because of compliance, particularly in highly sensitive verticals like healthcare and financial services, you need to manage those tablets and phones.
3. Cloud: Last month’s blog written by colleague Paiman Nodoushani (Continuum’s CTO & vice president of engineering) discussed why cloud is an “evolution and not a revolution." I agree with Paiman’s assessment and would add that the cloud has arrived and is here to stay. As a competitive MSP, have a strategy and the talent, as well as a vendor partner, to help you deliver this technology. Even if your clients aren’t using cloud, you should be discussing it with them and getting them familiar with this alternative. A good time to discuss this is when warranties are up for renewal and/or when it’s time for a hardware refresh. It’s also a good topic to bring up during regular business reviews.
Other thoughts regarding the cloud include: hosted servers, hosted desktops and hosted apps; for instance Office 365, which houses all of your apps (Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel) in the cloud for easy retrieval, as well as document sharing and collaboration. Have an “in" when it comes to the cloud, accomplished by partnering with the right vendor that can help you define this offering.
4. Service Desk/Help Desk: Another revenue stream is 365x24x7 service desk support for clients’ PCs, tablets and other mobile devices. Every end user needs some type of support, and if you give them the best experience, they help sell your value to the CFO/CEO on why the company needs to utilize your IT services. This translates back to mobile device management; if you aren’t monitoring your devices, then it becomes hard to help someone if you don’t have control over their other devices. It’s very hard to troubleshoot email problems when you only support the email client or phone.
5. Backup and Disaster Recovery (BDR): This is a no-brainer and in my top 3 on this list. As an MSP, lead with BDR as your foot in the door because it’s self-explanatory — you need to backup and protect your data — it’s something that all SMBs (as business owners) understand and are concerned about. Data is sacred, and so is protecting it. Uptime allows you to make money, while downtime causes you to lose money. BDR also offers solid margins, making it easy to sell and justify, especially as data continues to grow and as seasonal occurrences such as hurricanes and tornadoes become more prevalent. This is a very sensitive area, and most people don’t realize how important it is to have a BDR plan until it’s too late. Educate your clients, and get them a BDR solution. I have seen some partners make this standard practice and part of their core offering because it also saves the MSP time and money in disaster situations.
6. Security: The recent Heartbleed Bug and CryptoLocker viruses are reinforcing why security management and protection is another revenue stream I would recommend you have. Similar to BDR, lead with security solutions, particularly if clients are in data-sensitive verticals like health care or financial services. Your clients are seeing security threats everywhere from their email companies, to financial institutions getting hacked, to their favorite department stores being compromised. They are aware of the threats, and they know they are real. Spam protection, email encryption and HDD encryption are all relatable and have a high-value offering. Security is also a topic that everyone needs to be aware of — not just those in the SMB world — especially as they hear of new threats cropping up every week. This is another item that should be mandatory in your value stack.
7. File Sync and Share: With BYOD, compliance measures and corporate IP, advise your clients to use a business-grade file sync and share platform. It doesn’t have to be complicated — clients want something that works, is easy to use, allows them to collaborate, is secure and manageable — easy like their BDR offering. There should be one, centralized system that employees can access. You don’t want a situation where employees are storing and accessing company data from a personal online storage platform. Similar to BYOD, there is no way of controlling the environment after they leave, or if a device is lost or stolen. Email is not the way to transfer important and secure files. It really needs to be done via a regular file sync and share platform that’s encrypted and safe, and where users are not mixing in their personal accounts.
8. Managed Print/Managed VoIP: New opportunities for a fully managed services platform are becoming more prevalent, mainly because with this type of offering, you can provide on-time delivery, notifications and assistance with printers because it’s all part of your managed IT packages. Most managed print and VoIP providers are moving into managed services, or (as they call it) managed network services, as hardware sales and profits dwindle. Partner with a vendor that allows on-time deliverables of consumables like paper and toner, which maybe you weren’t able to charge for before. This is important to remember, especially because you can’t rely on hardware sales alone anymore.
9. Sell Yourself! The bottom line is to promote not only what you offer your clients from a technology perspective, but also to promote yourself and your expertise as the MSP. Present yourself as the CIO, CTO or as some often use, “trusted business technology adviser on all technology issues." As Michael George, CEO of Continuum, recently pointed out on a Power Panel at Autotask Community Live, “Trust is something you earn, not something you sell." This includes helping your clients to incorporate technology plans that support your overall business strategy and goals, as well as ensuring they are getting the best bang for their buck, and the best technology investments for their business. Be the one who’s responsible for helping them to achieve and maintain high ROIs as well as regulatory compliance, document SOPs and workflows. Strive to be all things IT; own it, manage it and it will create a strong relationship and profitable client.
Raymond Vrabel is Continuum's director of Technical Account Management and participates in product and service growth initiatives. He manages Continuum's Technical Account Management team which supports more than 3,300 partners worldwide. Vrabel has more than 15 years of experience in the IT industry, specializing in managed IT services, disaster recovery and cloud solutions. Follow him on Twitter: @rayvrabel.