By Dany Bouchedid
There is a tendancy in telecom to sell products, not solutions. We hear about a new technology – think SD-WAN or WebRTC – and try to package it up in a neat box. That’s been happening with cloud for a few years now, with agents forgetting that “cloud” is a blanket term that covers a large swath of services.
A product replacement skillset that works well for selling bandwidth does not translate to the world of delivering IT services.
Take MPLS. It’s almost 20 years old, but many still do not fully understand how it works. Now we are pushing hybrid WAN and cloud to customers. That isn’t going to go well, because cloud breaks MPLS. When businesses utilize Microsoft Office365, Salesforce and other SaaS services along with computing platforms like Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure, most of their traffic is outside the WAN, over the Internet. Carriers today offer direct connections, while data centers have peering/interconnection fabrics to directly access providers like Google, Amazon and Microsoft. But without training, support and expertise around selling holistic solutions, will your team be able to explain that to a customer?
The mix of connectivity and breadth of services inherent in the IT landscape today means trusted advisers must be able to ask the right questions, point out opportunities and risks, and contribute to putting a plan in place with the business’ goals in mind. Just selling an MPLS line and walking away is not only not enough, it’s a disservice.
Not every business needs, or can afford to hire, a network solutions architect or Cisco CCIE to map out the environment, and that’s an opportunity for talented and experienced partners – along with suppliers and master agencies like ours – to deliver a great service to customers, not just a product.
To move toward a solutions mindset, always remember that customers are unique, even within the same vertical. It takes time, but you need to develop a holistic understanding of what the business is trying to accomplish and the best technologies to get them there, with the least cost and risk. Outcomes, not methods. In most cases, we conduct cloud-readiness reviews coupled with an IT risk/cybersecurity assessment to deliver an optimal solution that makes sense for both IT and business unit decision makers, because that’s where budget power is moving.
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Now, that level of analysis requires more information than you’ll get with a standard request for proposal. It may be that the customer has colocation and wants to get rid of it in a bid to save money — often a bad idea. After careful consideration, you can point out that some software won’t port well, too much control will be lost or there are other unforeseen factors in a cloud transition.
Businesses do not always examine the skills gap, either. Running your own boxes is different from distributing software over virtualized environments. Different tools and skills are needed for hybrid setups. Are there compliance requirements or security concerns? Who is handling data backup? How? Is there redundancy? Should we institute data deduplication? How critical are various services? Is there a service-level agreement, and what is the uptime?
The outage at Amazon S3 that took down about one-third of the Internet left many CIOs wondering about their own environments, and where the weakest link lies. Some systems are customer facing; some are mission-critical. How are you handling those systems? These questions and more go into a cloud readiness review — not to break the sale, but to assure the customer that you have their best interests at heart, that you have done this before and can identify the gotchas and that your strategy has been tested.
The reality is there is no one-size-fits-all in the world of IT services. In fact, many CIOs/CTOs are deploying some elements of their IT infrastructures in physical environments and others on the cloud and everything in between. These are not products. To serve customers, make sure you have insight into the entire data center spectrum, from wholesale and retail colocation and managed hosting, all the way to private and hybrid cloud. That kind of service is not a product that can fit in a box, but it will make you indispensable to customers.
Dany Bouchedid is founder and CEO of COLOTRAQ, a full service sourcing and consulting firm that helps companies and institutions source data center infrastructure services such colocation, managed hosting, cloud computing, network infrastructure and other related services from over 400 service providers worldwide.