IT services firms increasingly rely on automation tools to boost efficiency.
SearchITChannel has followed this development over the past few months, covering the adoption of managed service provider (MSP) software products and emerging robotic process automation tools. The move to automate is a direct outgrowth of evolving channel business models. Channel companies that become MSPs find themselves offering services for a fixed fee. With that pricing approach, an MSP makes the most money if it can handle customer issues remotely, thereby minimizing truck rolls and on-premises support.
Dataprise, an MSP based in Rockville, Md., has followed that evolutionary path, shifting from a time-and-materials, break-fix approach to an MSP business model.
The fewer issues the customer has “the better it is for us,” said Mick Shah, senior vice president of technical services at Dataprise. “Our goal is to make sure that clients’ networks and servers and infrastructure are as healthy as possible.” Continued »
At the Autotask Community Live 2017 conference this week, managed service providers got some words of advice from former president Bill Clinton.
Clinton, the 42nd president who was in office from 1993 to 2001, delivered a keynote address at the Autotask event, discussing topics ranging from his decision to unscramble GPS signals to the Human Genome Project. He also shared a few observations on running a business:
Establish a vision and don’t neglect the “how”
Clinton told Autotask Community Live attendees the job of a leader is to “tell people where we are,” establish a vision of where to go, involve the people who want to get there and then execute.
He emphasized the importance of discussing “how” a vision is to be executed during the decision-making process. He noted that public policy debates during his time in office often focused on what a policy aimed to do and its cost. As a consequence, very little discussion centered on how a particular idea was to be implemented, he said. He suggested the situation is compounded today in a Snapchat and Twitter world of 10-second and 140-character communications.
Deal with the unexpected
Business leaders must handle misfortune while still staying with the company’s vision, Clinton said.
“You have to deal with the unanticipated incoming fire,” he said. And leaders must consider the nature of the response, he added, noting if all an organization does is react, it can lose its original purpose.
Prepare to enter new territory
Clinton cited a takeaway from Ron Chernow’s soon-to-be-published biography of Ulysses S. Grant as an important lesson for business owners. Clinton, who apparently has had an early look at the book, said the bio discusses Grant’s Civil War strategy of renewing the initiative after each battle, rather than occupying territory. Occupation diverted troops who could not be used in future offensives.
Clinton also noted Grant fought his battles on unfamiliar territory. He suggested businesses should be built to “operate on unfamiliar ground” and prepared for the inescapability of change.
Crowdsource decision making
Clinton also cited the effectiveness of diverse groups in decision making as opposed to relying on a “lone genius.”
The wisdom of crowds, which reflect different ways of thinking and different instincts, performs better when it comes to addressing complex challenges, he told Autotask Community Live attendees.
Microsoft Inspire, the company’s renamed annual partner conference, concluded this week in Washington, D.C. Here are several things I learned over the course of three days:
The Microsoft cloud partner base keeps growing
Microsoft says it has some 64,000 cloud partners at the moment and is adding more than 6,000 new partners each month. During his keynote address at Microsoft Inspire, company CEO Satya Nadella said some of those partners are “coming from other ecosystems,” citing the Linux, Hadoop and Java ecosystems as examples. “That ability for us as a partner-led company and a partner ecosystem to continuously welcome new partners and help them thrive as part of this community is what defines us,” Nadella said. Continued »
Hewlett Packard Enterprise is looking to bring its channel up to speed with digital marketing concepts and trends — a business area where many partners tend to stumble.
The HPE Digital Marketing Program, unveiled at this week’s HPE Partner Summit, aims to align partners with recent shifts in customer buying behaviors. Through the program, HPE partners can get support for creating digital marketing plans. Partners can also access market development funds, a marketing concierge service, and educational content and workshops.
“The reality is that today there is a fundamental shift in the market with respect to how customers navigate the buyer’s journey on the path to a purchase,” said Denzil Samuels, global chief channel officer at HPE.
Samuels said buyers have greater control over the purchasing process than they had in the past, often doing their own extensive research prior to speaking to a salesperson. “When these changes in behavior are going on, you just have to be present and deliver engaging content everywhere where customers are doing their research. … If you aren’t present, you’re missing on a huge opportunity. Not only that, but you may even lose existing customers,” he said.
Chris Ogburn, HPE’s vice president of worldwide channel marketing, admitted that while some HPE partners have made progress developing digital marketing strategies, “many partners in the channel are lagging.” The HPE Digital Marketing Program, he said, will bring up to speed those partners that have fallen behind, while assisting partners that are more advanced in their digital marketing tactics.
HPE will also continue to bolster its Social Media Center, which about 1500 partners have used since it was launched at the 2016 Global Partner Conference, Ogburn noted. As part of this effort, HPE this week expanded language support for the Social Media Center to include German, French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese.
Cisco recently added a new certification tier that the company said makes it easier for partners to do business in the international marketplace. The Cisco global certification effort, dubbed Global Gold, currently involves a handful of partners, but that number could expand in light of new qualification criteria.
Prior to Global Gold, Cisco partners were globally certified if they achieved certified partner status within a certain number of countries in each Cisco geographic region: Americas; Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia; Asia Pacific/Japan and Greater China. A key change with the new certification tier is that partners will be able to achieve Global Gold status if they create a center of excellence within each region. Continued »
CHICAGO — Cisco DNA, the company’s software-based digital network architecture, kicked off in March 2016 at the Cisco Partner Summit in San Diego. A year later, Cisco has some advice for channel partners hoping to market DNA to customers: take it one step at a time.
To quickly recap, Cisco DNA aims to provide a platform for digital business and a foundation for customers’ digital transformation projects. The platform is built on virtualization, automation, analytics and a cloud-based service management layer. Representative Cisco products and technologies include Cisco’s APIC-Enterprise Module, which includes the company’s Plug and Play automation software; Meraki location analytics; and DNA Virtualization and Enterprise Network Functions Virtualization. Security is also part of the package, with Cisco Firepower firewalls and Meraki security appliances in the mix. The architectural components may be sold via the Cisco ONE software model.
It’s potentially quite a handful for partners to sell and customers to deploy. And Cisco acknowledges that most customers aren’t going to take on the breadth of Cisco DNA at one go.
“This is the right path … but it’s going to be a phased approach,” said Prashanth Shenoy, vice president of marketing, enterprise networking and mobility, at Cisco. “This is not going to happen overnight.”
Shenoy, who presented recently at the Cisco Marketing Velocity conference, said Cisco DNA establishes a vision. But to make that vision a reality, partners and customers should take a crawl-walk-run approach rather than attempt to digest the architecture in its entirety.
Shenoy pointed to the Plug and Play software within Cisco DNA’s automation layer as an example of how a step-wise approach could work in actual practice. According to Cisco, Plug and Play agent software resides on the company’s routers and switches, communicating directly with the network controller. The approach, Cisco said, speeds up deployment time and eliminates staging for pre-configuration and truck rollouts to remote offices.
“Plug and Play is a killer app in a new branch office,” Shenoy said.
He suggested partners get a customer familiar with Plug and Play in that initial branch office and then discuss extending that automation to other branches or campus environments. Those discussions could eventually lead to a conversation around SD-WAN deployment.
In summary, start with a basic use case and a small deployment and then grow from there.
Cisco has rolled out tools and incentives to encourage channel partners to embark on the Cisco DNA journey. The DNA Advisor tool, which helps gauge a customer’s readiness for the architecture, provides an opportunity for partners to have a 45-minute discussion or conduct a half-day workshop with clients, Shenoy said. As for incentives, Cisco has been offering a $7,500 voucher for partners who land DNA deals and activate one or more software assets included in Cisco ONE.
Many technical-savvy MSPs will readily admit that marketing is not their company’s strong suit.
At the MSPWorld 2017 conference, held this week in New Orleans, marketing expert Angela Leavitt aimed to demystify practices for drumming up leads. In her session, “Anatomy of a Wildly Successful Digital Marketing Campaign,” Leavitt discussed two methods for designing MSP marketing initiatives. Both methods embrace digital marketing as well as a targeted approach for reaching prospects.
“The old tricks don’t really work anymore,” said Leavitt, president of Mojo Marketing. “It used to be you could buy an email list, spam the list and get a bunch of people to respond. It used to be that every email we would receive, we would open. But we don’t do that anymore.”
She added that today, because people are inundated with so much information, marketing messages can disappear in a “sea of sameness.” MSP marketing initiatives will likely miss their target if they lack a modern strategy.
Before embarking on marketing efforts, MSPs should ensure two things, she said. First, they must evaluate their website for whether it looks trustworthy, legitimate and current. If the website is weak, “no amount of campaigning is going to help you,” she said. “If your brand needs help, then that is your first assignment.”
The second fundamental piece of advice she offered is to be “a hustler.” She said her successful clients don’t “sit back and wait for marketing to magically deliver leads to them.” Instead, they are active in their outreach efforts.
The fishing method
The first method, which Leavitt called “the fishing method,” is an eight-step process that uses enticing content to capture leads. Fishing requires about one or two months of prep work, two to three weeks of execution, and one or two months of follow-up, she said.
- Research. The first step is to identify your targeted customer’s pain points. For example, many IT directors today are greatly concerned about security or considering SD-WAN’s potential. “If you can get a spin on those topics, you are going to get more attention than if you just want to talk about your XYZ service,” she said.
- Develop an attractive offer. After researching customer pain points, service providers then should craft an offer. The offer should appeals to your specific buyer and be creative, she said.
- Develop content to support the offer. Content should aim to “create intrigue and something of value and be entertaining,” she said. At the same time, it should demonstrate the service provider understands the customer’s challenges. “If you can come across as the doctor, they will naturally assume you have the answer.” Additionally, the content should be 90% education and 10% sales pitch. Formats could include videos, webinars, white papers and case studies. She said infographics are doing well at the moment.
- Create a landing page. The next step is to create a landing page for the content that has an opt-in component. A prospect might have to opt in to gain access to the content. For example, a prospect will opt in by signing up for a lunch-and-learn event or webinar.
- Create email auto-responders. After a prospect opts in, service providers should follow up with related content that the prospect might be interested in, she said. Continuing to send the prospect more relevant content is a way to “warm up” prospects and build relationships.
- Drive traffic to the landing page. There are numerous methods for driving traffic to your landing page, she said, but she noted the best way is to have a strategic partner that will help promote it. The strategic partners can lend expertise and credibility to your company. She suggested evaluating your network for someone to partner up with in your MSP marketing initiative. Other powerful methods include marketing on social media platforms such as LinkedIn. Memes with links to your content are gaining traction as a visual marketing method, she added.
- Launch your content. Service providers can now launch their content, whether it’s a webinar or white paper or educational session via a lunch-and-learn event. She advised MSPs to demonstrate authority in their content by citing partnerships and client references.
- Present the offer. Principles for presenting offers can be seen on any late-night infomercial, she said. Principles can include using “scarcity” (“Call within the next 10 minutes to double your offer”), testimonials and, if it works for your particular offer, some kind of guarantee.
After executing these steps, service providers should evaluate the impact of the MSP marketing campaign, follow up and nurture leads, and determine how the campaign could be improved for better results.
The farming method
The farming method is more of long-term play than fishing, Leavitt said. She added that it can also have a better payoff.
- Choose a niche. Niches are a type of shortcut to credibility, she said. To select a niche, service providers should think about their largest and most recognized client and how they might target similar organizations in that particular market.
- Get endorsed. With the niche selected, the service provider should then collect relevant testimonials — the more testimonials, the better.
- Demonstrate expertise. Next, the service provider should develop content “that indicates you have a specialization.” Content might be a landing page on your website, blogs that address the niche’s audience, social content and video.
- Develop strategic partnerships. After obtaining endorsements and content, the service provider should join relevant industry associations. Leavitt suggested volunteering on the associations’ committees and speaking at their events. “Become the go-to company for IT services within that industry,” she said. “This is going to ensure that the leads and the referrals that come into you are continuous.”
- Leverage big data and social media platforms. She said service providers should target exactly who they want to go after using social media. She noted that social media platforms are moving to “pay to play.” “There is a lot you can do for free with your own social posting,” but service providers can pay to boost their efforts, she said. Compared to traditional marketing, such as paying for an ad in the Yellow Pages or running a radio spot, social media marketing can end up costing much less and reach a more relevant audience.
- Repeat. After becoming “a rock star” in your chosen industry, she said you can repeat these steps and build expertise and authority in another niche. “You are not limited to one [industry],” she said.
Noting benefits of the farming method, Leavitt said the sales cycles can become shorter and pricing less of an issue for customers.
The market for small business IT services is large, extremely varied and challenging to address.
Those are among the takeaways from CompTIA’s research in the small and medium-sized business (SMB) market, which reveals patterns in small business IT investment and business priorities. CompTIA also spent some time on market segmentation. Tim Herbert, senior vice president of research and market intelligence at CompTIA, described the sector as “incredibly expansive,” ranging from one- and two-person shops to 500-employee companies. He discussed CompTIA’s take on small business this week at the organization’s annual member meeting in Chicago.
Breaking down the market
CompTIA breaks down the SMB market into three subcategories, the largest of which is “budget conscious” companies that represent 78% of the estimated nine million U.S. small businesses. Herbert said much of what that segment spends on IT boils down to break/fix services and other items such as web design.
At the other end of the SMB spectrum are companies CompTIA refers to as “competitive targets,” firms that employ 100 to 500 employees. Those companies represent 2% of the SMB market. Channel partners looking to sell small business IT services in this segment will find companies with a tech budget to spend and a “pretty sophisticated internal IT capacity,” Herbert noted.
CompTIA identified the “sweet spot” of the SMB market to be companies with 10 to 99 employees. Those companies represent a 20% slice of the overall market. But it’s a big slice in terms of sheer numbers: 1.8 million businesses fit the sweet spot description.
Presumably, the sweet spot companies have money to spend on IT, but smaller or non-existent IT departments – factors that make this group more dependent on external providers of small business IT services.
So what exactly are small businesses buying? A CompTIA online survey of 600 U.S. SMB executives and professionals identifies desktop and laptop computers, productivity and office applications, and networking equipment as the top three areas.
As for wallet share, resellers and technology partners are capturing 22% of the SMB spend, with local retailers (22%), online-focused retailers (25%) and direct-sales vendors (30%) soaking up the rest of the spending.
Business priorities inform IT spending. And when it comes to an SMB’s top business priorities, many channel partners will see themselves in CompTIA’s research findings. The top three business priorities for SMBs in the year ahead are renewing/maintaining key customer accounts, identifying new customers/new markets, and implementing new systems or work processes to enhance efficiencies, according to CompTIA.
A mirror image of channel priorities
That’s practically a mirror image of a channel partner’s to-do list: They need to keep customers happy and in the fold, while seeking out emerging market opportunities, and deploying automation to lower the cost of service delivery.
The ability to identify with customer concerns could help channel partners deal with the IT obstacles small businesses must confront. CompTIA’s research indicated that many firms want to boost technology investment but 40% of SMBs admit their “investment level is lower than it should be.” CompTIA also pointed out that SMBs want to engage in digital transformation, but “lack the necessary vision and strategy” to do so.
Against that backdrop, channel companies have an opportunity to provide technology strategy advice in a virtual CIO capacity. And if partners can demonstrate how intelligent use of IT made them more efficient, or how a security and compliance regimen reduced their risk exposure, they stand a better chance of moving the needle on small business IT services spending.
A new study on IoT adoption commissioned by Aruba Networks, a networking vendor and Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, has yielded some food for thought for channel partners.
The study, The Internet of Things: Today and Tomorrow, polled 3,100 IT and business decision makers across 20 countries. Among its key findings: Organizations adopting IoT have seen better-than-expected returns on their investments. Respondents ranged from a number of vertical industries, including enterprise, healthcare, industrial, retail and government sectors.
“From a partner perspective, there is obviously the need to get on the [IoT] bandwagon … because there are opportunities to be had here,” said Chris Kozup, vice president of marketing at Aruba.
According to the Aruba report, 56% of respondents had implemented IoT in their businesses, citing a 34% average return of investment. Comparing customers’ pre-adoption expectations with the post-adoption results, Kozup said the study revealed an “expectations dividend.” For example, while 16% of business leaders expected large profit gains from their IoT investments, 32% said they realized profit gains following adoption. And while 29% believed they would see their IoT projects yield business efficiencies, 46% said their projects resulted in efficiency gains.
Kozup said the expectations dividend pointed to “a fair amount of conservatism” surrounding IoT adoption. He added this is a conventional attitude toward emerging technologies. “People are unsure about what [the technologies are] going to deliver, what they are going to mean, so they take generally a conservative approach,” he said.
IoT adoption trends within vertical markets
The Aruba study also shed light on how five vertical segments are currently working with IoT technology.
Enterprises: Among enterprise respondents, 72% said they have adopted IoT devices. Top IoT uses for improving employee productivity included remote monitoring and indoor location-based services. A fifth of respondents cited remote operation of building lighting and temperature as an important use for IoT today, Aruba noted.
Seventy-eight percent of business leaders reported IoT has improved the effectiveness of their IT teams. Seventy-five percent said IoT has increased profitability.
Industrial sector: After enterprises, the industrial sector reported the highest degree of IoT adoption: Sixty-two percent of industrial sector respondents said they have deployed IoT. The study revealed monitoring and maintaining industrial functions as the most important use. Aruba also noted a projected boost in IP-based surveillance camera implementation within industrial organizations: Merely 6% of respondents said they have deployed IP-based surveillance cameras today, while 32% cited the technology as a key use case for future implementations.
Eighty-three percent of respondents cited business efficiency gains, and 80% saw increased visibility across their organization.
Healthcare industry: Sixty-percent of healthcare respondents said they have implemented IoT, with monitoring and maintenance, cited by 42% as the No. 1 use.
Eighty percent saw an increase in innovation following IoT adoption, and 78% cited cost savings.
Retail sector: About half of the retailer respondents currently use IoT technology, and 81% of those have reported improvements in customer experiences. The No. 1 use case was in-store location services that send shoppers personalized offers and product information, following by monitoring and maintenance. Forty percent of retailers cited surveillance among their top three uses for IoT.
Government: Government was the slowest in IoT adoption among the vertical segments, with 42% of municipalities currently using IoT devices and sensors, according to the study. Thirty-five percent of IT decision makers asserted little or no understanding of IoT among their executive ranks, which suggested that education is a major obstacle to mainstream adoption, Aruba said.
About half of government IT departments struggle with legacy technology today, yet 70% of those who adopted IoT cited cost savings and improved visibility across the organization as significant benefits.
Top barriers to adoption
Despite the benefits cited by respondents, critical challenges remain, particularly around security. Eighty-four percent of the organizations that had adopted IoT reported experiencing IoT-related breaches.
IoT security can be complex and unfamiliar to organizations, Kozup said. While organizations today may fully grasp the security challenges involving traditional compute devices such as personal mobile devices, many fail to understand the vulnerabilities involved in their other connected “things.” HVAC systems, for example, can create security issues. “All of sudden, you have … heating and cooling systems that are now accessing the corporate network,” he said.
The study identified several other obstacles that IT leaders believe hinder IoT’s greater business impact: cost of implementation, cited by 50% of respondents; maintenance, cited by 44%; and integration of legacy technology, cited by 43%.
Capturing and effectively using data was another key challenge. Ninety-eight percent of respondents that had implemented IoT said they can analyze data, yet 97% cited difficulties deriving value from the data. Additionally, 39% of businesses said they don’t currently extract and analyze data within corporate networks or use the data to improve business decisions.
IT companies for years have been urged to use what they sell — how can tech purveyors expect customers to take the leap of faith when the sellers have yet to make the same commitment? The same kind of thinking holds true in the cloud computing era, and one example of the internal use philosophy is ServiceNow, an enterprise software as a service and platform as a service provider.
ServiceNow, based in Santa Clara, Calif., launched in 2003 in the IT service management (ITSM) space, but has since become a more generalized cloud platform for automating workflow in a range of corporate departments. ServiceNow deployments, moving beyond the IT organization, span corporate departments including human resources, legal, field services, marketing and facilities.
That expansion is mirrored in ServiceNow’s own experience. Continued »