IT documentation, explored recently in contributor Esther Shein’s feature, has proven to be a vital yet sometimes neglected aspect of running a managed services business.
For Jonathan Broyles, senior systems engineer at CisCom Solutions, a managed services provider (MSP) based in Louisville, Ky., maintaining documentation is as crucial to MSPs as backups. “If you don’t have a good backup or if you don’t have good documentation and the customer calls you because of a disaster in the middle of the night, you’re in [trouble] right there,” he said. “It’s not a place where I ever want to find myself.”
That being said, Broyles has seen MSP environments that range from having little or no IT documentation to excessive documentation “in some form or fashion.” IT documentation is “one of the things I think everyone in the industry probably realizes [they need], and they preach about how important the documentation is. But do they practice it? I couldn’t tell you that.”
CisCom, which has about 30 employees, adopted IT Glue’s documentation software shortly after Broyles joined the company in June 2015. At the time, the MSP had minimal documentation, Broyles noted, adding that he had had to shoulder-tap managers and co-workers for the information he needed, such as passwords to log into customer networks. “There wasn’t really a lot of documentation at that point in time. So [we] identified we needed a documentation solution, and we then investigated IT Glue and [several other products].”
Broyles said CisCom was interested in finding an IT documentation product that would integrate with ConnectWise, its professional services automation software, and LabTech Software, which CisCom uses for remote monitoring and management (RMM). “[IT Glue] allowed us to start having a unified platform … that is going to be pulling in information from … our RMM and ticketing system and then … create more customized documentation that fits a particular need,” he said.
While ConnectWise provides similar functions, IT Glue has more powerful features, he added, including a “pretty sophisticated tagging system.” Techs can use the software to pull up customer-specific information from one page, “which really has power for existing technicians as well as technicians on their first day.”
Deploying and setting up the IT Glue software was easy, particularly because CisCom had no IT documentation system to migrate from. Building a culture around documentation presented more of a challenge. CisCom, however, had a compelling rationale for getting its staff to adopt a new documentation culture: If a staff member was “run over by a bus tomorrow,” what knowledge do they have that would have to be either recovered or recreated? “Granted it’s a morbid way of looking at it, but it has allowed us to build this culture of, ‘Hey, things change. Now we’ve got to update documentation,'” he said.
Since adopting IT Glue, CisCom has created roughly 10,000 pieces of documentation, “all of which has significant value to us,” Broyles said. Its employees use the software “pretty much by default” now.
The benefits of having IT documentation software like IT Glue may not instantly be apparent to MSPs, said Phill Claxton, COO of IT Glue, based in Vancouver, but over time, MSPs will realize time savings, efficiency gains and the security of having a depository of important information – all of which enables MSPs to scale their businesses.
Claxton also pointed to one of IT Glue’s capabilities for inviting customers into the tool to share information, which he said offers a way for MSPs to differentiate themselves from competitors. Broyles, who is now a member of IT Glue’s partner advisory council, said these capabilities have allowed CisCom to save time by providing customers with step-by-step instructions for resolving minor issues on their own. “Sometimes there are incidents … where it would be great to be able to send a customer a piece of documentation that is step-by-step with photos and words and all that jazz to help them work on their own time to be able to solve the issues,” he said.
Claxton also said IT Glue will roll out a gamification feature in its software in the near future.
Managed service providers rely on automation to deliver services profitably, but they can’t maintain client relationships entirely on a remote basis.
Indeed, Mark Shaw, president of StoredTech, an IT service and support company based in the Glens Falls, N.Y. area, advises service providers to schedule regular client review meetings with customers. While MSPs may argue clients pay them so they don’t have to see them, Shaw contends that face-to-face account meetings are a must.
Here’s a cybersecurity niche that channel partners may not have considered: providing IT security assessment services as part of the merger-and-acquisition due diligence process.
Strategic buyers and private equity firms scrutinize an M&A target’s financial numbers before doing a deal, but they are now exploring the acquisition candidate’s security posture as well. According to West Monroe Partners, a business and technology consulting firm based in Chicago, executives engaged in M&A activities put considerable weight on cybersecurity as an investment criterion.
West Monroe retained Mergermarket, a company that focuses on M&A research, to interview 30 senior M&A practitioners based in North America, representing the healthcare, manufacturing and distribution, banking, and high-tech sectors. The study reveals that 80% of the respondents cited cybersecurity issues as highly important in the due diligence process, while 20% rated cybersecurity as somewhat important. In addition, 77% of those polled said the importance of IT security issues at M&A targets had increased significantly over the past 24 months. Continued »
With Windows 10 having celebrated in July its first year on the market, service provider Softchoice has found a scant presence of the OS within its client base.
Softchoice’s recent study of its clients’ IT environments, which looked at more than 400,000 Windows-based devices at 169 North American organizations, revealed only 0.75% of the devices run on Windows 10. The study was the latest of several analyses the company has conducted using data drawn from its client base — the bulk of which is enterprise sized with 500-plus seats. Many of the company’s clients are recurring, allowing the company to obtain insight into clients’ changing environments over time, noted David Brisbois, senior manager of assessment and technology deployment services consulting at Softchoice, based in Toronto.
Brisbois wasn’t surprised by Windows 10’s low adoption rate. “The newest OSes are never widely adopted in the commercial space,” he said. “In most cases, there were a fair number of organizations that had a Windows 10 device or a couple Windows 10 devices, but it was less than a percentage. So it wasn’t really material to the study.”
While he cited upgraded security as one of the major reasons to move to Windows 10, he said the OS’s focus on touch-enabled interfaces hasn’t lured many customers. “I think a lot of the perception today around Windows 10 is that it’s geared toward touch interfaces. It doesn’t take long to walk around any of our clients’ sites to notice a lot of them still have monitors and laptops that are not touch enabled. So the whole idea of Windows 8 or Windows 10, which are both very small deployment numbers, isn’t very overly appealing, because [customers are] not looking at it from a security perspective.”
Another factor Brisbois attributed the lagging Windows 10 adoption is the use of web-based applications. “The OS isn’t as important in [software as a service] scenarios because you get the same functionality.”
Windows 7, meanwhile, dominated Softchoice’s client environments, with 91% of scanned devices running on the operating system, an increase from 18% in 2015.
Most organizations have standardized on Windows 7, Brisbois said, partly due to the phasing out of Windows XP. The study found Windows XP has “pretty much disappeared,” with only 5% of devices on the unsupported OS, down from 20% last year. Computers today that run Windows XP tend to be legacy terminals used for specific functions where “there’s just no need to break what’s working,” he said. Larger clients with over 5,000 seats tended to have the most Windows XP operating systems in use, while organizations between 1,000 and 5,000 seats had less. The smaller, more agile organizations were “the ones that got rid of Windows XP the fastest and [adopted] Windows 7 the quickest.”
The results of the study didn’t impact Softchoice’s current direction as a company, Brisbois said. “Personally, I don’t think there’s this huge need to get people onto [the Windows 10] OS. … I’d say our biggest opportunity that we focus on as an organization is definitely on cloud adoption, Office 365 [and] Azure. That’s where we put our effort,” he explained. “Azure’s been a great opportunity for us, and we’re going to continue to zero in on the Azure piece.”
Many channel partners run the rule over technology vendors in the course of doing business.
Trace3, an IT solutions provider and consulting firm, has taken the next step and made tech research a part of its business strategy. The company, based in Irvine, Calif., has been growing its Innovation Research Team over the past couple of years. The group’s charter is to provide a bi-directional conduit between the venture capital (VC) community and the startup world, on the one hand, and enterprise customers and CIOs, on the other.
Trace3 president Chad Cardenas says the purpose of the Innovation Research program is to provide CIO clients and prospects with early access to the next game-changing, disruptive technologies. Cardenas said Trace3’s innovation research model, which he called a pioneering effort, helps IT buyers “make much more informed purchasing decisions.” Continued »
If you want to meet customer needs and grow your channel company, partnering with other partners is the way to go.
That’s the message from Tiffani Bova, global customer growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce, a company that has been encouraging partner-to-partner (P2P) interaction within its cloud ecosystem. Bova, who shared her views at CompTIA’s recent ChannelCon event, cited a couple of factors behind the need for P2P. For one, high-growth areas such as mobile, social and cloud can’t be reduced to SKUs that a channel partner can sell to a customer. Instead, mobile, social and cloud call for “a more integrated solution” in which the partner must determine how to pull various components together, according to Bova.
In addition, customers aren’t eager to purchase discrete technologies; they are, first and foremost, looking to solve business problems, Bova noted. The antidote for those business problems may well encompass a range of services and technologies — at least some of which the partner won’t possess in house. Continued »
While Microsoft discussed its channel partner strategy and programs at its Worldwide Partner Conference this week, a number of vendors at WPC 2016 followed suit with their own channel partnering announcements.
Metalogix provided details on its Metalogix Advantage Partner Program (MAPP), which initially will focus on Sharepoint-to-Office 365 migrations.
The MAPP program offers participants a “Business-in-a-Box” starter kit that provides white papers, best practices, sample project plans, a sample statement of work, pre-migration assessment tools, and PowerShell scripts and sample code. The starter kit aims to help systems integrators build a repeatable migration service, according to Metalogix. Continued »
With Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in the books, here are a few takeaways and observations on WPC 2016.
• Partners appear to like Microsoft’s Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program
Microsoft officials cited 17,000 partner transactions since the launch of CSP last year, noting that CSP in May 2016 surpassed other licensing models that let partners sell Microsoft’s cloud services.
“What we are seeing over the last year is Microsoft’s CSP program seems to fit the market perfectly,” said Jason Bystrak, executive director of Ingram Micro Cloud. Ingram Micro debuted the latest release of its Odin Service Automation platform at WPC 2016.
Bystrak said partners have gone from dipping their toes in the water to “really to starting to scale the business” of selling cloud offerings. As for Microsoft, the CSP program has become a key catalyst for Microsoft’s cloud strategy, he added.
A decade into cloud computing, many managed service providers are taking a less-than-aggressive approach to this widely adopted technology.
According to CompTIA’s fifth annual Trends in Managed Services report, published June 29, 44% of the 400 U.S. MSPs surveyed only support cloud services when requested by a customer to do so. That’s a fairly tepid embrace of a computing approach that has seen broad endorsement among businesses of all sizes. Continued »
Barracuda Networks Inc. is pushing forward with its managed service provider strategy, which kicked into higher gear with the company’s October 2015 acquisition of channel-oriented data protection vendor Intronis.
Barracuda on June 27 launched a firewall appliance geared toward managed services providers (MSPs) under the Intronis label. Barracuda NextGen Firewall — Intronis MSP Edition is “designed for businesses with multiple locations,” noted Neal Bradbury, senior director of business development for Intronis MSP Solutions by Barracuda, Barracuda’s MSP technology brand. Continued »