For many people, 2016 can’t end soon enough. It’s been a tumultuous year of political upheaval in many parts of the world. I tend to steer clear of political commentary, but it’s fair to say there’s a lot of uncertainly at home and around the globe. None of that means innovation has ground to a halt though, and I suspect many of you are looking forward to a productive and innovative 2017.
About four years ago, I decided to leave a comfortable job to venture out on my own as a technical writer. I got used to the CEO mapping out his goals for the coming year, and then presenting them to the team. Things are a little different when you own your company. Since starting my business, I’ve taken a look at technical trends for the coming year and mapped them to my skills.
And that brings me to this week’s topic: Planning for 2017.
MSPs have a lot of their plates, and I’m certain 2017 will bring a plethora of new challenges as well as opportunities. I’d like to take a look at a few technical trends you should be aware of, and how they may impact your business. As you’ll see, technology is getting more pervasive and complex, and MSPs are positioned to guide their customers through these and other minefields. It’s not possible to cover every technological trend, but the following are ones that have been marinating for a few years and are finally set to play a big part in the coming year.
Security & Privacy Needs
It wouldn’t be an understatement to call 2016 the year of the security breach. There have been so many breaches, ranging from the U.S. Department of Justice to Dropbox, that it’s been difficult to keep track of them. And the bad news is that we’re sure to see many more in 2017 with companies moving large portions of their infrastructure to the cloud along with the proliferation of IoT. New payment systems such as Apple Pay may cut down on credit card fraud, but the online scammers often outpace the technology created to combat them. Forrester predicts that a Fortune 1,000 company will fail next year due to a security breach.
We’ve migrating more sensitive data to the cloud, and yet we demand access to that data from all our devices. A decade ago, MSPs were managing security for desktops and laptops, and that posed many challenges. Imagine trying to maintain a secure environment, yet allowing employees access to company data on their smartwatch or virtual assistant. Today we all want access to everything on our laptops, tablets and smartphones. Next year, IT will be asked to make the same information available on many more devices. There will be growing pains.
I recently added Google Home to our kitchen. My spouse uses it to listen to music and access weather reports. But the same device will read her calendar and access her contact list in GMail. The more information it has access to, the more valuable it becomes to our family. But it also opens us up to security issues because it will respond to anyone’s voice.
If I worked for, say, Microsoft, I could see asking Google Home to access my company email, contacts and task lists. MSPs can help companies understand the risks as tens of millions of similar devices come online this year.
Specialization Is Essential
You started out as an expert in Exchange, but when that moved to the cloud so did your focus. Maybe today you’re an MSP that specializes in VOIP, VDI and security. If you’re a smaller firm it’s understandable that you’d want to cover your bases, but you might be spreading yourself thin. You should consider trimming four areas of focus down to two in 2017. It’s one thing to say that you can do VDI, but it’s another thing to have such a command of a technology that you’re known as the “VDI Expert” that everyone want on their team.
I recently worked with a consultant whose entire focus is accepting payments on the web. After meeting several of his competitors that attempt to sell “all-in-one” solutions that include web development, design, and marketing, it was a breath of fresh air. The payment portion of the site had to be done correctly the first time. Although it cost a bit more, working with an expert on this critical feature was the right move.
It’s not easy to leave money on the table. And if things are really right, it becomes almost impossible. The goal here is to become so good at what you do, others demand you work for them. You can be more selective and charge higher rates.
The Customer-centric Mindset
Companies will restructure around the customer experience. That means that MSPs focused on internal technology and tools will need to get up to speed on those that help companies connect with customers. For example, the marketing executive who used to work behind the scenes churning out materials and creating campaigns. He rarely spoke to customers. Today the same executive is expected to spend a chunk of his time meeting directly with customers. He’s also expected to use advanced metrics and tools that help him and his team understand what the customer wants.
Why? Because the customer is king.
We’ve seen a number of large companies make moves that put them in positions are much closer to the customer than they were traditionally. Microsoft now sells Surface devices directly to consumers at Microsoft Stores around the country. Intel is building and selling their own tiny NUC and stick computers. Even NVIDIA is getting into the game by offering GRID (GPU accelerated virtual desktops) directly to customers. I believe Intel and Microsoft looked around and were not happy with their partners and their products.
This is a tough one for MSPs, because it’s less about the tools and technology, and more about company culture. The key is to understand that restructuring causes a lot of apprehension, especially at the executive level. Helping companies select customer feedback software, surveys, and usability testing are a start. I’ve seen products like Slack bring employees together to tackle a customer issue. There’s no silver bullet here, but understanding the importance of direct customer feedback can go a long way in adding value.
I know. You’ve heard enough about the cloud. I have too, but it’s not going anywhere. In fact, it’s poised to continue its torrid pace of growth through 2017 and beyond. Microsoft is betting the company on Azure. Amazon is doing the same with AWS. Google and Rackspace and many more are betting their very existence on the cloud. The cloud is touching market segments faster than I thought it would even three years ago. Engineering and video production are two markets I didn’t see the cloud affecting much. I was dead wrong.
The cloud promises a lot: security, flexibility, extensibility. It sounds great, and it often is. But not everyone is ready for it. A few years ago I worked for a company with an eclectic CEO. After attending a conference, he returned to the office and called an all-hands meeting. What had he learned that was so important? He attended a presentation where the speaker emphasized the importance of 64-bit computing. Our CEO had decided our company needed to go “all in on 64-bit” immediately. Yet he had no idea what that actually meant.
Of course, that sounds absurd today, yet I’ve seen similar reactions from some CEOs who don’t understand the cloud, yet see everyone moving towards it. They feel anxious so they make a decision to move before they are ready. As an MSP, you can be calming influence as you plan a move to the cloud at the right time. It might make sense to go with a hybrid approach. The key here is to help the CEO or CTO make wise decisions when they lack the knowledge to do so on their own.
It’s been a challenging year for many of us. I’m looking forward to a less stressful 2017.
I’m excited to see companies fully embrace the cloud and offer services that help companies connect with customers. Devices are fading into the background as they become easier to use while many new gadgets wait in the wings to come online. I believe the most successful companies will listen to customers and simplify their product offering. Do fewer thing really well. Become an expert MSP in VR or BYOD or IoT security. Don’t try to do everything.
May 2017 be a memorable one for all of us.