How SMB IT service providers view the Cloud

It’s not news that IT is an ever-changing industry. The skills that I learnt when I first started are now mostly irrelevant. I say ‘mostly’ because some of the fundamentals of disks, files, networks etc still hold true (once we’d migrated off token ring anyway). And I still use the command prompt to search for files. But when I started, there was no Cloud, no social media, no phishing, no virtualization, no sector based backups and no ADSL. File storage was done on a Novell Netware server or three, with a bank of dial-in modems for remote access.

Cloud computing is a pretty major evolution which is impacting my SMB market segment. But it’s not the first – I rode the wave to transition from a break/fix mentality to a managed service approach. And I watched as my peers rode the same wave, with varying degrees of success, or just tried to ignore it. Ignoring it has worked for some – I still know IT providers who sell blocks of hours. But I also know how much better our service management is (and how much happier our customers are) with a managed services billing & support model. With any evolution, there are two parts that an IT provider has to handle – 1)how to change themselves and 2)how to get the customer to buy it. And by ‘buy it’ I don’t necessarily mean buy new product, but buy into the concept that a different way of working is indeed better for their business. With this in mind, no wonder IT providers are stressed about the Cloud.

The interesting thing is that Cloud computing looks different to different people.

Cloud providers will pitch to the customer the capability of Cloud computing and should seek to align its capabilities with real world business benefits.

Business owners may see Cloud as an opportunity for innovation and efficiency in their business. They may think it’s insecure & too risky. Or they may still have it in the ‘too hard’ basket, knowing that it’s a thing, but not knowing how it relates to them.

But for a Cloud solution to sell in SMB, a Cloud provider first has to convince the IT providers, who are often the purchasing decision influencer. And the IT provider is looking at Cloud through a whole other pair of glasses:

  1. What are the benefits to my customer? Not generic sales spin – real world, bottom line, relevant, applicable benefits.
  2. How do I convince my customer of these benefits?
  3. How does it work technically? What can I control & how?
  4. How do we transition a customer from on-premise to the Cloud?
  5. How is it going to affect my bottom line (most importantly, my product and services revenue streams)?

Don’t underestimate how big a challenge it is for Cloud providers to get IT providers on board. Sure, some have embraced the evolution early (some earlier than others), but the whole ‘Early Adopters’ through to ‘Technology Laggards’ spectrum applies to IT providers too, not just their customers.

Not all IT providers have the same capability for understanding business benefits, and as the technology gate-keepers, they are the first education point. Show me how this will help my customer, so I can tell them, so they will want to buy it. I don’t want airy fairy benefits. I don’t want case studies that are irrelevant. And I don’t want demos on working across cities when my SMB clients have one office.  Because if you can’t convince me, I won’t even try to convince my customers. And you thought CIOs were tough? It the IT provider doesn’t like it, they won’t sell it, period and they’ll convince the customer of all the reasons why they shouldn’t buy it. Often, addressing the IT providers objections is more than half the battle.

The technology challenge spans a few different areas. How does it work? Is it secure? How do I deploy it and migrate to it? How do I control it? The worst part for a traditional IT provider is the feeling of losing control. If email breaks, how do I fix it if I can’t log on to the server? How confident am I migrating live data to the Cloud with zero end user impact? What the heck do I do with backups?

With all those questions answered, they then need to feel confident enough leading their SMB customer through a  cultural change. Sure, moving your email service to the Cloud results in staff still using Outlook, for example, so not much of a shift there. But chances are their customers have never seen technologies like Sharepoint or Lync before. Or they may have started to ‘self-service’ and are already using public Cloud services like Dropbox. IT providers need to step out from behind their remote management tools and lead their customers through a new way of working.  This is a very overlooked part of a migration project but is arguably the one that most greatly influences if a customer views their move to Cloud as successful or not. It’s ultimately the part that’s the most rewarding – showing customers how to squeeze as much return from their Cloud investment as possible. But it’s also one of the most challenging parts of the project for an IT provider, especially one from a break/fix background. How to you champion in a change in how your customer’s staff work? And get their buy-in to change? And get everyone positive about it?

So far, those are some pretty good hurdles to overcome. I haven’t even elaborated on the changes to their bottom line yet & how Cloud will impact their current revenue streams (hint: you’re not retiring on Cloud commission alone anytime soon). As important as that is, IT providers are not going to profile Cloud solutions to their customers if they can get paid handsomely for it but don’t believe it will benefit their customer. Regardless of the commission, if they aren’t confident that it’s secure or if they don’t know how to migrate to it, they are going to hesitate and throw up road blocks.

That’s the real challenge for Cloud providers – addressing the IT providers as the technology gate keepers … and winning them to the cause.

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