3 Competitive Cloud Strategy Lessons & Action Items from Leading MSPs
To succeed in digital transformation, managed service providers (MSPs), resellers, and distributors need a clear understanding of the cloud’s benefits and opportunities. As more MSPs have pivoted services and adjusted to remote client meetings since the start of 2020, they are also looking for ways to differentiate themselves from competitors and meet customer demand. CloudCheckr hosted a virtual event to help managed service providers achieve these goals and reclaim their cloud. Representatives from leading managed service providers joined us for three roundtable discussions. In these talks, MSPs demonstrated how service providers can grow their business, enhance their cloud practice, and provide value to their customers. Here are three competitive cloud strategy lessons MSPs shared during the virtual event as well as three action items you can take to enhance your services:
1. Provide Expert Guidance to Advance Customers’ Cloud Transformation
In our first session, Paola Doebel, Ensono’s SVP & Managing Director, North America, joined us to share how service providers can strategically expand their capabilities to meet customers where they are. Meeting customer needs is all about developing a forward-thinking and competitive cloud strategy. The waves of technology are always changing, says Doebel, and cloud providers in particular have a tendency to release plenty of “shiny” new applications. For MSPs, the challenge is to understand the benefits and drawbacks of technology and communicate their value — or perhaps lack thereof — with customers. Doebel recommends taking a customer-centric approach in balancing new tech with a managed services portfolio. Are these solutions — especially those in the cloud — aligned with the customer’s needs, maturity, and timelines for business objectives? Selling the services is one thing, she says, but delivering them with expertise and an unbiased perspective is another. The goal for service providers should be doing what’s best for the customers, regardless of profit margins.
Action Item: Work with the Client’s Internal Experts
Enterprises look to managed services because they need that guidance on their cloud journeys. A service provider’s job, Doebel says, is to help break down silos and drive technology and cloud transformation. After all, you’re not just working with your direct contact but serving the customer’s organization as a whole. As a result, you have the influence to help drive cloud transformation for your customer’s entire business. How can enterprises improve communication across functions? Doebel points to internal subject-matter experts in an organization’s Cloud Center of Excellence, which can work alongside the MSP to promote cloud best practices. Whether navigating a single-cloud or multi-cloud environment, a partnership with an MSP can help organizations reduce complexity and get a better understanding of cloud intent. Check with your client to see if they’ve established an internal team of experts so that the right people are part of your conversations around cloud transformation.
2. Help Clients Develop the Right Mindset Around Security
Our second session of the day focused on managing both business growth and security at scale to accommodate customer demand. With multiple accounts and users, managed service providers and their customers need more visibility than ever into their cloud environments. Cultivating a security-first cloud strategy is a must for all businesses, and MSPs can help their clients do the same. Gary Derheim, VP of Managed Services and Marketing at PTP, shared his thoughts on security in our second session. (We spoke to him and his team previously about how PTP supports their life sciences customers in the cloud.) Derheim credits cloud enablement with the speed at which PTP and their customers have been able to capitalize on the fluctuating economy of the past year. One challenge for all MSPs, Derheim says, is to manage customers’ rapid growth alongside security and compliance, especially for customers in highly regulated industries. The key to improving clients’ risk awareness is in knowing how to talk to the customer based on their job function and business objectives. For example, says Derheim, the conversation around security is different with a Chief Financial Officer than it is with a Chief Security Officer. Security personnel will be eager to address vulnerabilities and improve the organization’s overall security profile, no matter what the cost of tooling and staffing. On the other hand, a CFO may be looking solely at cost and not understand the true value of implementing greater security measures. The MSP’s role is to help business leaders from all backgrounds understand risk assessment in terms of real-world scenarios, not just from a dollars-and-cents perspective. The problems businesses face following a security breach go beyond steep fines, penalties, and lost revenue. The resulting downtime and loss of customers’ trust can have devastating effects on a business beyond dollar amounts. Every stakeholder sees the impact of poor security, and MSPs should work to communicate that to their clients.
Action Item: Build Custom Security and Compliance Frameworks
Good security and compliance begin with policy. You can begin improving client security by building policies and frameworks around security and compliance. Combine this with security and compliance monitoring tools to ensure that the customer’s cloud environment is always protected. Implementing a security framework is an excellent value-add for MSPs, especially those that specialize in cloud security. A competitive cloud strategy around security might start with an existing framework, such as NIST 800-53 or CIS Controls. You might also want to establish your own based on the unique needs of your customer. If you’re unsure where to begin, look at access management and adopt the principle of least privilege can help mitigate some of the most common security vulnerabilities.
3. Build Automation into Services to Reduce Overhead and Provide Value
The final session in our Reclaim Your Cloud series focused on the value of cloud automation. Optimizing a cloud environment using automation can lower overhead not just for customers but for MSPs as well. Patrick Hannah, Chief Technology Officer at CloudHesive, explained that the main advantages of automation are twofold: The first advantage is consistency. Cloud automation enables MSPs to consistently handle both planned (or routine) processes as well as respond to those that arise due to unplanned incidents. For example, routine tasks might include backups, disaster recovery drills, incident response drills, patches, hotfixes, and other maintenance in customer workflows. Unanticipated events, however, arise through monitoring and alerting. That can be everything from responding to security events due to misconfigurations to shutting off instances when the customer is close to maxing out their budget. Applying the same process over and over helps the MSP and the customer know what to expect when a problem occurs. The second advantage, Hannah says, is reduced overhead, which is often the result of that consistency. Standardizing processes and incident responses can reduce the time and resources spent managing cloud efforts manually. As a result, this decreases labor costs and the expenses associated with human error in day-to-day operations. That matters both for the MSP and the customer. Fewer errors and faster incident response times mean that the MSP can focus on core services and develop a more forward-thinking strategy to advance the customer’s cloud practice. The advantages of automation in the cloud environment also help MSPs differentiate themselves in the market. By not having to focus on the daily to-do list and automating those tasks instead, MSPs adopt a more proactive view of cloud management. As a result, they can begin developing other service offerings to stand out from their competitors and focus on improving overall customer satisfaction.
Action Item: Prove the Value of Automation with Event-Based Reporting
One question MSPs often have is how to “prove” the work they’re doing when everything is automated. The customer should see not just what the MSP has responded to or changed but what they’ve prevented as well. The answer is to use event-based reporting. If, for example, an MSP handles 950 events in a month, they can demonstrate how many of those — if any — required human intervention. The automation capabilities in a cloud management platform are a value-add when choosing a service provider because they can show a “receipt” of the behind-the-scenes work they do for the customer every day.
Competitive Cloud Strategy Lessons for MSPs, from MSPs
Managed service providers are in a unique position to grow not just their own businesses but those of their clients as well. By focusing on value-adds like automation, developing security and compliance frameworks, and serving as external subject-matter experts, you can keep your customers happy and differentiate your business in the marketplace.