Moving Partners from ‘Trusted Advisors’ to ‘Trusted Providers’
End users want more than advice about technology; they want partners to take the IT helm so they can focus on what they do best.
By Larry Walsh
Channel aficionados like to call value-added resellers (VARs), systems integrators, and managed service providers (MSPs) the “trusted advisors” to end customers. And the value they deliver comes from being a trusted source of technology recommendations and implementations.
But maybe it’s time to rethink the “trusted advisor” moniker. After all, some already consider it antiquated. Perhaps the notion of trusted advisor is holding back the channel.
Instead, maybe we should evolve to a new state – the trusted provider.
No end user wakes up in the morning thinking about technology (unless, of course, he or she works at a technology company). Rather, they’re focused on areas of their life where they’d like to see improvement – transportation, food, clothing, healthcare, financial services, and housing – and technology can serve as a vehicle for those changes. To them, IT is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.
In fact, most businesses would rather dispense with IT altogether, as it’s often a cost center, not a profit center. While technology can automate processes and facilitate business operations, it’s not the core value proposition of many businesses. If businesses could dispense with the expense and operational burden of IT, they would.
And that’s the underlying driver of managed and cloud services. By assigning IT responsibility to third parties, end users are able to defer responsibility and, in some cases, costs, so they can focus on the things they do best – which is serving their customers and producing revenue.
Managed services and cloud services are a good start toward becoming a “trusted provider.” Managed services are still roughly the equivalent of automated and remotely delivered break-fix functions. Cloud computing, in its current state, is providing virtualized and hosted infrastructure, as well as subscription-based applications.
While managed and cloud providers could claim the mantle of “trusted provider,” there’s still a significant delta between what’s delivered as a service and what the market will need and/or want from service providers. Many of the services available are point solutions or isolated functions, not holistic systems or functional fulfillment.
End users don’t want to just migrate from servers in data centers to servers in the cloud. End users want more than hosted email and CRM. End users don’t want to continuously buy complicated and expensive software licenses and support packages. And end users don’t want to carry IT staff that require continuous training, certifications, and support.
As business applications and business intelligence continue to evolve, as infrastructure becomes virtualized, and as mobility makes connectivity ubiquitous, businesses will look to offload their business functions, as well as the management of IT assets, to trusted providers.
If you think this notion of deferred computing is some flight of fancy, thing about the evolution of other technologies that were once part of the on-premises fabric of businesses. Electricity, for one. As Nicholas Carr chronicled in his book, “The Big Switch,” factories once had their own power plants, accepting the full burden of power generation. As power plants, infrastructure, and power distribution developed, they gave up that burden in favor of electric companies that could provide them with the juice to run lights and machines.
The same principle applies in the case of the trusted provider. In time, solution providers will not just sell and support technology; they’ll also run it. Solution providers will become the human resources, accounting, analytics, communications, and computational providers that free businesses to focus on their core competencies. Cloud computing and mobility were the first steps toward this future.
Now, is this reality unfolding naturally? Not really.
Channel partners are resistant to change. It’s not that they don’t see the change coming, but they have little guidance on what actions to take and how to manage the risks involved. Moreover, channel partners are ambivalent about driving toward the future when the current state remains lucrative.
Many vendors have asked 2112 to help with developing strategies for next-generation managed services. The opportunity is there, but it comes with the challenge of transforming not only technology but also the business models and attitudes of channel partners. Before channel partners can take on the burden of end users’ IT functions, vendors must pave the way with strategic guidance, go-to-market templates, and risk-management training.
While there will always be a place for the value-added reseller and integrator, the future doesn’t lie with the trusted advisor. End users want more than advice; they want actions and freedom. The future belongs to the trusted provider, and it’s incumbent upon the vendor community to shine the light of progress in this direction.