In a recent post, cloud technology and the services that support it demand a renewed way of thinking when it comes to IT professionals in our channel.
Interestingly, Microscope recently reported Forrester findings that heightened competitiveness in our market would force up to 15% of channel firms out of business. If you read that last sentence and your nerves twinged at all, then you need to sit down and work out where you’ll be standing not just by the end of next year, but also in three, four, or five years time.
Let’s start with something simple, the cloud smell test. Last year, John Cowen from 6Fusion (they pass this test) did a great job at presenting the criteria set out by Gartner that would confirm whether or not an MSP/VAR/IT Professional was actually offering true cloud services. Because he did such a great job explaining each of the five points, I have posted his musings for your perusal but have included additional hyperlinks that you can explore.
Here are the five criteria for you to go through to make sure you’re giving off the right odour:
Business Value: The service can clearly demonstrate business value to the customer. Two examples of business value are proven and documented (maybe even guaranteed) TCO improvement (or operational efficiency gains), and an SLA with teeth (real financial risk for the service provider if they blow it). A real cloud service must do more than pay these subjects casual lip service.
(Whilst we’re on the topic of SLAs and TCOs, I highly recommend that at the very least you check out the Channel Vanguard Council’s Whitepaper ‘The New Normal‘, particularly page for page six.)
Data Residency Control & Interoperability: The service provider is able to allow the customer to choose where data resides in the cloud (physically). Compliance is not something that can be ignored just because Gmail is cool. That may fly during the honeymoon period, but business customers care where their data (such as email or CRM) is sitting and who can potentially get their hands on it (just ask Liquid Motors what they think). In addition, the service provider must support a minimum standard for interoperability. If a customer builds a workload on your cloud today, they should be able to move to some other cloud tomorrow. Proprietary lock in is so 1999. Examples of supported interoperability include standards like Open Virtualisation Format (OVF).
Any App Architecture: The service provider must be able to address non-web services applications. Contrary to the folks with SaaS on the brain these days, the vast majority of businesses in fact do *not* run web services applications. In order for a cloud service provider to prove relevance they must be able to enable or assist with the transition from the old paradigm to the new without first selling the customer a shiny new forklift.
Business Process Integration: The services provided cannot be an island. This is not called island computing. This is called cloud computing. Therefore, cloud services must be able to integrate with existing customer business process (particularly the automated ones) practices. A good indication as to the level of sophistication your cloud service provider maintains is the number of use cases. Does their cloud service interweave with your DR plan and your production collaboration suite? Or are they a one-trick pony?
Cost Profiling: The service provider must allow the customer to profile their applications before moving to the cloud service in order to gauge performance, and most importantly, the cost. Metered use is great. But if a customer can’t translate that into what they will really pay for services, it is not enough. Simplicity is the hallmark of cost profiling and automation is a cornerstone.
Interestingly, many business falter at the first and fifth criteria and mainly because it forces a change to the way the business is structured and highlights gaps/flaws in the way it is managed. Cloud has prompted a paradigm shift in the way many businesses perceive their future, regardless of how much they do or don’t adopt it.
Customer perception of cloud will always be varied, many don’t even realise they are passive users of this technology and rarely prompt their suppliers to engage in further discussion. That is unless large vendors with direct sales models such as Microsoft or Google strike a chord with their business. If channel vendors and competing organisations can resonate with your clients on priorities such as upfront financial savings (think volume licensing vs. OEM and you get my point) or business processes (such as flexible working, or hosted services), then it’s imperative you offer strong business value that holds water, or you need to do yourself a favour and step aside.
Your customers are your most important assets (M&As thrive on it) and now that you’ve spent the last few years marketing to your clients that you help them grow their businesses, it’s time that you adjust and grow yours. Whether you choose to offer cloud services or not, keeping your clients at the forefront of your strategy is key, and if you don’t smell quite right, it won’t be long until you’re turning them off.
Further reading: “Is Darwinism Narrowing the Tech Channel?” External link to Channelnomics here.
Susanne Dansey is the Managing Director of Purple Cow Ideas Management – an organisation that facilitates a paradigm shift in the collaborative nature of the ICT Industry. You can follow her on Twitter and join the conversation on Facebook.