Tag Archives: MSP

DeployManaging licensing processes can bite deep into security MSPs’ margins. But one vendor seems to make it a lot easier. We investigate…

If you’re a managed security service provider, you’ve got an awful lot on your plate when it comes to licensing.

Try to manage it all using different tools and you’ll rapidly flay the flesh from your profitability – and probably send your customer satisfaction levels plummeting, too.

Logically, the solution is to somehow combine all the licensing functions in one place, making them both accessible and easy to use. But is any security vendor actually offering this? And if so, does it really deliver on the promise?

For our money, the answers to these questions are “yes, Trend Micro” and “yes, here’s how”, respectively.

Licensing Management Portal (LMP) – cross-product pain relief

The first thing that is striking about Trend Micro’s Licensing Management Portal (LMP) is that, in contrast to some other so-called “single pane of glass” management tools, it isn’t just available for a core technology that so far only underpins one or two finished products.

Instead, it has already evolved to the point where it is common to pretty much the entire Trend Micro product portfolio

So it makes it possible for MSPs to centrally manage, from a single sign-on system, multiple instances of both “point” solutions like Cloud Application Security (a topic we discuss further in this post), and more comprehensive solutions like the Worry-Free Business Security range.

Let’s not gloss over the pain that this alleviates. It eliminates wait time associated with ordering licences, because LMP is available 24 x 7 x 365. It automates the tracking of renewals and expirations. And it eliminates the complexity and cash-flow risk associated with manual billing.

Remote Manager
LMP, Remote Manager, CLP – a powerful triumvirate of solutions that drastically reduce the costly burden of creating, provisioning, managing and billing MSP licences. More on CLP below. (Click to enlarge)

LMP + Remote Manager = automation

This capability stems in part from the fact that LMP also contains within it Trend Micro’s Remote Manager.

This radically streamlines many of the licensing management processes by plugging them into industry-standard RMM and PSA solutions like Autotask, ConnectWise, Kaseya and LabTech.

So, you no longer have to manually drive your billing process, for example. Instead, LMP can use ConnectWise to auto-issue invoices and create end-to-end billing the moment a new endpoint or device is deployed.

Likewise, there’s a lot less juggling of multiple processes in order to set customers up. LMP syncs with LabTech, so you can map customers from LMP to customers in your LabTech solution, and then, within the latter, just “point and shoot” to deploy, issue licences etc. No jumping around between applications!

LMP and LabTech sync
No jumping around between applications – LMP and LabTech sync, so that deploying and issuing licences to your customers is as simple as a mouse click. (Click to enlarge)

Service plans the way you and your customers want them

Whilst we’re on the point of service plans, it’s worth mentioning that LMP has rewritten the rulebook somewhat in this respect too, offering real flexibility.

You can activate licences into live services in any number of formats – monthly, yearly, quarterly, on receipt of PO – and you can schedule in additional features so that they don’t have to be managed manually.

For example, a new customer that has committed to your services for two years initially, but whose contract needs to revert to a monthly rolling arrangement after this initial period, can have a service plan created in LMP that will deliver this arrangement – automatically.

From where we’re sitting, it’s probably the only example of a service plan mechanism that combines customer-friendly flexibility and features with management tools that don’t place an unsustainable drain on your resources!

Powerful but flexible reporting

Of course, if you can’t easily see what’s billable, automated provisioning and service plans won’t stay viable for very long!

Here, too, LMP shines. Not only is the reporting itself automated, it provides up-to-date detail of everything that has been in any way consumed by the end-user, ensuring that consumption and billing are always in step with each other.

At the same time, the automation allows a window of manual adjustment to cope with cancellations, error correction, atypical deployment scenarios, and other exceptions.

In essence, LMP has enough automation to make the majority of billing scenarios far easier – and far more economical – to manage.

CLP: Convenience for the end-user

But what’s really innovative in LMP, in our view, is that it enables the end-user to manage some of their own licensing, giving them the convenience of direct control, whilst also (let’s be candid) fattening your margins by reducing your workload!

This is because LMP contains a Customer Licensing Portal (CLP), which enables customers to manage licence keys for selected parts of their security estate, based on role. That partial autonomy and flexibility works for them, which makes you look good.

But the fact that the CLP can also carry your own branding will do your business profile no harm at all, either!

“Nobody does it better”, goes the old song. And at the moment, our Trend Micro team seems to be singing it around the office quite a lot. Funny, that.

AppRiver Nautical PlatformAppRiver’s Nautical platform makes all aspects of security service provision manageable from a “single pane of glass”. We look at the benefits.

For security service providers, or resellers wanting to break into the MSP space, there is a double challenge at hand: selecting solutions whose performance will delight their customers, yet that are easy enough to “drive” on a day-to-day basis to prevent margins being eaten away by costly management overheads.

This is why the appearance of AppRiver’s Nautical platform has set our antennae a-twitching. It promises a unified management console that enables service providers to deliver and manage a raft of cloud-based security solutions from one place, without the profit-sapping expense.

Here are just a few ways in which that could benefit service providers and their business.

The business benefits of Nautical, (1): Devolved management

Managing everything from under a “single pane of glass” is a seductive sell, but (I hear you say) doesn’t that just make for a crammed and complex window onto your world, which in turn drives management and admin costs up?

But Nautical turns this on its head, by enabling role-based interaction, so that different users each have different views of what is under the pane and can exercise different levels of control over it – and this includes the end-users themselves.

In this way, management workflows are made more targeted and efficient, but also flexibly devolved to customers where possible - taking even more of the admin burden off the service provider’s desk.

AppRiver Nautical Management
A single pane of glass, multiple kinds of access and interaction - cost reduction through targeted workflows and customer self-service (Click to enlarge)

The business benefits of Nautical, (2): Easy upscaling

Theoretically, cloud-delivered services can easily scale up to meet the needs of increasing numbers of end-users, thus supporting service providers’ revenue growth.

But critical to this process is the ease with which those new users can actually be brought on board. All the cloud service capacity in the world is no money-spinner if it is difficult, time-consuming and costly to connect users to it.

One of the killer new features in Nautical is a configurable user account management function that enables new users to be brought on board, and the overall user count to be increased, very easily.

Previously, this would have entailed multiple workflows in multiple environments; using Nautical, however, it is now a far simpler (and therefore cheaper) process.

AppRiver easy upscaling
More users, more usage, more revenue – and bringing them on board’s a cinch (Click to enlarge)

The business benefits of Nautical, (3): App-style agility and healthchecks

To go back to a previous point, bringing on additional users also inevitably drives demand for more products and services. Any service provider that delivers on the first point but not the second is painting themselves into a corner.

Nautical, however, makes it possible for both service providers and their customers to add and integrate new products and services with the kind of pick-and-mix agility you’d expect from something like an app store.

But (I again hear you ask) doesn’t that, in itself, create another management challenge – namely, monitoring all those disparate products and services without excessive (and expensive) manual intervention?

Here, too, Nautical comes up with the goods, thanks to its cross-product diagnostics that deliver a single, regular, unified application healthcheck to service providers’ customers and all the solutions they’re using.

Apps on demand
Apps on demand – and a unified monitoring and management system to keep them profitable (Click to enlarge)

What else should you know about Nautical?

Nautical has been described as “an entire channel programme in one portal”, but what’s really striking is that this deep integration across all aspects of security service provision comes at no charge.

Nautical simply becomes automatically available when a service provider chooses to deliver AppRiver’s security solutions – including anti-spam / anti-virus, web protection, email encryption, Exchange and mailbox protection – and this of course covers existing AppRiver service providers, too.

All in all, Nautical takes the hard work out of delivering MSP services that can really boost service providers’ bottom line, by making all business activities manageable from one place.

Now that really is something you should know.

Bitdefender’s GravityZone solutions are chock-full of benefits that make them easy, slick, and profitable for security partners to use. Read more.

GravityZone killer benefits, (1): Overarching ease of use

The first thing to note is that GravityZone’s whole management workflow, across all customers and products, is driven from a single console with a single login.

Everything – policies, licensing, reporting - is controlled from one space, not two or three different dashboards, as is the case with some vendors.

An exceptionally fluent interface all but dispenses with annoyances like multiple popups that can confuse users and provoke error, whilst a neat hierarchical tree structure enables users to see all their customers in one view (grouped by site or office where necessary), and to simply click to drill down into the detail of their licensing, usage, reporting, etc.

No more firing up multiple tabs and screens, and managing multiple logins!

Overarching ease of use
One view onto everything, and everything under control! (Click to enlarge)

Extensive and instant reporting

But Bitdefender has dragged the process of actually generating and delivering the reports into the 21st century, too.

Not only can security partners (MSPs and resellers alike) pull down accurate usage and other reports on demand, independently of the wholly automatic invoicing process, but the sheer array of possible reports and delivery mechanisms is impressive.

From Amazon AWS usage, to device control, to licence status, to Top 10 malware statistics, and much more, the reports can be fired up ad hoc or scheduled automatically, run on the dashboard, sent as alerts or emails, and basically tailored to whatever form the partner finds easiest and most useful to deal with.

Extensive and instant reporting
I’ll have that anti-malware activity report right now, please! (Click to enlarge)

AWS integration

Looking cloudward, GravityZone’s integration with AWS also delivers enviable simplicity; the MSP can spin up an AWS virtual server and that server will immediately be protected by GravityZone.

It’s a strong reminder of the fact that GravityZone is built from the ground up for virtual environments, in contrast to many other vendors’ solutions, which feature virtual refinements built around an essentially physical-heritage core (as we explore in this recent white paper).

GravityZone killer benefits, (2): Customer-friendly flexibility

For customers that don’t want to be out of the security loop entirely, end-users can have their own logins, giving them role-based access to services and features within the GravityZone security products their business uses.

This is particularly useful for customers who have invested in some degree of security expertise in-house and want to realise the value locked up in that investment.

But of course it can also reduce the management workload for the partner, putting a keener edge on their margins!

Customer-friendly flexibility
Differentiated access for different user roles and needs (Click to enlarge)

GravityZone killer benefits, (3): Integrations - and automations - that matter

Every security partner wants to sell market-leading solutions, but not if managing them on a day-to-day basis will send their operational expenditure through the roof.

GravityZone has addressed this concern head-on, by developing an integration to ConnectWise Manage (the PSA solution used by some 70% of the top technology solutions and service providers).

The integration with ConnectWise Manage supports the delivery of automated, end-to-end helpdesk, contract management, time tracking, account management, sales and marketing enablement and potentially much more, reducing the MSP’s workload, whilst delivering improved customer satisfaction levels.

Automatic policy assignation also slices a significant chunk out of the MSP workflow, as it enables them to effortlessly trigger and roll out security policies based on existing variables like IP address, network type, server address type, and so on.

Integrations
Integration with ConnectWise Manage, plus automatic policy assignation, make GravityZone a natural choice for workflow-savvy security partners (Click to enlarge)

GravityZone killer benefits, (4): Anti-malware with common sense

An office full of software developers needs more freedom to build, run, and test code and applications than a team of salespeople.

So, GravityZone enables the techies’ anti-malware parameters to be set less sensitively, whilst the business development crew can benefit from somewhat more stringent protection!

Naturally, though, this kind of adjustment just won’t work if it is complex or risky to use, and on both fronts GravityZone scores highly.

Sensitivity is controlled by simple tick-boxes, but users are also protected by GravityZone’s N-Tier structure, which means certain security settings and policies are automatically “inherited” based on past and present operation. Plus, security is also enforced by the distributor (us!).

Basically, it’s possible to fine-tune security, but it’s never possible to leave users unprotected.

GravityZone’s granular take on anti-malware
GravityZone’s granular take on anti-malware is simple to set up but its settings can never leave users unprotected (Click to enlarge)

GravityZone killer benefits, (5): Playing ransomware at its own game!

Ransomware’s ability to terrorise businesses has an Achilles’ heel.

It prevents a machine it has already infected playing host to any other infection that could interfere with its planned endgame – and this same defence, used on uninfected machines, effectively blocks the ransomware itself!

Enter the GravityZone Anti-Ransomware Vaccine, which uses exactly this technique to enable partners to “immunise” users against ransomware attacks, simply by enabling it as a policy within existing anti-malware protection.

GravityZone Anti-Ransomware Vaccine
Simply enable Anti-Ransomware as part of GravityZone’s anti-malware protection, and users are “immunised”!

GravityZone: where to learn more

As ever, there isn’t the space here to explore the benefits of GravityZone’s innovative features in ultimate detail.

But there’s some more detail on recent feature updates in this post, and more on the various GravityZone products, and their benefits for both MSPs and resellers, on the Web here.

Hope we’ve helped to put you “in the know”!

DataFortress Instant Data“Instant Data”, full system backup with one click, local storage options – read how DataFortress’s new features give you a competitive edge!

We pride ourselves on backing the newer, more agile players in the industry, and when we launched our DataFortress MSP solution (you might have seen the data sheet and the infographic) we knew we’d come upon a cloud solution that would give service providers some enviable differentiators in the backup and security space.

But DataFortress is now an even more tempting proposition for service providers, thanks to a raft of new features that really mark it out from the competition.

Here’s a quick overview of its latest and greatest differentiators.

Killer new DataFortress features (1): Instant Data

Recovery Time Objective (RTO) is a critical measure of backup resilience, but whilst customers are waiting for the backup and recovery data to build, they can’t access it. Inevitably, then, RTO starts from an already delayed position.

But DataFortress’s new Instant Data enables the customer to spin up a virtual SQL backup server that can both stream the backup and recovery data, and enable the customer to access and use it, as it builds – without having to wait for it to download.

Result: recovery starts more quickly, delivering much-improved RTO.

InstantData
Instant Data – customers get to their critical backup data without having to wait for it all to download.

Killer new DataFortress features (2): Full System Backup

Imagine that customers could simply click a button and all their data (files, folders, and images) could be backed up from all target machines (endpoints, servers, and everything in between). That’s DataFortress’s new Full System Backup feature.

The data is saved to a file that can then be run on a virtual machine, so that the business can always rapidly recover the very latest version of its backup data – with no reliance on hardware that might itself have fallen victim to whatever caused the need for recovery in the first place!

sliding button
This sliding button (top left) backs up everything, immediately. End of.

Killer new DataFortress features (3): Local Backup

The cloud might invite misty-eyed wonder, but the reality is it’s not bullet-proof. ISPs can experience interruption and bandwidth can be flakey. A hybrid approach would seem to be the path of least risk for many backup users -  and this is exactly what DataFortress’s Local Backup now offers.

As the name implies, it enables backup onto local storage media, so that there is always an accessible in-house fallback for customers when internet access has temporarily disappeared into the ether.

For companies who have an established physical backup routine, of course, (for example, storing tapes in secure offsite locations), Local Backup can also slot neatly into existing arrangements.

Local backup
Local backup adds “belt and braces” contingency to cloud services

Killer new DataFortress features (4): Legacy account conversion

Industry analyst Forrester has reported that 60% of businesses have said improving disaster recovery capabilities is a high or critical priority.

For many established companies, particularly those with strict compliance requirements, this means there is likely to be a whole mass of legacy backup accounts that need to be brought into the fold when a new solution is deployed.

Here, too, DataFortress has seized the initiative, making it possible for legacy data to be converted into modern formats and standards, and (to support this process) enabling old SE (Server Edition) accounts to be upgraded to new and improved ESE (Enterprise Server Edition) accounts and agents.

No longer is the past something that prevents backup and recovery service providers from making a sale in the present!

Legacy account conversion
Yesterday’s backup accounts brought bang up to date..

DataFortress: more killer features to come?

It seems certain that developments like GDPR are set to drive a new focus on data, how it’s managed, and how its value is protected, and DataFortress’s solutions certainly serve these objectives.

And, as we’ve mentioned in a previous post, this GDPR-fuelled market is potentially worth several billion to vendors and the various partners (resellers, MSPs, distributors) who work with them.

In the light of this – and given DataFortress’s past history of innovation – we can’t see it falling behind on features any time soon.

Watch this space...

Padlocks SecurityMultiple combined security solutions can be expensive for partners and customers alike, and can cause security gaps. So do integrated suites make more sense?

Calling all security partners - here's a scenario you might recognise: you sell the customer an individual “point” solution to address a specific security need, then you widen the customer’s understanding of their needs and gradually sell them a range of other point solutions to suit. Right?

But is this really the most profitable sell? And isn’t its viability called into question by the fact that the point solutions are only as robust as the glue that’s holding them together?

Here’s what some of the security partners who are our customers told us.

"Individual security solutions inflate costs."

As the quote above suggests, partners must balance the relative ease of progressively selling point solutions with the upward price spiral (and competitive impact) that this process tends to introduce.

Integrated suites of solutions, however, typically tend to be priced much more favourably; entire suites of security products can often be bought by the partner for a fraction of the price of combining point solutions!

But it’s not just about licensing costs. As you’ll read below, industry analysts support the idea that an ecosystem of integrated solutions will be more resource-efficient, enabling repositories to be shared effortlessly between the component solutions within it, and minimising operational costs too.

“Managing complexity is an expensive problem with point solutions.”

Essentially, this boils down to two issues.

Firstly, effective security has to work seamlessly across multiple layers (endpoint, application, network) but it has to do so in a user-centric way.

But if you stitch myriad point solutions together there is typically no centralised console for easily managing security across all these layers. Solutions for every layer then have to be managed in isolation, seamlessness evaporates, and admin and management overheads are multiplied, biting deeply into operating margins.

Secondly, point solutions, by their nature, are not greatly flexible, so they put partners into a complex and therefore potentially costly technical position when it comes to scaling to meet growing user demand, or deploying across mixed on-premise, cloud and hybrid environments.

In short, layered security suites are essential to enable partners to protect their customers comprehensively – but if those layers can’t be controlled from a “single pane of glass” then those partners are heading for a huge profitability drain.

“Combining point solutions doesn’t work 100% - it leaves security gaps.”

This is perhaps the most fundamental observation of all, explained best by industry analyst firm Forrester in this paper.

They say that in systems “protected by separate point products with isolated intelligence analysis/policy engines and management consoles, complexity increases and gaps in security coverage are more likely to present opportunities for exploit by malicious parties.”

They also confirm that integrated suites incorporating layered security offer partners (and customers) significant reductions in “operational friction” and cost, as we have already mentioned above.

“Point solutions have limited threat coverage.”

Related to what we’ve said above, if point solutions struggle inherently to work together, it’s logical to assume that, as attack surfaces and threat vectors proliferate, this shortcoming degrades even further - and there comes a juncture when point solutions effectively become functionally unable to cover off the full spectrum of threat sources.

A cursory glance at the kind of threats that integrated security solutions must now protect against reinforces this view.

Endpoints, smartphones and tablets no longer cut the mustard. Instead, protection must extend to USB, removable drives, mail and file servers, messaging and web gateways, collaboration portals, instant messaging (IM) servers – and, as we noted in a previous post, cloud applications (like Office 365) whose use within businesses is skyrocketing.

Clearly, however, not all point solutions are created equal. A carefully assembled, multi-vendor solution, using only established best-of-breed components, might arguably be up to the tasks demanded of it -  but at what cost?

Disparate licensing agreements. Disparate billing arrangements. The need for a separately purchased and configured remote monitoring and management (RMM) console...

These obstacles are a world away, in cost and complexity terms, from a one-vendor solution with specialist components that target specific security layers, and with its own in-built "single pane of glass", delivering unified management, from very first use, across the customer's entire security estate.

Buyer beware!

Conclusion: integrated suites make security (and business) sense

According to experts quoted in security publication CSO Online, 2016 is the year of advanced cyber attacks, insider threats, ransomware, “cloud wars” - and a huge shortage of in-house cyber talent that security partners will have to help their customers to fill!

Against the backdrop of this surging demand, the notion that partners can profitably supply and effectively manage individual point solutions to simultaneously address such a vast (and growing!) expanse of ever more sophisticated threat sources doesn’t stand up to reasoned analysis.

There seems to be only one sensible way forward for partners in the security channel, and Forrester once again nails it when it writes: “Integrating the security management and analysis within each layer is crucial when protecting against advanced or targeted attacks.”

The day is surely coming when there simply won’t be much point in point solutions.

Bitdefender have updated their GravityZone cloud console with some new features over the weekend and here at Blue Solutions we are happy to guide you through these changes and how they will affect you and your customers.

Anti-Ransomware

The big news is that Bitdefender has now incorporated Anti Ransomware vaccine to all its cloud customers, and will be rolling this out through the on-premise version on Tuesday 27th Sep 2016.  This module is activated through the policy section  Antimalware --> On Access settings

Gravityzone Ransomware Vaccine Policy Setting
Gravityzone Ransomware Vaccine Policy Setting

By activating this module, machines will be protected from all currently known forms of Ransomware.

Other New Features

Update Rings - this feature allows Administrators of the program to  chose when in the validation cycle an update is received.

Anti-Exploit Techniques - a new set of powerful techniques which further enhances existing technologies to fight targeted attacks.  These are integrated into the existing Advanced Threat Control module.

Web Access Control Rules - The categories list has been updated with multiple new categories added.

Exchange Protection - This can now be enabled/disabled when editing a customer with a monthly license subscription.

 

The above features are now in place for all current users of Bitdefender Gravityzone in the cloud and will be rolled out to Bitdefender Gravityzone on-premise users from the 27th Sep 2016.

For more details on the above features and a look at the other features included please click here

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cloud-application-controlWhat customers' employees do within web, cloud and social apps can be a significant threat to their business. We look at how they can limit the risks.

We recently took a look at vendors’ web security offerings, and came to the conclusion, in this post, that much of this risk landscape is being driven by employees and their ceaseless interactions with the raft of web, cloud and social media applications on which so many agile business processes now depend.

As this excellent piece in ITPro explains, it is now imperative for businesses to “understand exactly how data is moving in, around and out of your organisation”, and to provide the “visibility and the ability to discover, analyse and control the information staff are accessing or sharing.”

Whether businesses are updating marketing posts on Facebook, drilling down into Salesforce, uploading price lists to Dropbox, liking comments on Twitter, or using cloud data storage applications (as some 52% of small and medium-sized businesses in the US alone seem now to be doing, according to this Cloudwards article), the potential for both intentional and unintentional data compromise or reputational damage is high.

So how do security vendors tackle this end-user challenge, and create cloud application control solutions that MSPs and other partners can sell and provision to customers profitably?

 Cloud application control: the all-seeing-eye?

The first thing to say here is that cloud application security is not simply about automatically blocking malware, or filtering out clicks on risky URLs, or scanning for abusive language.

Rather, it is about being able to visualise and analyse all users’ application activity simultaneously and in one place, make informed human business risk decisions on it, and, where necessary, change parameters and automated settings to suit.

So, for example, why is a user uploading or deleting a profile image? Are they trying to hide their identity?

Why is someone removing a public link – was something there that should not have been exposed to public view in the first place? If so, how do you address the process failure that allowed such a link to then be posted?

Why is someone permanently deleting files from a recycle bin – are they trying to cover their tracks? For what reason?

With or without malicious intent, these are potentially damaging behaviours – but it takes a human eye to assess them, and that can only happen if all relevant information and alerts are assembled in one dashboard, where they are easy to interpret, at minimum management overhead.

Cloud application control consoles are therefore critical, enabling end-user and MSP alike to monitor and manage both users’ behaviours and the service that is being delivered.

Cloud app control – it’s not everywhere

Yet take a look at the “Treacherous 12” top cloud computing threats recently listed by the Cloud Security Alliance at the recent RSA Cybersecurity Conference, as reported in this Infoworld article, and it hardly paints a picture of a cloud application risk landscape that has been comprehensively tamed.

On the one hand, this presents a healthy sales opportunity for MSPs, who can deliver cloud application control solutions as an inroad into new clients.

But it also provides MSPs with a means of protecting themselves against the ever more litigious risks associated with other cloud applications that they already deliver to their customers.

To give just one rather urgent example, according to this TechTarget article some 75% of all cloud apps used in European enterprises are out of compliance with the new EU data protection regulations that are set to take effect in less than two years – and any MSP providing or provisioning them will be liable, as the incumbent “data processor”, for any security breaches sustained.

Overlaying cloud application control on these existing apps could help to significantly reduce many MSPs’ exposure to this kind of risk, or at least expel any ambiguity as to what is a breach occasioned by vulnerabilities in the application itself, and what is a breach caused by risky operator interaction with the cloud application environment.

Who sells cloud application control solutions?

Unsurprisingly, these factors (and others) have encouraged industry analysts to comment enthusiastically on the projected rise of cloud application-specific security solutions. Channel Pro, for example, has cited Gartner’s statement that, in 2016, 25% of enterprises will use a cloud access security broker.

But this presents something of a difficulty, given that there are actually so few vendors producing solutions in this space.

One player that has broken the mould, however, is CensorNet, and for good reason. It has developed a cloud app control solution that hits on all the critical MSP hot buttons at once – it is white-labelled to boost the MSP’s brand profile, can be up and running without infrastructure costs, is deployable in minutes, and offers stellar system performance and scalability thanks to its proxy-less architecture.

Yet one swallow does not a summer make. Can MSPs take cloud application control mainstream with so few vendors in the frame?

Put it this way, they’re going to let down a lot of customers if they don’t. Consider this: the average employee already accesses seven different web applications at work, but according to one recent article, 58% of respondents had no training in how to use those apps safely, 39% were unaware of the risks associated with them, and 44% hadn’t been trained in how to transfer and store corporate data securely.

Add to that the revelation, in the same article, that 23% of respondents have already experienced cloud data losses or breaches, and 20% have reported unauthorised access to their data or services, and the need for organisations to understand who is doing what in the cloud, to what, and why, is no longer a nice-to-have – it’s a critical imperative.

Over to you, MSPs...

Benefits of managed IT servicesTwo thirds of companies now use managed service providers (CompTIA survey). But how should MSPs educate customers about the services they provide? See these tips.

In my last post, I wrote about the benefits of selling services through the MSP model, rather than relying on old-fashioned, unpredictable break-fix.

All well and good, but that’s often also about selling your customers on something new and different, when they’re used to something established and familiar – and we all know how difficult that can be!

So I spoke to some customers and some colleagues, and cast around on the internet, and came up with these useful tips to help you convince your customers that MSP is the way forward!

1. Don’t major on the technology. As this article in CRN eloquently argues, the mechanics of features and functions are absolutely not what will prompt your customer to make a decision in favour of MSP.

What your customers are really interested in is how MSP solutions can help them decrease risk, reduce costs, and – perhaps most critically of all – increase productivity.

Industry reports and analysis can strongly support your pitch in this respect. Comptia’s annual Trends In Managed Services research, for example, (you can see a non-gated slideshow summary here), contains some excellent references to productivity gains, savings, and ROI, all of which will be useful to you in a sales situation.


2. Ditch the “jargon monoxide”.
Do you have any idea how downright poisonous some of the language accepted in IT circles can be to someone seeking to make a purchasing decision?

Simplicity and clarity are watchwords in any sales situation, but when you’re trying to persuade a customer to abandon the break-fix model that they may have trusted for many years, they become critical. Test your pitch on friends, family members, and deeply non-technical colleagues – and if they don’t instantly “get it”, rethink it.

The psychological impact of obscure language is immensely damaging to MSP sales relationships – as this piece in MSPblog explains. Want to make your customer feel stupid? Make them feel like they’re excluded from your clique? Want to make it sound like you’re lying through your teeth? Then carry on using the jargon.

Change is already disruptive and painful for customers – don’t make it unfathomable and repellent too.


3. Get over the monthly rate objection.
From your point of view, the fixed monthly payment for your MSP services makes perfect sense – regular, predictable income in return for always-on monitoring and service.

Only, many customers won’t necessarily get that last part. In their mind, the choice you are giving them is between a monthly outflow of cash to protect them against something that “might never happen”, and an hourly rate that they only have to pay if something goes wrong.

The way to convince them is to highlight just how bad things could get if that something does go wrong. Would they get hit by financial loss if they were to experience more than, say, an hour’s downtime, for example?

How much have they invested in their IT infrastructure and how much more would they have to add to that to cover hourly-rate remediation in the event of something like major data loss or theft?

You won’t have to search very far to find some seriously compelling statistics on this subject. I wrote in another post recently that 58% of SMBs could not withstand any data loss whatsoever.

Consider, in addition, that data loss and downtime cost the UK £10.5 billion per year, according to this piece in TechWeek Europe, and one Gartner analyst has cited an hourly downtime cost, based on company size and type, of between $140,000 and $540,000 per hour!


4. Listen to pain points and tailor solutions.
The MSP model has brought a flexibility to the sales process that previously didn’t exist – particularly when it is teamed with solutions delivered through the cloud that can be switched on and off and scaled up and down on demand.

In fact, the reality is that there are very few solutions you couldn’t offer in an MSP version to meet your customers’ varied needs. From endpoint security, to data backup and recovery, and of course much more, it’s all up for grabs – but you need to understand your customers’ pain points first!

As MSPAlliance recently put it, (my italics), "MSPs must become supremely comfortable interacting with customers on a business level. This means knowing the business of your customers and being able to ask questions and listen to what causes them pain. Once the pain point has been identified, a technical solution to it can be created."


5. Master the proposal process.
It’s not only complex language that turns your MSP prospects off, it’s a sales proposal process that feels like it’s trying to funnel them into a one-size-fits-all solution, exacerbating their fear of the new and unknown.

The MSP model makes possible multiple alternative solutions in multiple combinations, so use them to give your customers a sense of choice and control. This isn’t break-fix-land, where every additional solution ratchets up the risk of an hourly-rate repair job, so don’t pitch it like it is!

For a superb, methodical sales proposal process that will help you to convincingly align solutions options with your MSP customers’ needs, check out this MSP blog post.


Get selling to your MSP customers!

I’ve said enough now – it’s your turn to evangelise! But remember, if you’re asking your customers to turn their back on the devil they know, they might need a little help understanding that MSP solutions could be their guardian angel…

buy-rentAs far back as 2009, industry media (in articles like this one) were announcing the factors that were already triggering a critical move from the reseller model to the MSP model.

Customers’ reduction in staff and IT budget, hardware end of life, and the rise in remote and virtual working were foremost amongst them.

None of these things have gone away. So if you’re still a traditional reseller, how do you break out of break-fix and into this thriving MSP market? What are the benefits? And is your business really suited to doing it anyway?
 

From reseller to MSP: the benefits

Let’s start with the upside, distilled from these points, previously identified by IT channel analyst Paul Myerson (with some caveats!):

  • Recurring revenue – The MSP model is based around an established monthly income that can increase as more users are brought on board, whilst keeping the costs of that onboarding extremely low. Result: more predictable budgetary planning, but also keener margins!
  • Add-on sales – The delivery of MSP solutions, particularly in a cloud context, is much easier to “build out” than in a traditional reseller scenario. The MSP can bundle additional products and services during the term, which enables them to extend the contract.
  • Brand trust or marketing muscle? – Many major vendors now sell solutions that were designed from the ground up for the MSP and cloud market, so there is a strong baseline of credibility in these offerings.

But if you choose to white-label your service (and many MSPs now do) you lose much of this brand association, so you need to hook up with a vendor that helps you to plug the credibility gap by giving you ready-made end-user marketing campaigns and content.

These help position you as a knowledgeable, trusted advisor. And, as Myerson notes, “The trusted advisor can charge more…”

  • Customer penetration – The MSP model is often seen as a “hands-off” approach, but the fact that an MSP can quickly spin up and remotely support new services is a catalyst to further customer demand. The MSP model doesn’t eliminate customer touch-point - it gives the ones that remain the potential to be much more lucrative!

In addition, as we’ve noted in a previous post, as the MSP model essentially allows you to move from owning reseller licences (capital expenditure) to subscribing to a service (operational expenditure), it avoids those big upfront licensing hits to your bottom line.


But is the MSP model right for my business?

All that said, the MSP model is not a panacea for all resellers’ ills. As this excellent piece in SearchITChannel explains, you might struggle if you have issues with:

  • Technical and support expertise – You can buy this expertise in from the vendor if you can’t front it yourself, but if you’re sourcing the solutions from a distributor then relying on the vendor adds an extra dependency into your service capability. Look for a distributor with their own in-house technical and support expertise.
  • Complexity of service delivery – Acccording to research from Markets and Markets2, the annual growth of the SMB managed services market will exceed 20% by 2020. So even if you don’t focus on enterprise clients, as an MSP you would likely be delivering more services and managing more customers and users than you ever were in the reseller regime.

If your reseller business can’t shift, technically and culturally, to using more automated methods to accommodate this, such as the RMM (Remote Monitoring and Management) tools that we explored in an earlier post, it’s heading for meltdown.

As one RMM vendor opined in this piece, “…a new MSP must be careful not to over-commit themselves; doing so may put them at risk of losing money very quickly”.

But if they can avoid this by being “proactive” and automating “some of the routine IT support responses”, they can “offer far more value to their customers.”

  • Change and evolution – Lack of MSP market knowledge and skills can be a serious hindrance, but many partners have been reluctant to embrace MSP and cloud learnings, even though they are capable of boosting their business.

 Market researcher ESG, for example, cited in this piece in MSPMentor, found that “most partners remain dependent on traditional product resale and express discomfort when it comes to the financial risk of change.”

Again, this is a strong argument for working with distributors who have extensive MSP market knowledge and can help influence internal stakeholders by “hand-holding” them - from validating prospects to providing support when the service is up and running

But it’s also a strong argument for going for the low-hanging fruit first. According to this piece in MSP Alliance, for example, “Even the least skilled MSPs can deploy an effective cloud backup solution… Backup can be a very lucrative business line for MSPs… it does have the potential to be a big part of any MSP's service catalog.”

And that data backup is just one part of a much wider cloud security opportunity; one that, according to the same publication, is “set to experience double-digit growth” from 2014 to 2017, with “everything from email security to identity and access management heading to the cloud.”

Focus here first, then, perhaps?

Conclusion: MSP is not without its challenges

But the MSP market’s not all fat margins and cake for everybody. In fact, as this recent article argues, it’s becoming something of a bear pit.

Companies that previously had no MSP aspirations or skills at all – office equipment dealers, print companies, and so on – have all “thrown their hats into the ring as managed service companies.”

On the one hand, perhaps if they’ve made the leap to MSP, you can. But unless you can differentiate yourself in a crowded market – through vendors, solutions and distributors that give your services some kind of distinctive edge – you could find the going rough.

LabTech xSPBlue Solutions are pleased to announce the arrival of an xSP pricing model from LabTech Software. Until recently LabTech has only been available as perpetual or a subscription licence with commitment. You can now purchase LabTech on a Pay As You Grow (PAYG) licence model. You will be billed via Direct Debit in arrears based on the number of agents deployed in the previous month. The more you deploy the cheaper the agent price.

  • No commitment with quantity or term
  • Increase or decrease agents used
  • Grows with your business
  • Start to benefit from the power of LT without commitment / big investment
  • Transition from another RMM provider by running in parallel
  • Easy to switch to different licence model if required

Check out a trial of LabTech today www.labtechsoftware.com/bluesolutionscloudtrial