In the last few posts I have been laying out the multi-year strategy for Shockey Monkey and the changes IT Solution Providers need to come to terms with and adapt in order to survive and thrive. The core underlying concept of consumerisation of IT – technology decisions and use dictated by the users not engineers – impacts IT solution providers as the consumer electronics blend with business technology and make intermediaries unnecessary for basic tasks.
Who does the IT work?
The argument isn’t whether or not IT will continue to be a viable profession. The question is where do current IT solution providers provide value, so that value can be properly marketed today to assure for a great tomorrow. There is some background you need to consider first:
Some people tend to believe that they can run the same business for years without major changes. The problem is, underlying technology is changing too rapidly for any rational human being to believe that masses would remain ignorant. The only way you can charge premiums for same type of work with the same skill set is if your lack of morals combined with the ability to present bad ideas in a convincing manner meets people that are bad at math or grossly uninformed. However, even with all those conditions met, scale is difficult to accomplish as is the ability to get some sleep at night.
This is an enormous challenge. For business owners and managers of IT solution providers as well as for the engineers and technicians they employ. If your skill set is not absolutely the best you will soon only have a marginal advantage over the end user of the technology you deploy because you will not manage the majority of the technology from the ground up. If you’re antisocial, don’t like people, don’t like explaining technology and generally think you’re a genius and everyone else is an idiot – those idiots will find a way around the difficulty even if they have to sacrifice temporarily. If you exist for the sole purpose of prolonging the problem, people will get fed up. If you thrive on complexity you will find it exceedingly frustrating that everyone is trying to reduce it.
IT Magic – When people can use technology without feeling stupid about it they fall in love with it.
Back in the 90’s, Novell had a much better networking products than Microsoft. Last decade, Microsoft had much better media offerings than Apple. RIM had much better smartphones for business than Android or Apple.
What dictates users willingness to use a product is their ability to use a product.
Lot’s of stuff gets “sold” but if it’s not used, it’s worthless. See Microsoft SharePoint.
Large scale enterprise deployments of very sophisticated, very expensive, very specialized software are getting displaced by Web 2.0 sites ran by companies that haven’t even dreamed of turning a profit.
There is no arguing over the direction IT is going. There is the question of value.
What is valuable?
In order for something to be valuable, it has to be visible. Not just quantifiable in a virtual or hypothetical sense, but presentable and identifiable in day-to-day operations.
If you spend as much time as I do working with managed services providers you’d hear about sales pitches focused on things that business decision makers understand: time it takes to manage their technology. Business owners do not see blue screens, virus infections or paper jams – they deal with them – but they only see and feel the hit to the pocket book. Every minute of downtime or time a user spends dealing with an IT problem the business owner is multiplying their salary out and getting more upset.
MSPs sell on the value of saved time. But they haaaaaate it. Because time is a finite source that is not scalable. They would rather spend all day long selling hardware with huge margins but truth is that companies are not investing in infrastructure, they are trying to reduce it. MSPs would love to sell things like offsite backups, security services, patch management – stuff that they can automate, outsource, delegate and scale for huge profits.
Problem? Well, if you can’t see it you can’t put a price on it so you can try to live without it.
Part of the consolidation we’ve seen in the MSP space (and part of outright business closings) is directly related to the admission that the time (human factor) cannot be scaled so the profit becomes fixed to the headcount.
So what is valuable?
I can go on for days. The key is to focus on stuff they’d rather not do and stuff they can’t do.
You can build an extremely successful, extremely profitable, extremely lean business providing a lot of these services.
In order to get there you have to admit to yourself you are running less of a technology business and more of a marketing business.
Once you successfully market yourself and return to providing value you will have a greater client base and will again find more extremely lucrative project work you want in the first place.
It’s really that simple. You just don’t have the tools to do it…. yet.
Getting from gifted to employed
So the small and medium businesses are getting their technology served to them as ordinary consumers without regard for it’s use at home or a multimillion dollar business.
Is twitter a more reputable news distribution mechanism than a corporate web site? Are professional press releases better at getting serious attention than a Facebook fan page linked to a Constant Contact account?
The key to success in IT in the future isn’t in trying to establish yourself as the expert in everything the users may need. It’s in being available to deliver the service when they don’t want to do it themselves.
Your future client may purchase computers without you, smartphones without you, setup their cloud mail without you and manage all aspects of their communications without you.
But then their domain name will expire and the vice president of a mortgage brokerage will have to get to the bottom of why their business just came to a grinding halt.
Think fast: What rate do you think they’ll be willing to pay to have that problem resolved when it comes up? Would it be higher or lower than the one they are willing to pay to repair a largely disposable workstation when the employee already has an iPad, smartphone and a laptop?
I want to make something absolutely clear here: Do not underestimate the clients ability to work in unperfect environments. Much of Vladville’s success is built on stories of IT consultants, who through nearly criminal neglect, dismantled businesses faith in technology as a core business tool. Try not to think of problems small businesses would be incapable of tollerating (No such thing, remember Windows 95, 98, ME, every Exchange service pack ever built, businesses running on @yahoo.com or @aol.com addresses). Try to think about problems small businesses don’t want to deal with.
Strategy: Ignore problems that you think need to be addressed. Focus on problems small and medium business owners face and don’t want to address on their own.
For example, nobody needs an IT consultant to buy an email solution. Perfectly literate business owners that are control freaks (ie: all of us) won’t even need your help to set it all up. The ticking time bomb is in the contacts and calendars – what do you mean I can’t invite people into this meeting from my phone? Where did all of my contacts go?
Business owners love to be in control. But only on their terms, their schedule and their mood. They would all love to be the only ones who have access to all of their email. Unless that email were to go down while they are negotiating a new contract and this becomes an annoyance.
Focus on highly visible, highly annoying, highly valuable tasks and make it seem cheaper than their time. Ever wonder why there are probably hundreds of dry cleaners in a 10 mile radius yet an iron and an ironing board cost less than $50?
Be there when they want to buy, not when they want to shop
Once you’ve identified what you do, it’s time to get in between the user and the problem.
How do you do that?
Give them a tool that you can easily plug into.
Personal injury attorneys are spending millions and millions of dollars on radio commercials and billboards, that you’d only hear or see while you’re driving, to tell you to put their phone number into your cell phone so that you can call them when you have an accident… probably 20 seconds into trying to type the number in as a new contact while you should be looking at the road. Please don’t sue me for pointing that out.
You need to be there. As a fridge magnet. As a mousepad.
Or perhaps there is an easier way. Give them a free RMM that does nothing but keep them in the loop of all the IT problems they are experiencing. Give them a free CRM tool that will allow them to run their own business more efficiently while you are just a click away from being summoned. It’s better than a fridge magnet, it’s a genies lamp. You got 3 wishes and I got 3 lines on my invoice – Name, Credit card # and expiration date.
Only problem is, there is no such thing as a free RMM that a business would want to install in their company or that you can afford to deliver. It’s even worse in the CRM land, these big products cost a lot of money and nobody has an incentive to give them away so they won’t.
It’s hard to give away a product when your revenue stream depends on it’s commercial viability.
But what if.. a bunch of companies that sell more sophisticated RMM or PSA solutions.. banded together to sponsor a solution that would deliver all that to you, for free?
Would that earn your business? Would it earn your trust? If deployed, would it earn you more business?
In a time and a marketplace where most of your vendor partners are trying to figure a more effective way to get around you.. some of us are hard at work trying to get you more business. Welcome to Partnership 2.0 folks, the future looks bright even as IT looks cloudy..