Thank you for joining me in the third post in the series pondering the future of IT and how it will be utilized, at least in small business. If there is one trend line in the technical evolution over the past decade, it has to be the focus on simplicity that is making it possible for users to leverage technology without a ton of expertise. All hardware manufacturers and software developers want more users buying their solutions so everyone aims to make it as easy as possible for their good / service / product to be enjoyed.
So what is the end game of business technology as it removes a need for constant support and upkeep? Will the businesses stop caring about backups, about the security of the information stored on their users devices, access control or management of all these new vendors that they interact with?
In my opinion, the CRM side of a small business will grow a new complement: The Vendor Relationship Management.
If consumerization of IT is real and business owners and managers are the ones managing a wide portfolio of subscriptions, contractors, services and devices.. how do they track it all?
Where have all the IT jobs gone?
After the .com bust and subsequent automation across the IT departments, many IT Solution Providers complained about the levels of competition they were seeing. Suddenly, everyone was an IT consultant and anyone that had ever touched a PC was a techie. Smaller technology companies saw a huge influx in labor as IT departments of large companies continued downsizing.
Towards the middle of last decade, same fate awaited SMB tech workers as well – managed services providers (MSPs) solicited small businesses into letting them take over the entire IT department under the premise that the cost of the overall technology management is lower than the salary of a single skilled IT worker. It worked! Throughout the decade the pattern of eliminating complexity lead to elimination of overhead which meant fewer people working on keeping the infrastructure up and running.
Then everything changed.
Someone at Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, IBM and virtually every other software company asked “Why do we need IT people involved anyhow?” On the hardware manufacturing side the battle of “specs” (speed, memory, storage) was already becoming irrelevant so they started focusing on user experience more than trying to sell a stat sheet to a CIO.
What really fundamentally changed in the process is the cost of doing business. Back in the 90’s it was not uncommon to work for a very large six figure salary managing technology. Computers, network routers and switches, servers – all cost thousands of dollars. Asking over a hundred dollars per hour for consulting that would help even the smallest of businesses avoid wasting thousands of dollars for something that wouldn’t fit their need became a sound investment.
But then the cost of servers went down. Cost of computers plummeted – exponentially so for components such as memory and storage. The reduced complexity of technology meant anyone with a slow weekend and a good manual would become indistinguishable from an experienced tech.
Once upon a time a skilled engineer could charge thousands of dollars for consulting, implementation and maintenance of a large mail server farm used for newsletter subscription management and distribution. But when the company outsourced it to ConstantContact or MailChimp for less than a few hundred dollars a month things changed.
The economics of technology.
When technology cost thousands of dollars it was easy to ask for 10-25% to help broker it and still make a significant revenue.
But when the same technology got obsoleted by a more affordable, more efficient and more simplistic product – consulting fees nearly disappeared. Remember how much work was involved just four years ago when you wanted to sync your Microsoft Windows Phone with your SBS Microsoft Exchange? Same company, same technology – tons of nightmares. Enter iPhone: Now they’ll configure it for you at the point of purchase.
The line between business technology and consumer end user technology has blurred.
More importantly: The difference between a small business IT provider and a small business owner / manager continues to slim down as the technology becomes simpler to use and manage, technology developers continue to market and sell directly to the small business and technology becomes a common thing in our lives. Suddenly, updating status, content, marketing campaign or a newsletter is not a technology job.
Yet, we use more technology now than ever before. So who is actually managing the business technology?
Allow me to introduce you to my thesis on a consumer-centric process service automation.
The easier the technology gets the more people will use it.
The more technology dependent businesses become, the more technology they will buy.
All of a sudden we’re outsourcing our newsletter design, newsletter distribution, VoIP, cell phone plans, payroll, water delivery, Internet connectivity, email hosting, web hosting, our blog and the content on that blog, our lead generation and all our phone infrastructure is now done by someone else.
We don’t need “an IT guy” for any of it.
When something breaks though, who is going to fix it?
You want to know the really ugly answer to that question? It’s usually the very top of the company. Employees rarely take ownership or associate themselves with anything that looks like a problem. At best they will try to find someone they don’t like to point the blame.
So higher technology usage leads to higher technology dependence which ultimately increases business inefficiencies because it’s no longer technology management done by an IT guy but business management done by a business owner / manager.
Simple enough, just give folks a tool that can manage their business and vendor relationships efficiently and plug yourself in the middle as the IT outsourcing facility to help eliminate business problems at a lower cost. Simple..
The only problem is, consumer-centric service management applications are extremely expensive. Cost of Salesforce for a single user is higher than the cost of Windows, Office, Hosted Exchange and the Internet connection to get to it all.
The Shockey Monkey Trojan Horse
If there is a problem but it isn’t properly documented and reported, it cannot be efficiently escalated. The vendor, client, company and technology/business management needs to be front and center in front of all the employees in order for it to have a full resolution cycle.
But what if you gave them all that.. for virtually free.. and were just available at the right time when they face a problem that you can help them with?
Small business owner and managers have little incentive to use an RMM as I discussed earlier or a CRM – which is why everything prior to SalesForce was for the most part a complete failure. The only reason SalesForce got so much buyin is because it provided an accountability layer on top of a profession in which lying and lack of morals are marketable skills – sales. If you wanted to track relative efficiency of professional liars, there is nothing more beautiful than SalesForce.
But what if that were extended to the ordinary course of business.
What if there was a service ticket or issue category for office equipment requests. For tracking building maintenance issues. An in-office Twitter that kept the entire company in the loop (those of you using Shockey Monkey today know what I’m talking about here). Here is how one of my partners, Randy Spangler, recently explained this trojan horse to me:
So here you have a random white collar employee and the light bulb above his head dies. What does he do? Goes to his manager and tells them. What does the manager do? He calls the building or office manager. They change the light… but it’s the socket that is actually bad so they promise to call someone else. This process continues endlessly.
What if it was a computer issue? They could enter in the issue, manager could approve it and escalate to us.
There are tons of functions in every business that could benefit from process organization and escalation – not just for the sake of efficiency but for closing the loop and making sure problems are actually resolved.
In my opinion, Shockey Monkey is that trojan horse.
It is a process management tool that can be used to implement layers of management and expertise where slim profit margins can be effectively collected from a very large set of customers.
Sounds great in theory?
Except it’s not a theory.
Shockey Monkey has enabled thousands of ExchangeDefender partners to resell Exchange, SharePoint, Offsite Backups, Web Hosting and server offerings to their customers without managing any of the backend server resources. In effect, they were just transaction brokers that provided a layer of escalation between the end user and us when there are problems or us and the end users when new features are introduced.
In that whole process the partner has their own Shockey Monkey portal that they use to freely manage all the other vendor and partner relationships but our offerings are front and center as the cloud backoffice.
Who is to say that the partner shouldn’t also take Shockey Monkey and deploy it for the end users business and let them manage their own clients, vendors, invoices and issues?
Now the only challenge is tuning the monkey to be friendly to different verticals… but fundamentally, most white collar jobs have more in common than they have in terms of uniqueness.
We will likely never build a perfect information solution.
Even Starship Enterprise with all it’s iPads and Siri’s had dozen of selfdestruct sequence initializations. That means we got at least 300 more years of this business model to go and as soon as they invent the replicator that creates gold out of thin air we can call it quits.
In the meantime, this is the evolution of technology providers coexisting with the end user technology. We gotta make the management more affordable and more seamless but collect revenues on it when things break. Nobody wants to spend hundreds of dollars on top of things that cost $10 / month. But when they break and result in potential thousands of dollars in lost revenue when they are down… businesses will still part with hundreds of dollars to get back to status quo.
Stay tuned. This is what I’m doing.