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A changing role for MSPs

What are the opportunities in co-managed IT? We ask Greg Jones, Business Development Director, EMEA at Datto 

Datto recently turned the spotlight on co-managed IT, where MSPs support the in-house IT teams of larger organisations, with the announcement of a new partnership with Bob Coppedge, CEO of Simplex-IT and CoMITs4MSPs. Together, Datto and the co-managed IT expert will develop a range of tools and resources to help Datto partners compete in this growing area, including live web training and workshops; regular co-managed IT webinars; blogs and videos; seminars at Datto events; and partner toolkits. To find out more about the opportunities in co- managed IT, Technology Reseller spoke to Greg Jones, Datto Business Development Director, EMEA. 

Technology Reseller (TR): During the pandemic there has been a lot of talk about the role MSPs can play in supporting in-house IT teams. How big is the opportunity in co-managed IT? 

Greg Jones (GJ): It’s a huge opportunity right now. The health pandemic has really accelerated the adoption of technology within businesses that before were struggling to make the next leap in terms of digital transformation and that work from anywhere world we now live in. Some of these organisations are now more profitable and more agile and able to do more with less. 

We see a huge opportunity in the enterprise space, from 150 seats right up to a couple of thousand seats, where co- managed is an agenda point – essentially, leveraging the MSP community to drive more change, more security and more agility. 

For MSPs, there are big opportunities not just with businesses that fit their target customer profile, but also with larger organisations that are starting to be more open to working with different vendors, smaller ones as well. 

Some of the MSPs we deal with are now working with customers that were out of scope or out of reach in the past, sometimes on very niche pieces of work or really complex solutions and sometimes just to take noise away from that business – all the low-end tickets that come in, all the stuff that can be automated. 

Co-managed IT extends from just outsourcing the helpdesk or outsourcing security or outsourcing a new networking infrastructure project to providing help with training and development. Out of the back of the health pandemic, we are seeing a big opportunity for MSPs to educate customers about technology and how to do more with less. 

TR: How does co-managed IT differ from what MSPs have done before?
The term co-managed has only quite recently been adopted by the MSP community, but the co-managed concept has been around for a considerable length of time. 

In the past, MSPs typically had an all or nothing approach: it was either come over to us and we will do everything for you – we will become your IT department and take that headache away from you – or we won’t do anything. That was the approach. 

MSPs that did do what we now call co-managed IT would take a more sideways approach to relationships that could vary considerably depending on each organisation’s requirements. Typically, they would either take on the very high-end projects that organisations, for whatever reason, didn’t have the skills to do in-house or they would take on low-end work, freeing up the internal resource of the customer to devote to more value-add projects. 

Today, MSPs have more of a hybrid approach, with a big opportunity for consultancy – being that trusted advisor, being able to come in and really x-ray a business in terms of how it uses technology. Is it giving them an edge in the marketplace? Is it giving them a competitive advantage? Or is it holding them back? That’s where MSPs are getting real leverage at the moment. 

TR: What are some of the applications that are most popular for this co- managed IT approach?
Certainly, the likes of Datto RMM and Datto Autotask PSA. All of our cloud offerings around PSA and RMM are perfectly aligned to the co-managed space. 

The Datto RMM is very much about managing the endpoint and estates for clients and being able to automate as much as possible for their internal IT departments. Deploying an RMM tool basically gives you virtual engineers that are on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no holidays or calling in sick. 

It enables MSPs to be proactive in identifying potential faults before they lead to an outage and gives the end user that seamless experience around technology so that when they come into the office environment, whether that is at home, in a coffee shop or anywhere else in the world, the technology just works. 

Those virtual engineers can be doing things like patch management and health checks out of business hours, so that when staff in the customer’s IT department come in, they can actually spend time doing what they are good at. 

TR: Isn’t this what Datto has always done?
Yes, absolutely. We are about bringing enterprise-grade technology down to the SMB space. Ultimately, that is what we do. We are a security company, but we are always trying to improve the lives of engineers within MSPs so that they are able to be more responsive and deliver on their service level agreements (SLAs) to their end user customers. 

A lot of that is to do with the metrics behind it: the real-time analytics, the reporting capabilities right across the customer estate, so that MSPs can articulate and show the value-add that they deliver. The whole point is to move away from a break-fix model, where the customer interacts with the MSP when there is a problem. That is a flawed business model; you should not be seeing your MSP on a day-to-day basis. 

TR: Where does something like back up and disaster recovery (BCDR) fit into the co-managed IT world?
If an in-house IT department is outsourcing some of its BCDR, you could say it is co-managed, because arguably the MSP looks after all the data to make sure that business is protected and if something does happen it can be up and running within seconds as opposed to days, hours, weeks or even months. 

On the back of the health pandemic, we are seeing more uptake of business continuity and disaster recovery because businesses now understand how vital IT is to their organisation. Many are operating successfully in many different locations, whether in other parts of the world or just from home, and they understand that an outage will cause productivity to fall through the floor. 

When you start looking at business continuity and disaster recovery, or even backup, people assume it’s a process that automatically happens, but there’s quite a lot of work on the back of it, especially now when even small organisations traverse many different SaaS applications, platforms and systems. It is not just a question of backing these up, but of verifying that the backup was successful, virtualising it and swinging it up and checking that it loaded successfully so that should there be an outage the customer knows it has that point to go back to. 

TR: Do many businesses use multiple MSPs on a co-managed basis? GJ: It’s unusual. Larger organisations, like the NHS, might outsource services to a number of different MSPs or a number of different specialists on a co-managed basis, but once you start coming down in scale it is more normal for an internal IT support department to work with one MSP in a co-managed environment. 

The trend now is about making businesses more profitable and productive through their use of technology. In the past, businesses used to have to mould their business processes around technology, whereas now it is more a case of technology moulding around your business. Getting your in-house teams working with external specialists gives a real value-add even when it comes to challenging the status quo on a project. 

If we look at Datto, we are absolutely relentless and 100% focused on our security, but we don’t do all of that at Datto. We use external teams to verify our work and it should be exactly the same for in-house IT departments: use other parties and specialists to challenge, verify and collaborate on projects. 

Many MSPs work with 10, 100, 200 businesses so they see a lot more in terms of business processes and how technologies are being implemented. 

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