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Gilt-edged security

A lot has changed since the last MSP Day, but optimism in the MSP community remains high. James Goulding reports

May 21 was the third annual MSP Day since security specialist Barracuda MSP launched the initiative in 2018 and the first to involve the participation of The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). It was also, for obvious reasons, the first MSP Day virtual event – with Covid-19 featuring prominently in discussions on the current and future state of the managed services industry.

In a lively two-hander, Miles Jogben, CompTIA Director of Member Communities and Neal Bradbury, Barracuda’s VP MSP Strategic Partnerships, pointed out that while Covid-19 had ‘changed everything’, there were still grounds for optimism: MSPs had been busy; they had helped customers transition to remote working; they had demonstrated ‘resilience and agility’.

Jogben said that as a result many MSPs were well placed to profit from enhanced customer relationships and opportunities presented by the ‘new normal’.

“If you’ve been with your customers through this, you now have the opportunity to open up conversations about strategy and not just address symptoms any longer, if that is what you have been doing. Or, if you are already having these discussions, extend them. If you can embed with the strategy and decision-makers in your customers, there are probably going to be endless opportunities because you are going to be part of their business decisions,” he said.

Jogben added that MSPs will have learnt things about themselves in this crisis that could serve them well in the future.

“You have to look at what happened to yourself as an MSP and ask where were we strong? Can we lean into that? Can we do more of that? Can we do that even better? This is a great opportunity for growth. Understand what your own strengths are as a result of this and be more aware of how to complement that with a partner who may be stronger in a different area.”

He said that partnerships are going to be vital in addressing some of these opportunities, particularly in relation to security. While a sizeable proportion of MSPs are transitioning into MSSPs (Managed Security Services Providers), he urges caution pointing out that many MSPs are ill equipped for such a transformation.

“Some MSPs will become MSSPs, whether it’s because they have an affinity or particular knowledge of security or because they have hired someone who has a great programme that they can install. But, honestly, I don’t think it’s wise for everyone to do that. I think a lot of MSPs are better off focussing on what they are good at. If they are good at security, by all means become an MSSP, but if they are not, then don’t. Offer the service with someone else,” he said.

Trends in managed services
The attraction of security for MSPs was highlighted by Carolyn April, Senior Director, Industry Analysis at CompTIA in a presentation of findings from CompTIA’s Trends in Managed Services 2020 report.

The growing requirement for cybersecurity (cited by 52%) topped the list of factors likely to contribute most to MSPs’ performance in the next couple of years, followed by modernising the IT systems of existing customers that still have on-premise equipment and have not transitioned fully to managed services (48%); greater awareness of managed services among customers (47%); opportunities for specialisation by vertical sector (47%); compliance (40%); and skills shortages (40%).

April pointed out that to cater to these needs MSPs have been expanding their offering, adding new services and moving from a focus on infrastructure (helpdesk, IT support, network services, security services) to higher margin, more sophisticated services.

More than half now offer application services, with many MSPs building entire businesses around SaaS, monitoring and managing applications that may reside with them or in the cloud, as well as business and consulting services that increase ‘stickiness’ with customers.

Some of these higher profit margin services include tech roadmaps in core areas e.g. networking (offered by 55%); C-level digital transformation consulting (46%); tech roadmaps for emerging tech (46%); needs assessment by user type/business unit (40%); TCO/ROI/audit analysis (33%); compliance audits (30%); and architectural/solution design guidance (28%).

April added that while these services are not always an easy sell there is a market for them, with 62% of MSPs saying they are valued by their customers. She said: “That is not something we have seen in the past, when it was a hard up-sell for a lot of customers. But now we see customers really looking for advice around their business, so an MSP that takes on some of these consulting roles is going to be more valuable to customers than one that just does the basics.”

The IoT opportunity
Another key growth area singled out by April is Managed IoT, which she describes as ‘the most mature emerging technology after cloud’, with 53% of MSPs already offering IoT services.

Despite logistical, security and staffing/skills challenges, 55% of MSPs believe that managed IoT offers significant revenue opportunities now, with an additional 37% expecting such opportunities to emerge in one to two years.

April said: “Monitoring the hardware and the sensors and the devices that are being put out there in vertical industries like manufacturing or agriculture is a natural progression for a lot of solution providers, not just MSPs. Their roots have been in the hardware business, so the obvious stage one for a lot of these companies is to sell sensors and the other types of device that an IoT implementation requires. It is very much a no-brainer. For a lot of solution providers, it doesn’t require a big pivot on their part or very much change in their business.

“Stage two is the management of it, which is where MSPs get on board, managing IoT devices and sensors just as they manage servers and desktops and other types of hardware device for their customers. Stage three, which I consider to be the holy grail and which we are not seeing too much of yet but which will come forth in the next few years, is when MSPs get into the analytics space. These sensors are collecting tons of data every day and it is useless unless you figure out what to do with it. There is a tremendous opportunity for an MSP to take all that data, to package it up, to do some analysis around it and then go back to the customer and advise them where they could be doing better and where they are hitting it out of the park.”

Security rises up the agenda
Barracuda MSP chose MSP Day 2020 to release research of its own. Based on a survey of 300-plus MSPs in the UK, US, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, Spain and Australia, The Evolving Landscape of the MSP Business Report 2020 also highlights opportunities for the MSP community, with 69% of MSPs citing managed services as the biggest opportunity for them to increase revenue in next 12 months (up from 54% last year).

More than nine out of 10 (91%) intend to expand the breadth and depth of their services portfolio this year, as a result.

Around three quarters of respondents said customers’ security concerns (79%) and lack of in-house security skills (72%) would lead to increased business in 2020, with endpoint security, email security and network security all making it onto the list of the Top 5 services offered by MSPs. In 2019, just email security made the Top 5.

MSP Global Day 2020

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