Many Computer Troubleshooters have heard me tell the story about how, when I first got into this business almost 20 years ago, everyone used to think my business was destined to be a huge success. And I would disagree, becuase (as I often told them) most of my work was in helping small businesses install and troubleshoot hardware and software, and since hardware and software were getting easier to install and more reliable I probably wouldn't have a business for long. I usually predicted 5 years, which since I got started in 1989 probably means I would have closed somewhere around 1994.
Fortunately, everyone else was right and I was wrong. What I didn't realize then was that no matter how much technology changes, businesses still need someone to be their liaison to the world of IT. Originally it was installing and troubleshooting, later it was networking, then setting up internet & email & websites, then defending from spam & spyware & viruses. Today the popular trend is so-called "managed services", which is sill the hottest buzzword in the IT press. Managed services is so hot that an entire industry has sprung up around it: companies like Mobilize SMB and MSPU help independent companies learn how to structure managed services plans, Robin Robins will help you market them, Matt Makowicz will help you sell them, Ingram Micro will help you with the software. And when Dell got involved by buying Silverback last year, the industry got a little nervous wondering if big companies might start to push us little guys out of business. In fact there's so much news on managed services that I've set www.mspmentor.net as my home page just to keep up with it all!
So the biggest managed services news lately has been the prediction by Akash Saraf, the CEO of Zenith Infotech (one of the largest providers of managed services tools & infrastructure and a very popular vendor partner of Computer Troubleshooters) that managed services has a limited lifespan. Akash is considered extremely prescient in the IT community, and has made some truly brilliant moves in the way he's developed Zenith's product offerings and especially it's revolutionary BDR device (which btw is EXTREMELY popular with CT's small business clients). So when so much of the SMB IT industry considers "managed services" as the way of the future, it's remarkable when someone of Akash's stature reminds us of the truest maxim in all of IT: things change.
It shouldn't be a surprise really. Looking back on our business it seems that if you pick any 5-year period our business in the 5th year is very different than our business in the 1st year. And things that are bleeding-edge today will be tomorrow's bread & butter. We've been hearing about cloud computing and virtual environments for years now, and we're finally at the stage where some companies like ExternalIT are offering legitimate hosted desktop/server environments using traditional Microsoft Windows & Office environments. We're also seeing some organizations, especially in the developing world, choose to build their entire IT infrastructures around hosted environments like Google Apps or SugarCRM.
If the whole premise of "managed services" is to help clients better manage their IT infrastructure, how does that happen when there isn't a local IT infrastructure anymore? That's the point that Akash and others are raising.
Not to worry. When CT launched our BEST program back in 2006 (our flavor of "managed services"), we future-proofed it by incorporating a concept we call "enhanced vendors". These are technologies that can help our small business clients take their businesses to the next level, and this year we've really been ramping up our training for those technologies. IP Telephony, Document Management, CRM solutions, and Search Engine Marketing are just some examples of the "enhanced vendor" programs we've been developing.
But I'm also reminded of the Gartner study in late 2005 which warned that service providers who didn't adopt a managed services model by 2007 would be out of business. Much of our industry is still using the older break/fix model but is still in business, although there are certainly many indications (inside and outside of CT) that those who are focusing on managed services are seeing higher revenues and lower workloads).
IT will always change - that's inevitable. But as long as small businesses depend on technology, Computer Troubleshooter's role is to be the ones helping our clients make the most effective and efficient use of their technology. Or as one CT put it this week, "to be the glue between the service and the serviced". For the next few years that means saving our clients money & frustration through managed services. After that it'll be supporting hosted environments and coordinating enhanced vendors. And after that? We'll just have to wait and see.