Managed Service Providers (MSP)

A collaborator in my network recently posed the following on LinkedIn and I wanted to take the time to create more of an in-depth response to this important question:

2018 demand for the unspecialized managed hosting provider: a one-act play.

Is your brand just riding the demand wave for generic web hosting into the ground?

Dozens of other graphs do run the opposite direction right now. They're diamonds in the rough, though.

I can't name an MSP to survive the past two decades without some special quirks. Some are subtle, but they're there.

What are some of the most overlooked and impactful ways to differentiate a managed IT offering in 2019?

The Proactive Bird Gets the Worm

Differentiation is not a strategy unique to managed service providers (MSPs). The best businesses—and MSPs—are proactive in evolving their service offerings. The trend that seems to have taken hold is to wait for customers to ask for new technologies before adding them to the portfolio; however, this is a mistake. Reactively running your business takes you out of the running as a thought leader and can be damaging to credibility. The real leaders are the ones who anticipate customers’ needs and bring new technology to them before the ask. Not only does it set you apart from the competition, but it puts you in a position to guide users and present yourself as an authority figure on navigating modern IT environments.

Staying ahead of demand has financial benefits, too. Obviously, better profit margins are often the result, as well as the ability to get services to market quicker. At the pace current IT services are developing and evolving, being “first in” is a coveted spot. It puts brands in a position of power, especially as services become commoditized, to be an expert rather than just a follower.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you should ignore customer requests and simply toss them in the bucket of “too late”. Certainly be responsive and build service offerings and bundles that are built upon your core competencies and tailored to customers unique needs. The key is to be proactive where possible. Survey customers about their top pain points and concerns. Anticipate that customer needs will evolve and meet them with a solution before your competition gets an edge in.

Partner Where Possible

We live in a vastly interconnected world where new innovations spread like wildfire. To keep up, MSPs face a significant challenge in terms of time and resources it takes to continually be building out new capabilities. Building out new services and infrastructures eat away at internal resources, are costly, and take time. Worse yet, they can land MSPs behind the curve if not well-executed.

An alternative, to maintain speed to execution, is to partner with providers that can augment your core offerings. By working with rather than competing against those that already develop in a particular line of space, MSPs can add valuable benefits for customers by reselling services. This reduces the cost and time-to-market burden, while still enabling your business to compete and satisfy customers. The key is to partner with vendors that offer excellent support services and solid reseller resources.

In looking at how MSPs are sliced, it’s easy to see where there is room to leverage the expertise of third parties to bolster your own offerings. Consider how one or a few of the following may be an add-on service that creates additional value for your customers:

  • File collaboration
  • Security
  • Consulting
  • Disaster Recovery
  • Analytics
  • Monitoring
  • Server Administration
  • Networking/LAN/WAN
  • App Hosting/SaaS
  • Helpdesk

Poke Your Head into the Cloud

The trifecta of an excellent MSP business is: 1) great product, 2) top-notch service, and 3) quality customer support.

This can be stifled by faulty or old infrastructure, poor management of said infrastructure, or inefficient processes. Many times, MSPs build up their business by offering new services and then building custom processes or mechanisms around that service. The machines, mechanics, and processes around these new services then become silo’d, making the entire operation laden with complexity and labor-intensive processes.

The cloud has been a huge solve for many of these downfalls. By leveraging cloud infrastructure and the associated management processes and tools, MSPs can more easily launch new services without the complexity, time-drain, and costs.

MSPs should aim to reduce or eliminate ad hoc, customized systems and replace them with standard practices, automation (where possible), and easy-to-scale platforms.

Last Word

The managed IT services market is crowded. These businesses must go above and beyond when it comes to delivering what they say they can deliver and anticipating customer needs before they arise. Having the right technology tools, partnerships, and infrastructure are all critical components of differentiating in 2019.

The idea is to focus on what you’re good at but also augment with value-added services that will keep current customers happy—and compel new customers to buy into your well-rounded services.

 

Accessibility is usability, no one is perfect but Domino's dragging its feet just doesn't make sense.

"Domino's Pizza has been told its website and app must be made fully accessible to blind people, after losing a legal case in the US. It follows a complaint from a blind customer who said he first struggled to change toppings and then was unable to complete a pizza's purchase using the company's iPhone app."

Brand’s are being forced into awareness about the Department of Justice’s American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design. Domino’s is the latest to get a crash course in these standards, which mandate design protocol to make digital properties accessible to people with disabilities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 13% of the American (non institutionalized) population has physical or mental condition which limits movement, senses, or activities. Not only do brands that do not comply risk costly litigation (ahem, Domino’s), but they risk losing out on business from a hefty chunk of customers. It's also worth mentioning that this is a non-issue for businesses employing a proper CMS, which can make ADA compliance required and easy.

Joomla elections are coming up, (for details on the process see my last election post, A Call to the Joomla Community to Actively Participate in 2018 Elections), and it’s time to recommend my nominations, encourage new nominations, and grow the community.

Full stop. Two feet on the brakes, screeching to a halt!

I missed something over the last month, and probably most people did given the holiday season, the Board of Open Source Matters (aka the Joomla Board), has without fanfare, passed a motion that actively discourages and (I assume) penalizes in certain circumstances the open speech of anyone actively engaged in the political process of the board.

Closing Open Source

The motion proposed by the president (no twitter link available) and passed with unanimous consent reads as follow:

#2018/098 - In cases where a nomination is purely through a third party without the nominee putting themselves forward, to allow for nominees to decide whether to accept or decline a nomination in private, nominations to be kept between the person nominating, nominee and Secretary until acceptance has been given of the nomination by the nominee.

You can find the motion and rationale, among many other interesting notes, in the board minutes of December 13, 2018 (published December 20, 2018), please read the full minutes. With regards to motion #2018/098, let’s take a look what has driven this extreme response:

Statement from the President

I am hugely disappointed at the lack of commitment shown by some current board members. With the coming elections I feel it necessary to remind the community of the duties of a board member, even in a department with only one core team. Before running for a position or accepting a nomination, I urge potential candidates to ensure that they can fulfil [sic] the commitment required including attending our bi-weekly board meetings and when unable to due to circumstances out with their control to provide a report in their minutes box in place of their attendance.

Furthermore, in the last election cycle a former Board Member took it upon themselves to publicly announce his nominations before nomination acceptance. In my opinion this put undue pressure on candidates to accept their nominations possibly against their best interests and ability to commit to the time necessary. This, again in my opinion, directly led to the election of a board member who was unable to commit to the role but felt publicly pressured to accept the nomination. The result was a board member who only attended one board meeting and to my knowledge never even contacted the team under them once.

Given the volunteer nature of this project I would like to propose a motion that nominations are kept between the person nominating, nominee and Secretary until acceptance has been given of the nomination by the nominee in cases where a nomination is purely through a third party without the nominee putting themselves forward.

We all face enough pressure in this environment as it is, additional pressure should never be piled onto someone in the public domain when it should be a solely personal decision to accept a role. That said I would welcome a move where those wishing to run for a role declare their interest in that role before the nomination cycle begins. The most regular feedback heard surrounding elections is that people are unsure who to nominate as they have no idea who would like the role in the first place.

There is so much to parse here—really too much; this is the stuff of politics that should be handled internally and professionally. But, since this is now public record and (maybe??) enforceable policy, the community needs to understand how leadership is restricting speech and transparency in the project.

Board of Directors Issues

Paragraph one is pretty straightforward,

I am hugely disappointed at the lack of commitment shown by some current board members. With the coming elections I feel it necessary to remind the community of the duties of a board member, even in a department with only one core team. Before running for a position or accepting a nomination, I urge potential candidates to ensure that they can fulfil [sic] the commitment required including attending our bi-weekly board meetings and when unable to due to circumstances out with [sic] their control to provide a report in their minutes box in place of their attendance.

To me, the subtext speaks louder than the statement itself. What this statement highlights very clearly is that the president has failed to manage board meetings and the board. If this is such a pressing matter, why wasn’t it addressed in real time? These issues, which have now boiled over into fodder for official motions, should have been addressed during the board’s term and raised by the president the moment it became apparent these issues were stifling production. Rather than tackling pain points head-on, the president has allowed issues to foment such that they need to be made public within weeks of nominations.

Stop Talking About, You Know, Nominating

Paragraph two is the genesis for this post:

Furthermore, in the last election cycle a former Board Member took it upon themselves to publicly announce his nominations before nomination acceptance. In my opinion this put undue pressure on candidates to accept their nominations possibly against their best interests and ability to commit to the time necessary. This, again in my opinion, directly led to the election of a board member who was unable to commit to the role but felt publicly pressured to accept the nomination. The result was a board member who only attended one board meeting and to my knowledge never even contacted the team under them once.

First things first: the former Board Member to whom the current president refers is me, former president of Joomla, Robert Jacobi. I believe this is a simple case of shifting blame. True leadership starts at the top, and true leaders lead by being of service, by setting an example in their own actions, and by confronting problems as proactive participants in the solution. Those who lack the ability to manage tend to have a more defensive response to such problems, which often results in overreaching mandates as a means to regain control. Unfortunately, this type of legislation limits the political process and can be the preemptive death knell to open source projects like Joomla. It’s the opposite of leadership.

It’s probably also worth noting that there is a documented process in the by-laws to remove members who do not perform their duties (Section 4.04. Removal as Members). I have not personally heard from this board member who felt “publicly pressured”, so can’t speak to what direct knowledge the president may have regarding this board member’s feelings. But it’s probably fair to say that the member was elected following the processes created.

Lack of Motion

Paragraph three is just preparation for the motion so we finally get to paragraph four:

We all face enough pressure in this environment as it is, additional pressure should never be piled onto someone in the public domain when it should be a solely personal decision to accept a role. That said I would welcome a move where those wishing to run for a role declare their interest in that role before the nomination cycle begins. The most regular feedback heard surrounding elections is that people are unsure who to nominate as they have no idea who would like the role in the first place.

This paragraph should send up red flags to board members, collaborators, and open source champions everywhere. It would appear the president is driving elections in a way that allows her to direct the conversation while limiting participation from those who disagree. My previous nominations invoked calls to experienced individuals who had earned leadership consideration for their outstanding community work or professional volunteer experience. They may or may not have been elected but there was motion and excitement.

My rationale behind my post was simple and well-meaning: volunteers should see that there are individuals who will advocate for them based on their merits and fitness for particular roles. Perhaps some of these people are hesitant and sitting on the fence because they doubt their ability to affect meaningful change. My objective was to spur excitement and to pave the way for these capable individuals to consider and accept the chance to be part of an amazing open source project, change people’s lives, and to fix the causes of a shrinking project and disaffection.

We have a chance to be positive - anyone can nominate anyone - do your part - nominate who you feel will be serve the goals of the project - let’s fix Joomla today. The nomination period ends 26th January 2019 at 23:59 UTC.

Joomla redid its logo! Just kidding. Slack redid its logo and to me, it looks a little too close for comfort. Green, orange, blue, and red - all separate without the overlap and different tones it used to have makes it eerily similar in style. From Joomla to slack in 5 easy steps:

Or course we need the Joomla logo (I'm not counting this as a step):

Joomla Logo

Step 1: Start with original and rotate the heads

Joomla to Slack, Step 3

Step 2: Cut some heads out

Joomla to Slack, Step 4

Step 3: Some rotation for the horizontals

Joomla to Slack, Step 1

Step 4: Cut out the circle head, paste 5 times in a row, repeat

Joomla to Slack, Step 2

Step 5: Put the heads and bodies together

Joomla to Slack, Step 5

And voila, Slack!

Slack Logo

 

Update: Changed the order of steps so the logo rotated into position.

feed-image Subscribe to the feed