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Navigating the Perfect Storm: The struggle of MSPs and IT suppliers in SMB technology adoption

SMBs are increasingly dependent on information technology. Techaisle SMB (1-999 employees) survey found that 78% of small (1-99 employees) businesses and 97% of midmarket (100-999 employees) businesses consider technology to be “somewhat” or “very important” to their success, and 28% of small and 43% of midmarket firms report that they have become more dependent on technology over the past 12 months. These SMBs deal with an ever-expanding portfolio of increasingly-complex applications and platform technologies. At the same time, these firms are struggling to rein in IT-related expenditures, including staff-related costs. This combination of increased reliance on technology as a critical element of business success, burgeoning complexity, and cost constraint has created a ‘perfect storm’ for using managed services.

Building an effective managed services channel is a long and complex undertaking. On the positive side, many channel members participate in managed service delivery today, and longer-term trends indicate that a sizable proportion of the channel community will develop managed services specializations. There is also compelling evidence that buyers need and value managed services and that this need has been growing over the past five years and will continue to increase. However, the data also shows that channel firms need help transitioning from delivering some managed services to building viable businesses on a managed services model. To be successful, vendors will need to set objectives spanning the three-year period over which the managed services specialization will emerge and invest in the tactics (and execution excellence) required to support partners through this period.

Many vendors are struggling with simply understanding this fundamental change in the market, and more are failing to understand the focus and investment required to grow with partners through this transitional period. Those who succeed, though, will have an incredibly valuable asset: a channel that is well-positioned to act as a primary or sole source of IT-as-a-service delivery to an SMB community in which performance-oriented business buyers coexist with technology-oriented IT specialists. Managed services meets the needs of both groups, and it is aligned so powerfully with these needs that Techaisle expects to see rapid and continuous growth for the managed services channel (and its suppliers) through the decade and beyond.

The IT channel has reached an inflection point. Faced with an expanded buyer community and requirements for specialized skills to support different solutions, the channel is beginning to segment by focus area. Although the different specialties are starting from a common point today, Techaisle expects to see each develop unique characteristics over the next several years.
Techaisle partner and ecosystem research shows that:

  • The channel currently has a reasonable balance between product and services revenue and engagements; recurring revenue is not the sole success criterion. There is no ‘silver bullet’ leading to financial health in the channel. Execution, not time allocation, is critical to sales success.
  • While different channel delivery models (MSP, VAR, SP, IT consultant, SI) have different characteristics, they share an emphasis on SMBs, especially 250 seats and above, as a critical buyer segment. Today’s SMBs are heavily invested in an ever-widening portfolio of technology initiatives. 87% of SMBs are increasing their IT, security, and cloud services management to partners, including MSPs.
  • MSPs are hardly the only source of managed services: more than 60% of VARs, SPs, and SIs sell managed services today, but there has been no increase in managed services activity in all of these channels compared to 7 years ago. The variety and depth of managed services will make it difficult for non-specialists to keep pace with MSP specialists.
  • Buyer preference for a single source of managed services impacts the managed services market and channel development. Vendors must navigate a mix of generic channel requirements and requirements specific to managed services partners. Generic requirements for end-to-end solutions are less critical in managed services (where best-of-breed is paramount) than in other areas.
  • Sales cycles vary with several factors, including solution expertise. For example, 38% of MSPs and 41% of VARs are experiencing considerably longer sales cycles than five years ago.
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